Typing Test

Typewriter Keys

The other day, my coworkers and I stumbled upon an online typing test that will rate how many words and characters per minute you can type. Taking it just now, I clocked in at about 108 words per minute. It reminded me of just how far my typing skills have come — and how I was able to use such skill to break down the foundations of a government bureaucracy.

When I was a child, my father worked for the IBM Corporation. This exposed me to computers at a very early age, and in the early 80’s my family was one of the first in the nation to acquire an IBM PC. The “beige box” of lore, it was equipped with a single-sided 360kb 5.25″ floppy drive, a cutting-edge 7.14MHz CPU, and one whole megabyte of RAM. Ahh, those were the days.

Since the IBM PC was so new, getting our hands on software was quite the challenge. We began with two titles: Colossal Cave, which I quickly solved, and Typing Tutor, which took quite a bit more time to master. The latter was a program that taught typing by flashing countless paragraphs, which one had to duplicate with as much precision as possible. I spent alot of time honing my skills, eventually getting good enough to type without having to look at the keyboard. Although I never mastered the style of using all ten of my fingers — to this day I continue to type without using my pinky fingers — that didn’t prevent me from developing some amazing speed.

After many years had passed, I moved to Austin in the summer of 2000 with hopes of jumping onto the “dot-com” bandwagon. Conveinently enough, I relocated to central Texas at the exact same time said bandwagon’s bubble burst.

So imagine my situation: I was in a new city with a high cost of living, the tech capital of the South, with a few dollars and an art degree to my name. I was pragmatic enough to know that any job that could put food on the table (and pay the rent) was a job worth having, so I swallowed my pride and told myself that even digging ditches was preferable to being homeless.

My jobhunt eventually led me to apply at the University of Texas – Austin. Being a state university, there were all sorts of jobs to be had there. Since my post-graduate resume was still fairly blank, the only position I qualified for was a $10/hour job moving around file cabinets in the Department of Accounting.

Since my potential employer would be the State of Texas, the law required all applicants to take a typing test, even if the job had nothing to do with computers or typewriters. My test was to be administered by the middle-aged woman who took my application. She led me to a small room with four large beige computers that were each crowned by humming monochrome monitors. Can you say “state surplus”?

I sat at the first computer, and the lady told me to follow the instructions on the screen then return to her office when finished. I was also told that my score would be automatically transmitted to her computer upon completion. She asked if I understood. I nodded yes and was left alone in the room to take the test.

The test involved copying a paragraph the text as fast as possible with as few of errors I could muster, just like the Typing Tutor program I grew up with. I finished with my typcial speed at the time: 80 words per minute. I left the room and returned to meet with the woman who took my application. When she fetched my score, she was convinced that I had cheated. “Noone could possibly type that fast without cheating,” she said. I protested against the accusation. “How does once cheat on a typing test, anyway?,” I said.

Although the same state regulations that required me take the test also said that it could only be taken once a day, the rules were bent so that I could take it again — this time with the woman watching me the entire time to ensure that nothing inappropriate occurred.

So I returned to the tiny room, sat at a different computer, and retook the typing test. The whole time, I could feel the warm breath of the test administrator as she leered over my shoulders to get a good look at my dancing fingers. The pressure was intense, and because of it I failed to score as fast a time as before. This time around, I ended up with only 70 words per minute.

After witnessing my skill in person, the lady said she was sorry. I accepted the apology — and the job. Moving file cabinets, a position that had nothing to do with typing in the first place.

Or so I thought.

(To be continued)

Photo credit: Rahgeo

Social Experimentation

Sims House

In my Austin bachelor days, I wasted much of my time and brain capacity on video games. For awhile, I was into strategy games, and this led to a brief infatuation with The Sims. For me, it was more than just a game. It was a novel way for me to recreate my world in electronic form, populating it with Sims that were based on real people. Little did I know that this innocent pasttime would turn dark (and crispy).

I began by creating a Sim neighborhood from scratch. Then I created a Sim based on myself — a single dude who was unemployed, with fuzzy dark hair and a thing for Libras. Next, I created a Sim based on my then-roommate Joanne and put the two of us in the same house. Soon enough, I had created Sims based on all of my Austin friends, including two pairs of Sims representing my sister Micha, her husband Jay, his best friend Tommy, and his wife April. Like a good diety, I rested, viewed my work and deemed it good. We all lived in one happy Sim world, visited each other’s Sim houses, and generally getting through Sim life without many hiccups.

I spent the occasional hour every now and then playing the game, trying to get my Sims to act like their real-world counterparts. After awhile, I discovered that one could let the game run by itself without interference and that the characters would go about their regular routines with just a slight splash of randomness. So the next day, I woke up, got dressed, fired up the Sims, left it on auto-pilot, and headed off to work.

When I returned home, I discovered that my sister’s Sim was dead, that her house was burned to the ground, and that her husband’s Sim had hooked up with his neighbor’s wife. I was shocked, to say the least. Utilizing the game’s rewind feature to replay the day, I observed the following chain of events:

Micha’s Sim went to the kitchen to make some breakfast. Shortly after firing up the stove, the countertop accidentally caught on fire. Her Sim began to panic, running back and forth as the flames licked the curtains and other appliances. Soon, the whole kitchen was engulfed. Instead of running away or calling 911, Micha’s Sim instead decided to participate by catching on fire herself. The smoke detector went off at this point. With haste, a fireman showed up and shot off his extinguisher. Right when he finished, Micha’s Sim was transmorigified into a sizzling pile of ash.

Her hasband Jay’s Sim came home from work to a gutted house. When he entered the kitchen, he encountered his soulmate’s ashes and broke down crying. Within a few game minutes, Jay’s Sim swept up his wife’s ashes, deposited them in an urn, and placed the container on the fireplace mantle (yep, fireplace). He began to rebuild the house, but the task was difficult because of his habit of breaking down and crying everytime he passed by the remains.

The next game day, his neighbor Tommy’s Sim wife April came over to pay a visit and her respects. Within an afternoon, she was making out with Jay’s Sim, and the pain her felt over his wife’s death faded just as quickly.

In horror, I turned off the game, never to play it again. I also vowed to never speak of that day’s events. For many weeks, I kept the secret to myself. Yet one night, I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. “Micha, I have a secret,” I began. Then, as if in church confession, I poured forth and told her every horrible detail about my social experiment.

When I was finished, Micha was fine with the whole story. In fact, she said that it didn’t surprise her. “I’m such a crappy cook, it wouldn’t shock me if I did do something like that someday.”

When she retold the story to her husband, he wanted to know if his Sim neighbor’s wife was hot. When told it was the Sim based on his real-life best friend’s wife April, his curiousity dried up. I assume that he immediately retreated to his safe place.

Photo credit: The Sims Social Fansite

Emily Wagner

Last night, I was watering my pitiful plants, most of which have been suffering slowly this winter from a wicked combination of cold drafts and terrible light. I started off my stint in east Dallas with over a dozen plants. I’m down to six now, with only half of that semi-dozen being worthy enough to be called “hardy”.

While soaking the soil, I thought about the days when my apartment looked like Stephen King in “Creepshow”. It seemed like every nook and cranny was bathed in sunlight or chlorophyll, and how helpful such warmth was to me at the time. I was still suffering from a terrible heartbreak, and it was around that time that I met a girl named Emily.

I have seen Emily only four times in my life. She was just a sophomore when we first met, during her interviews for a resident assistant position. During her first interview, it was one of just a handful of times where I saw time slow down enough for me to fully absorb the person I was encountering. Emily was young, beautiful, a swimmer on the college team–;and equally entranced by me.

I had the opportunity to interview her a second time and the magic continued. Lucky for both of us, she was offered a position at Kerr Hall.

The third time I saw her was the day I left Denton for Austin. I had Kilgore packed to the brim with the last of my Austin-bound load and was making final rounds to each building. Walking out of my last stop, Kerr Hall, with every intention of hitting the road and never looking back, I encounter a girl walking up to the building. Once again, it’s Emily and we get the opportunity to converse outside the stressful formalism that envelops job interviews. We talked, and then hugged, got each other’s email addresses, and away I went.

Inevitably, we struck up a conversation over the internet, being sucked into talks during the work day that kept us around the office well past 5 on a regular basis. Then one week, the hot water was cranked within our conversation as we confessed how we felt about each other. And how was that? Not love, not lust, just a longing to explore what made each other seem so great.

So a great idea was hatched –; Emily would come down to Austin to visit. And down she came. And it would be the last time I ever saw her.

Like a good guest, she brought gifts for her host. The most important of them was the weekend of wonderful friendship we shared. I don’t think the events needs to be recounted, but anyone who believes in their heart can imagine how sweet and right the weekend felt.

The other gift she brought was a symbol, the most- appropriate gift I have likely ever received. It was a houseplant to add to my collection. I never knew the scientific name for it, but the plant was a wonderfully lush specimen which was very hardy. And over the years I have done my best to keep the plant alive –; I saw the plant as a symbol of what I was fortunate enough to share with Emily, and I wanted to make the plant happy no matter what.

In Austin, the plant thrived. In North Dallas, it grew well. But in the area I live now, near downtown Dallas, it suffered terribly. The fatal blow came when Bob and I acquired two kittens, who proceeded to destroy the plant in the span of minutes. Now nothing is left of the plant except for memories, and it’s similar to how Emily disappeared out of my life.

I wish I had a picture of her — unfortunately when you search for her name on the internet, you get a whole bunch of stuff about art and film, mediums which cannot capture her brilliance. I can only hope she is as happy now as she made me then. I’m sorry the plant died, Emily. Believe me, I wouldn’t write a post like this about any other plant I have.

Update: …then suddenly out of the blue, in the textbook definition of coincidence, I find Emily on instant messenger today. And like I had hoped, she is happy. An amazing small world once again!

Small World, Part IV: Rosie

This may be the least significant of my small world stories, only because I do not know this person very well. It’s an exceptional story because I was able to thank someone personally who had done something very nice for me at one time. Awhile ago. Months ago.

I’m a feverent fan of the Texas Observer, but there was this one time I reupped my subscription only to see the issues cease coming period! “I did resubscribe rather close to the last date,” I told myself — so I waited. And waited. I even checked my online checking balance and found out the check had cleared.

I contacted the magazine office and spoke to their circulation manager Rosie. I explained the problem and she promised to look into it. Soon, I received my subscription once again. Immediately after that, I also received a package containing all of the issues I missed along with a handwritten apology note. I was very grateful and wrote Rosie a thank-you note for her trouble.

Flash-forward many months later. I was down in Austin in October of this past year having dinner with friends and acquaintances of the future Mrs. Glass, and we chose good ol’ Kerby Lane to provide us with full bellies. I was chatting with and getting to know all of these new people, and across from me was a nice girl that I introduced myself to:

“Nice to meet you, Rosie. What do you do for a living?”

“Oh, I work at the Texas Observer.”

You can probably fill out the gaps from there.

And I did her in person. The meeting probably meant more to me as a coincidental thrill than it did to her, but hey…small worlds work like that, you know.

“Sorry, Gotta Go!”

Although this story is ancient, it’s received a fair number of encores over the past few months. And it’s appropriate to tell again, since some of these same thoughts and experiences are being relived, not just by me but by some of my more artistically-tuned friends.

In retrospect, the year 2000 turned out to be the hardest and most amazing year of my life. At the beginning, I was dating Rebecca, a girl that I thought might be the one — it turns out that she had other ideas, as just two days after our anniversary she broke up with me. On February 2nd, Groundhog Day ironically enough, a day that is dominated by stories of shadows and seems to repeat itself over and over.

My heart was crushed, and more trivial plans of mine were screwed. The most-immediate of these was my plan for the weekend before Valentine’s Day. Because my own car was not road-worthy, I had plans to borrow Rebecca’s car a quick weekend visit to Austin. Micha had secured some tickets to a comedy club, and I was going to spend a day or two with her before heading back up to school. When said girlfriend was removed from the equation, so was her car and my plans were shot. So the Friday of that aborted weekend, Ellen invited me to a party her crack house being hosted by her and the two roomies. Ellen was well-aware of how devastated I was and rightly thought I could use the distraction of company.

At the party nursing mixed drinks from bring tumblers, I lamented to Ellen about my loss of love and vacation; Ellen told me how she wished to be down in Austin as well, for a good friend of hers was having a birthday party that weekend. We were quiet for a brief moment. Then, we looked at one another and our thoughts connected simultaneously: “So…why not go to Austin?” And with that, Ellen had a bag packed quicker than a speeding bullet and we abandoned the party she was hosting. One quick trip to Bruce Hall to gather my things, then we were on the road screaming south in the middle of the night.

Our first stop was Midlothian, TX–the Cement Capital of Texas–to pick up her two girlfriends Crissie and Cassie, two of the most-gorgeous sisters I’ve ever met. We switched to their vehicle, our own little partymobile, and with breathtaking swiftness the four of us are lead-footing it to Austin with the hopes of getting me there in time for the comedy club show.

We helped push the homo sapiens species into new evolutionary heights that night, going from the mortal pursuit of driving to flying down the highway towards Austin — beers in hands, foot on accelerator, cares left behind. All sorts of laws were broken that night: state, local, federal, physics, relativity, gravity. I commented that when (not if!) we get busted, it is going to equally epic and bad. Ellen turn to me, smiles that lazy smile of hers, and says, “Honey, you’re in a car with the three most beautiful women in North Texas — ain’t no way we’re a’gettin’ a ticket tonight!” Hard to argue with that logic in Texas.

Do I still have a ticket to the show? I remember to call Micha at this time.

“Do you still have the ticket?”

“Umm, yeah.”

“OK, great — see you there in an hour.”

“Huh?”

I hang up.

We arrive at the Capitol City Comedy Club just minutes before the show is to start — a line of people snakes around the building await entrance. We spill out of the car to Micha’s astonishment. I fetch my bag. Ellen in turn fetches Micha…into her open arms and declares via drunk-voice, “I’m so glad to finally meet you!” Micha is still scarred by this, I believe. The girls jet, I get in line with my big stupid suitcase and small smart sister, suffer the grumpy comments that people made about having to share space with both me and my luggage, and proceeded to laugh my ass off that night.

The next morning, Micha and I are driving along one of the most-beautiful stretches of road ever paved, the Capital of Texas Highway. I’m staring out the window at the breathtaking views: hills and horizons to the west, the distant skylines of Austin to the east, high radio towers on low buttes which do not seem possible to have been man-made. I break the silence with the following epiphany:

“You know, I think I’m going to move to Austin.”

Micha pulls over and her eyes get big. “Really?”

“Yep…I think I’m going to move here ASAP.”

Micha gives me the biggest hug. It was going to mean so much for her best friend to live nearby.

So early the next morning, Ellen picks me up and we made the long drive back to Denton. I would discover in the near-future that this drive will always be slow because I know what I’m leaving behind by leaving Austin.

The next morning, Monday, Valentine’s Day, I woke up at 7am refreshed as never before. Got to work at 8am and promptly called our central housing office in order to meet with our chief of housing, Betsy. Receptionist says that 4:30pm is her earliest free opportunity, which is cutting into both my 4pm one-on-one meeting with my boss Kelly and my hall’s 5pm staff meeting. I decide to take it — if I miss any of my meetings to turn in my resignation, what are they going to do…fire me?! I idle away the rest of the day, smug in the knowledge of my little secret.

At 4pm, Kelly and I meet like usual. Earlier in our professional relationship, the two of us argued many times about the best direction for the hall. By this time, we’d ironed out some of our differences and learned to accept the strengths within one that made them carry out decisions that frustrated the other. I had intended to begin the meeting with my news, but Kelly had a subject more urgent to speak about.

“There are these great head hall director positions opening up, I found out, and I think you should apply because I think you’ve got a lot of what they’re looking for,” she says. I chuckle, not believing how this is going to color what I need to tell her. But I roll with it. I lean back in my chair, place my fingertips together, and ask her, “Like what?” So I listen for a little bit as Kelly waxes about all sorts of my positives, about how she thinks I’ve grown a lot during out time together, that my charisma and smarts will take me far, what I mean to the residents, etc. I soak it all in, then check the time: 4:25pm. Gotta go! So, I cut her off with, “Kelly, that’s great! But…I’ve got to go. See, I’ve got a 4:30pm appointment with Betsy to turn in my resignation, but we can continue this conversation when I get back.” Kelly’s jaw drops and her eyes bulge out — this is the basis for a whole future generation of animated shorts, I believe. “No, you can’t quit yet!” she squealed, as she wasn’t ready for me to go (wanted to keep working with me, but was also about to take off for maternity leave). Sorry, gotta go.

I speed across campus to meet with Betsy. I wait for a short moment, then get called in. Betsy greets me with her standard nickname for me, “Hey there, Spamster! Didya hear about these head hall director posit–” I cut her off: “Betsy! I’m here to quit!” And in one of the rare moments when anyone has caught her using such language, Betsy says, “Well…shit. Nevermind.” So the two of us talk for a little bit, and I explain to her what happened between Rebecca and I, and more importantly how I needed to make myself move on before I became trapped in the Denton life. Betsy is smart enough to understand everything I said, for I was going through what all hall directors eventually go through. The difference is I was doing something about it before I was there too long to escape.

To make the rest of the story short, I headed back for our hall staff meeting. During our normal segment of “Things that suck/Things that don’t suck!”, I spilled the beans to my eleven resident assistants. For the most part, they were stunned, as would anyone who went into the weekend thinking one thing about the goals and ambitions of their boss and find out on Monday that they have radically changed course.

My decision quickly spread across campus and I was besieged by students and phone calls. The general opinion was shock: “Holy crap, Matthew’s leaving UNT! Matthew’s is leaving Bruce Hall!” Perhaps they were shocked because I was such an institution, but perhaps they were blown away by the fact that I proved it’s possible to leave school (Bruce lings have a terrible habit of staying long after they graduate).

And so began in my life a course that took me to Austin, across the sea, and back to Dallas in one short year full of amazing excitement, deafening pain, and oceans of indecision through which I’m still wading. Including today, one day before I turn 30.