Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Belgium Week: The Co-op Report

"Seán, please kill me"

Part of the co-op experience is writing a report where you describe the organisation, and what you learned from your time spent there. This presented me with a challenge, as I learned pretty much nothing over those five months or so, yet I was required to meet my word quota. Of course, I decided my report would serve to entertain myself while highlighting the atrocity that was the University of Limerick being willing to send a New Media and English student to stoop over toilets for half a year (although that’s not quite how they pitched it to me before I left).

For your reading pleasure, I will now copy and paste in excerpts from my actual co-op report, which has not yet been submitted to UL, but will be once it’s finished. I am 100% behind what I am saying here, and they have been in no way altered for this blog entry.

Work Skills Page
UL’s co-op site asks that students discuss skills they have improved or gained under a number of suggested categories, of which many were incompatible with my experiences (does using a mop count as ‘ICT Skills’?). Don’t worry, dear reader, for I made do with what I could!

They asked for evidence of ‘Basic Work Skills';
●Reporting to work as scheduled and on time.
●Dressing appropriately for work.
●Having an awareness of how formal personal interactions in the employing organisation are.

So here is how I fulfilled these requirements:

Basic Work Skill
Working at the Institute, the only 'skill' that could be learned is that of basic work. The work is uninteresting, difficult, unrewarding, excessive, demeaning, and entirely unsuited to an English student. What follows is the obligatory spiel about how I learned to conduct myself at work;
● I showed up on time for work. This task is achieved by setting an alarm clock to wake up oneself at a time that will allow them to report to work before they are scheduled to begin. It is important to show up for work on time, as otherwise fellow workers and managers will get upset, and that would be bad.
● I dressed appropriately for work. This involved putting on a pair of black pants – operated by putting the left and right legs into their respective areas of the garment, pulling up the zipper, and fastening the button. I wore a belt with these pants – it wraps around the pants through the designated hoops, and stays together by means of passing a bar through the appropriate notch. Belts are important because they prevent gravity from removing one's pants – which could lead to the exposure of one's underpants or even genitals during work. I wore a white shirt to cover my arms and torso. The shirt works in a very similar manner to the pants, only instead of surrounding your legs, arms are what holds the garment in place. The buttons are then fastened, and the shirt is tucked into the aforementioned pants. This tucking is the hardest part of the job, as one must uniformly have the same amount of shirt hanging over the brim of the pants.
● Formal personal interactions were never explicitly outlined to me, but being an intelligent type, I assumed that swearing, sexual advancements and screaming were all examples of inappropriate behaviour in front of guests.

Cultural/International Awareness
● I learned the basic pleasantries in Flemish – I would've liked to learn more, but the free lessons that we had been promised by the Institute turned out to be hot air, and attending lessons at the University in town would cost me more money than I was willing to pay.
● I learned a lot about the Belgian culture while not at work, such as their bars are only legally required to close for one hour a day to clean, and certain denizens seem to have an affinity for headbutting strangers in nightclubs

UL Sez Communication Skills involve;
●Listening to others in an effective and attentive manner.
●Participating effectively in meetings and/or group settings.
●Developing the ability to read and understand written materials.
●Communicating ideas and concepts clearly both verbally and in writing.
●Recognising the importance of non-verbal communication.

I think I illustrate my proficiency in communication with these easily digested, bulleted points;

Communication Skills
● I learned that when the boss says she doesn't “give a shit” - it means that you've lost your argument and it's time to give in.
● Non-verbal communication is used in many interactions. When you can feel your boss's evil glare burning a hole in your forehead, you know that she doesn't care about what it is you're saying.
● I learned that unless you get something written down and signed, it means nothing. Furthermore, the early warning system of that person who promised you something avoiding eye contact / any contact with you lets you know when you are about to get screwed over for the umpteenth time.
● The most motivational weapon in a trainee-manager's arsenal is the word 'fuck'. Examples of this include “If you don't get this done by two o'clock – you're fucked”, and “I don't care if your shift was supposed to end four hours ago – just fucking do it”.

This report has not yet been submitted to the UL co-op office, and it seems I must also get someone from the institute to sign it, which should lead to some interesting correspondence. Tomorrow, I will be posting a few more bits and pieces from my report that continue this diatribe.

But what do you think? Does come across as a tad bitter? Do you think it's funny? Will UL appreciate my unflinching honesty in my attempts to stretch what little educational merits were to be found in the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe?

You guys know where the comments section is by now, yes?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Belgium Week: Dermot's Limerick

After e-mailing Dermot asking him to contribute to this 'special' feature week, he replied with what I think is a hilarious Limerick that sums up our initial experiences nicely. I was going to post it later in the week, but since it sets the tone of us laughing at ourselves, it makes more sense to put it up here first!

The only thing you should know before reading this is that our co-op was organised by 'Searson'; a woman who is not on my Christmas card list.

Take it away, Dermo!

What do you guys think? I'm going to leave my comments in the comments section, hope to see you there!

Doing What I do Best...?

It's the 28th of January, 2007. This is a significant date for me, and my old friend Dermot, who, one year ago, boarded a plane to Belgium, eager to begin our learning experiences as University of Limerick students outside the classroom, commencing the obligatory Co-Op segment of our respective courses.

Over the next five days or so, to 'commemorate' this occasion, I will post a few entries that pertain to the time I spent working at the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe. Allow me to set the tone by saying I hated it the second I got there, and hoped it would get better, but it never did!

Not saying it was all bad, truth be told, there was a certain amount of fun to be had when I was as far away as possible from that place (I got a chance to fall in love with Germany all over again one weekend). I made a few friends that I still remember fondly to this day (which is rare for a misanthrope such as myself).

I've asked Dermot to contribute something over the coming days, and I'm hoping we can fill the next week with some interesting posts, but that is quite a daunting proposition with all the schoolwork I've to catch up on because of my weekend in Chicago! Be sure to comment and steer this feature where you want to see it go, and enjoy some of the more voyeuristic posts on this blog!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Spam: Saviour of Human Race?

While clearing the hundreds of Spam e-mails from my Yahoo! (they spell it with an exclamation mark, so I do too) Mailbox, something startling came to my attention; see for yourself.

In case you're like me, and rarely enlarge those pictures, or you just missed it, here's a close up of what I was hoping you'd notice.

It seems that at 10.14pm, Greenwich Mean Time, on Monday, the eighteenth of January, in the year two thousand and thirty eight, the human race will finally be able to communicate with the past! I would guess that after years of government testing, the technology finally leaked to the private sector. The thirties are a desolate place for small businesses, as a handful of dictators control what little resources remain on Earth after the years of chemical and nuclear warfare that ravaged it for over 12 years.

It seems that in this future dystopia, the English language has morphed into something that scarcely reflects the tongue we are familiar with today, as most of the Commonwealth is underwater, and refugees from the various English speaking nations have failed to preserve the language in the form we know today. Grammar is loose and sloppy, and spelling inconsistent as a result.

From my observations on these artefacts from the future, I ascertain that the only consumer goods that will be allowed are replica Rolex watches. Since the introduction of curfews in the early thirties, most of humankind needs to know the time, all the time, but sadly most cannot afford this luxury. As trigger-happy guards of the hegemonic systems of government have lowered world population considerably, these businesses have begun advertising in the past to boost revenues.

This is an exciting time to be alive, as we can now converse with our future selves and learn from our mistakes. Do we use it for good, and see what the next 30 years have taught us about Global Warming? Or do we use it for personal gain, and find out sound business investments and which sports teams to bet on?

My friends, we are entering a brave new epoch of humankind, and with the foresight of tomorrow's hindsight, there’s never been a better time to live on this planet we call Earth.

I’m sorry... This is what happens when English students get Spam and feel like blogging about it... In my defence, I got very little sleep last night, and I do apologise for making you read through this!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I Can't be a Poet! I Don't Have a Middle Initial!


I'm two weeks into the new semester already! To comemmorate this hugely momentous occasion, I thought I'd skim over the classes I'm taking. First is TV Production; which could turn out to be my favourite class ever, as I learn the technical and practical aspects behind producing a Studio-based TV show.

I'm taking a course on the History of the English Language, which is basically a literature class, but with the added incentive of being able to enthrall my friends by using words such as 'etymology', and enlightening them with exciting tales of how certain words and phrases came into everyday usage... (I wouldn't want to be my friend either)

I'm doing World Literature - typical literature class fare; I'll find a few texts enjoyable and forget the rest, hopefully broadening my horizons in the process. Last, and certainly not least; I'm taking Creative Writing, which takes a workshop approach; so my compositions will be evaluated by my fellow-scholars.

Interestingly enough, I have to compose a poem for Monday's session, which I find to be daunting. Those who know me are well aware that poetry is not for me, whether reading or composing. In my down time over the weekend (which probably won't be much) I'll probably scratch out a few rough drafts of a haiku; the professor has been quite gentle with this first assignment, as this type of poetry doesn't have to be long, and can be about pretty much anything, so it shouldn't be too challenging...

I don't think I'd make a good poet for the simple reason that I like to use language that gets my point across as bluntly and brutally as possible. I really don't like being open to interpretation, because people are invariably stupid, and read into things that shouldn't be read into; but that's where people get a lot of enjoyment from poetry, isn't it?

It's noteworthy pointing out that there's some Emo kid (who the hell is still Emo when they're in college?) and he's more than willing to jump in front of the class and read us his poetry that rhymes "castration" with "masturbation" and then follows it up with "starvation"... He reads this deep, profound material (that's sarcasm) from an expensive looking diary type book that he probably writes terrible emo-lyrics in...

Hey, who knows? If I write something that I like, I might even post it in here, provided it isn't something dangerously introspective, or completely moronic... Although, if it is moronic for the sake of amusing myself, it may well grace this webpage before too long!

Just for the sake of adding a splash of colour to the page, here's a picture of me skulking around in the background at 21st birthday party I recently attended.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Internet as a learning tool? Pshaw!

Lately I've found myself using YouTube more and more for video-tutorials on Photoshop and complicated video-editing software, as both are hobbies of mine, but in the process I stumbled across a very interesting video from Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty.

It shows a not-extraordinary looking woman (I'm trying to be diplomatic withh my choice of words here) being transformed into something you'd usually find on the front of a magazine, or in this case, a billboard... Just watch it and you'll see what I mean, it won't take a minute (it'll actually take a minute and a quarter).

Staggering, yes? Seems there has been videos like this on YouTube before this ad surfaced, (which may have been where Dove got the idea) but you can see something even more extreme happening here - although it's done in a more technical style, so you'd probably be more interested in the final comparison shot.

Lastly, and just as an aside, because I personally found this hilarious - it being the kind of response I'd post to this new YouTube fad; somebody spoofed it! Here it is...

I was always aware that photos in magazines were being airbrushed, erasing blemishes and other such imperfections, but I never considered the kind of manipulation that's apparrent here! Stretching out necks? Shrinking and curving shoulders? Enlarging a girl's eyes? I'm a little ashamed that I can find a girl with such cartoon-like features attractive!

These videos also evoke a sense of jealousy from me - I want to be that good at Photoshop! Maybe then the pics on this blog will be more Calvin Klein, and less Shrek!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lazy Blog Entry #44

It's been a busy few days, and I'm six days into my second semester here at RMU. From these few days, I've realised that I'm going to have to put in a little more effort this semester than I did last time around to get the same kind of results.

I am, however, taking a fantastic class in Television Production, and I'll be helping out at the College TV station, which is hugely exciting for me. I'll probably end up posting whatever clips of the work I'll be doing over the coming few months on this blog, so I thought I'd get around to uploading some of my older stuff to YouTube - if for nothing else other than as a way for you to see how I've 'progressed' in my video-editing hobby.

This is a quasi-music video to Knapweed's Androgynous Andy, and I think it's decent. It's not how I wanted it to turn out, and there are a couple of shots that still annoy me after almost two years of the video being finished; the result of letting the band members have final say on how everything pieced together.

I do apologise that I've not been updating much as of late, but I'd rather not post just for the sake of posting, and I won't have much to say about anything until I find some spare time! In two weeks I'll be heading to Chicago, which should provide some fodder for a hefty picture-based entry, but in the interim, I'm planning on putting up a small piece about the people I'm hanging out with in the States.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

You Know You're back at RMU when...

Well, my first post of the New Year, and as if to set the tone for the coming 11 and three quarter months of blogging, this one talks about crap*.

I'm back at Robert Morris University after three glorious weeks away. As much as I'd love to gush about how much fun I had with the 'girl-whose-corrective-lenses-prescription-I-hope-never-gets-stronger', I thought I'd focus on the fact that I ate good food while away from college. In some cases, very good food.

What has this to do with anything? Well, I don't think my stomach was ready for RMU's offerings today. In the past I've heard a number of fellow-scholars mention that laxative ingredients are added to the food to regulate the student's bowel movements, but I always took this information with a grain of salt.

That was, of course, until I went to Caitlyn's for Thanksgiving. While staying with her and eating homecooked or restaurant food, I had fewer bowel movements over the entire week than in a single day at Robert Morris.

You may think that this is too personal to share on such a public forum, but I assure you that I am not alone. Too many times I've seen someone I know blaze past me without the slightest bit of salutation on their part, because their sole objective is to get to a bathroom before it's too late. I've witnessed all too many dorm-mates staggering shell-shocked and white faced out of the bathroom, their very disposition (among other things) quite visibly rattled for some moments afterward.

The novelty of a solid stool being deposited in a Robert Morris cubicle is a cause for celebration, as strangers are united in wonderment, crowding around the bowl to ask the creator of the enviable specimen; "What did you eat?" "How did you maintain such a solid structural integrity?"

Of course, once one has figured this out for themselves, they will not tell a soul, for fear that the one untainted item on the menu sells out before they can get to it, and they are relegated back to the rank of the cheek-pinching plebians, pounding on the stall doors, anxiously crying out "C'mon man! I got class in 5 minutes!", while muttering silent prayers to the patron saint of sphincter muscles...

I'm hoping that by blazing a trail and being the first to openly declare that we have a problem with the 'nourishment' offered by the food-court, I will spark the inevitable revolution that will ultimately put a dozen dentists out of a job, as RMU students will no longer grit their teeth while trying to bear the 220 kPas of pressure on their... Okay, you get the point by now, yes?

I think I've painted a clear enough picture of one of the hardships I have to endure while on this American-adventure, so I might well leave it at that!

*Bet you thought I was being figurative, eh?