Types of novels that I do not want to read

  • Books about historic epochs written by people who have not experienced said times, like the very popular “All the light we cannot see.”. Why should I read about how some person of today imagines WWII if there are already tons of good books by people who were alive during that time?
  • Quirky books. Especially about sad topics. Books that tell stories of children that go through the worst kind of abuse and horrible life experience, but have a light, ironic, “fun tone”, in the worst case “fun” footnotes and so on. Books that seem to say: Hey, experiencing horrible things, even as children, is not that bad, hey, see I made a joke about it. Examples are “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” by Dave Eggers or “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. Where does this entire “watch-young-people-experience-terrible-things-and-still-get-to-smile-about-it”-porn industry come from? Is there some target group that loves reading this? Who?
  • Books where the author is trying to dazzle the reader by his quirky imagination to try to distract them from the lack of substance (see David Mitchell et al.)
  • Books that try to be deep by having random bad or unusual things happen to people, and then showing shallow responses that are supposed to somehow hide something deep happening underneath (or maybe not).
  • Books in which male authors completely fail to empathize with their female protagonists and no editor seems to catch the problem. Like  in “The rise and fall of great powers” by Tom Rachman, where the author fantasizes about his young, female heroine just walking into a random apartment and cuddling with a guy living in the apartment, that she has never met before, just out of pure quirkiness. The percentage of women being able to identify with this behaviour is likely very close to 0%.
  • Any story where the protagonist goes “on a journey to explore his family history/his fathers mysterious past/find his mother”. his is just my personal taste, I realize most people find this topic endlessly fascinating.
  • Crime stories and thrillers. No, I don’t like to read about ways in which a demented murderer mutilates the body of his victim, thanks.
  • Cheesy romance novels, and funny novels about women and their problems with weight loss.
  • Books by old men writing about old protagonists who are fantastically popular with young women. In general books that seem like a written down daydream of power, beauty or popularity. Relatedly, books with protagonists that are described as exceptionally beautiful and/or exceptionally clever.
  • Books where the author compares the character to a living actor, apparently already thinking about the time when the book will be made a movie. Come on.
  • Books with brooding young male protagonists written by brooding young male authors.
  • Harry Potter and anything remotely similar. I hate books with “poor mistunderstood yet somehow superpowery person who can save the world, oh so famous yet so poor”-protagonists that are so normal in YA fiction. It is fine if teenagers want to read this but what is wrong with adults who are still stuck at that stage?
  • Books that use too many metaphors.
  • Books that try to draw you in with a shocking first sentence, like “The day I shot my mother was bright and clear.” Come on!

Book recommendations, anyone? 🙂

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Attempts at conversation with other physics teachers

Physics Teacher: How much did you make at the Big Company?

Me: About the same as here.

PT: Only? Why did you leave? It was because everyone only cared about money, right?

Me: Yes.

PT: I hate that too. I calculated that during my PhD I lost about 200 k that I would have earned in any other job.

Me: That did not matter to me either. I even did 2 postdocs after that with very low pay. But it was interesting work.

PT: You did two postdocs? How much did you earn in your postdoc?

Me: 2000 per month.

PT: Only?!

Me: Yeah.

PT: With those 200k I lost during my PhD, I could now make the down payment for a house. I am surprised you didn’t earn more than us at the Big Company!

Me: Well.

PT: I once had a job offer in a place where they said some starting salaries are 150 k. For programming. I’m very good at programming.

Me: Okay.

PT: But those people at these kind of jobs, they only care about money. So annoying. Here, we have freedom and independence.

Me: Yes, exactly.

PT: How much did you make exactly at the Big Company?

Me: 110 k.

PT: Wow, that is not much.

Me: Have you always wanted to be a Physics teacher?

PT: No! I always wanted to be a teacher. But not a Physics teacher! Actually, after high school I wanted to study Spanish and become a Spanish teacher. Because I was in love with my Spanish teacher. I even joined the swimming team because of her. But my father said, my son will not study a language, no way. He will study Maths. So I said okay. Then we went to my uncle, who was an engineer. And he said, no, you shouldn’t study Maths, but Physics, this is more useful. So I said okay. And I started studying Physics. When I came home one Christmas I told my father I don’t like Physics, I am quitting. And he said, we are not quitters in our family. You will get a diploma in Physics, if you like it or not. And I did.

Other Physics Teacher: Wow, you are for sure easy to influence.

Physics Teacher: What are you drinking?

Me: Ginger Tea.

PT: Oh God. This is dreadful. My crazy ex always drank Ginger Tea. I hate this stuff.

Me: …


PT: I read pretty weird books.

Me: Like what?

PT: The Hammer of Witches.

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How to survive at a big (financial) corporation

In my observation, there are exactly two basic ways to survive the eco-system of a large corporation in a healthy and long-term sustainable way.

1. The happy underling

The happy underling is a very sociable person. He/she comes to the office mainly to meet their colleagues and friends, catch up on gossip and spend time outside of home. The office is what the local pub is to the old men on a Greek island. Who wants to sit home all day? The office is a convenient way to escape home and kill some time. Miraculously, you even get paid in the process. The happy underling is not one to try to negotiate for more salary unless absolutely necessary, because they do not care about money.

For the successful underling, work is the least of her concerns. It absolutely does not matter if the work is meaningful or fulfilling, if responsibilites are evolving or devolving. It doesn’t matter to the underling if he works on something for a year and then the result gets spat on and thrown into the garbage. Why should it? The fun about work is the office and your friends. Actually, it is a good thing if the work is absurd and going in circles, because this is an endless source of hilarious in-jokes, complaining and justifying the fact that you do nothing all day long whenever you can.

If you run out of tasks, never tell anyone. The trick is to portion your work in a way that you are always busy. If you have as your sole task in the week to fill out five lines in an Excel sheet, fill one line per day, with many breaks in between. Make filling out the lines as complicated as you can, ask follow-up questions to higher ups, then complain that they do not respond etc. If someone asks, you can always respond cheerfully that you are sweating over that Excel. Nobody has any clue how much work it should be to fill it out anyway.

If you get too much work instead, this is trickier. You will spend 12 hours per day in the office, because you still need to do your 4 hours of your usual socializing, plus perhaps one extra hour of complainig about your insane work load. You working overtime will hopefully become too expensive for the company in the long term.

2. The ascending manager

 You’re not as sociable, but rather aggressive and ambitious? Then, there is one other way to exist at the office. You make as your sole goal to ascend the career ladder. Again, as for the happy underling, this requires not caring about the content of the work at all. Forget about this immediately. Instead, focus on being an actor. You need to put a show on every day.

Your goal is to always impress superiors. The higher up, the better. Study their speeches and memos in detail, and remember what their main concern is. Then make a huge show of trying to solve exactly their main concern in exactly the way that they might want. Be tough; this might involve firing people, taking on unethical customers, evading taxes etc.

Be aggressive, overly confident. Be rude to underlings whenever you can get away with it; this helps build your reputation. Always walk fast and with loud steps. Dress above your position. Work until late, write e-mails at night. Be very jokey and funny with your competitors. Be extremely friendly and sociable to people who might be of benefit to you. Be cold to those who don’t. If you are a manager, absolutely find somebody to fire, this looks excellent and will help you to ascend further. And above all, do not trust anybody. Note that you cannot survive in this niche for a day this if you cannot handle intrigues and read people very well, and if you are an expert bullshitter.

Privately, you can still be the sweetest person on the planet, donate for good causes, love puppies.

You will be rewarded by what you like: increasing salary, increasing power. And whenever you’re fed up, you can throw it all away and do something else, and everyone will be super impressed with you for the rest of your life (this yoga teacher was once a high level manager at superbank will always sound good).

You’re none of the above? You care about the actual content of the work? You would cry if your years’ work was thrown away? You would hate it to do something unethical? You’re introverted, loyal and serious? Then please do yourself a favour and do not accept the job at a big corporation. If you do not believe me, then ask yourself: who would enjoy working in a huge open office except those two types of people?

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Working at a big corporation

So my 6 months at a large financial corporation have been interesting. The difference to a research environment is huge.

People are extremely well behaved. As of now, I have never heard anyone scream. Nobody throws things, I haven’t encountered any crying and up to now I have not seen anyone leave because of a mental breakdown or a burn out. People are quiet and work hard (although often very inefficiently). They are very polite, keep doors open for you even if you are 50 meters away, and seem to work steadily and without rush but also without idling, good old traditional protestant work ethics style. It feels like I have woken up in the past sometimes, in the era where my parents worked, despite the constant restructuring and reorganizing by management, and the big words about how things need to change now for real, it feels very old-fashioned.

I am not used to working in such an orderly and reasonable way. I feel like working like crazy on some days and not doing anything on others, like I am used to, but there is no reason to, I only rarely have deadlines and work is never exciting, there are no real breakthroughs, but also no disappointments, no rejected grant applications.

People are like clockwork here, they come at 8 and leave at 5, one hour lunch break spent wisely on sports or on networking, hairs always freshly washed, clothes freshly ironed. There is no craziness, passion, no chaos visible (although if you are close to the IT and data landscape of this corporation, there is chaos like I have never seen, and an extreme amount of illogical and wasteful procedures — but this is all under the surface, and mostly patiently accepted by those who have to deal with it). On the surface, there is a ballet of typing, walking, meeting, thinking, planning, phone-calling of serious, but friendly people in somber clothes who all constantly observe and watch each other in the shared office space from the corner of an eye, which is probably the reason that nobody seems to come late or leave early. Carpets are cleaned every single evening, so if heaven forbid some breadcrumbs fall under my desk they are magically gone in the morning. Windows cannot be opened, so that no outside craziness can get in, instead we probably get the same air for months which circulates through the ventilation, smelling more and more chemical, which makes the building feel completely sealed off from the rest of the world. From where I am sitting, far from the windows, it is impossible to make out what kind of season it might be outside. I feel like I am in some sort of eternal, timeless place where emotions and weather and smells and sounds are all damped to a degree that one just wants to lie down and not move anymore for years and years, because nothing will ever change, no bad thing will happen and no good thing, ever.

Still, from time to time some task comes my way which is intellectually slightly stimulating, and if you saw my brain on an MRI you would see some firework and some experiencing of short spans of flow-like states. Then it fizzles again, the problem is solved, and I just have to wait and wait and wait for the next mildly interesting thing to come, while I do some routine work that I can do with both hands tied on my back and eyes closed and I still have to do it, it takes time and every second of that time I am present and bored, there is no flow, no thinking, just smelling of chemicals and hearing of coughs and the slow, high-pitched words that the secretary behind me is producing that unfortunately are impossible to tune out, talking of children suffering and mean people always asking her the same thing which she has told them she can’t do for Christ’s sake.

Then at some point I usually snap and know I have to leave immediately in order not to sustain brain damage from boredom. But I don’t leave because everyone would notice, including my boss and team colleagues who sit nearby, quietly looking at their screens, and I see that they are not on Facebook, they are looking at Excel files, because everyone’s screen is visible by someone else from some angle. I still sit there, looking at the clock below the damn excel file, wishing for the day, the week, the month, the year to be over, and I know it is not healthy for me to think this way, but I am not sure how it is possible that people live an entire life inside this freaking office building, stay there for 20 years, until they retire. But people actually do this. People actually live and work this way. I am still amazed at this, and am grateful for the life experience, which seems to teach me something although I do not yet know what it is.

It is curious though how my life turned out, I worked so hard and it got me a job where I have to debug excels that were programmed by brain-dead economists who have absolutely zero analytical talent but think they do, and almost nobody even notices the difference between me and them. But I am okay, because I think it is interesting to experience life from different angles, I knew the academic angle and now I start understanding the big finance corporation angle, and I really hope I will leave again and see something else soon.

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A complete list of things that I am not interested in

  • Collecting things
  • Organizing events
  • Bringing a cake or any other type of food anywhere
  • Listening to people talk about their stomach flus, and how they get passed around in their family
  • Negotiations
  • Workplace politics
  • Following arbitrary rules
  • Doing things last minute
  • Most types of powerpoint slides
  • The opinions of most liberal arts students about art and science
  • People complaining about how bad everything is done except the things they do themselves
  • Religious people
  • Noticing and greeting people that I do not know well and do not care about
  • Listening to people ramble about detailed problems in their work
  • In general listening to people ramble about their problems that they claim are absolutely insolvable
  • People apologizing for the food they have cooked
  • People talking about restaurants in places that I have never visited
  • Detailed accounts of weekend plans including people and places I do not know
  • People telling me details about the problems of other people that I do not know, and expecting me to react empathetically or impressed
  • Being diplomatic towards assholes
  • Answering phone calls
  • Opening my mail
  • Sorting out paperwork
  • Doing household work
  • Buying clothes
  • Stories about small children, cats and dogs and other pets particularly if I do not know them personally, particularly when involving gross mishaps with food or bodily fluids
  • In general: gross and/or cute stories of any kind that seem to warrant some empathetic reaction on my part
  • Construction sites and any related issues
  • Cars, motorbikes and any related issues
  • Cosmetics, anti-aging and in particular cosmetic surgery
  • The year you traveled around in South America, and how much it widened your horizon, before you came back and continued your life exactly as it was before
  • Your amazing holidays in boring location xyz
  • The health problem of your greatparents, great-aunts etc. that I have never met and never will meet
  • The state mottos, state flowers and state cacti of American states
  • Local traditions and local sayings
  • Americans and their special kind of sports
  • All conversations about how expensive something is
  • All conversations about traffic
  • All conversation about home renovations
  • Furniture, especially designer pieces and how much your designer chair costed
  • Your expensive kitchen and how long it took to get it installed
  • Antiques
  • Open-Air Festivals
  • Sailing
  • Team sports
  • Pets and anything related to them
  • Theme parks
  • Skiing
  • Biking
  • Oral recounts of youtube videos
  • Expensive gourmet restaurants and the kind of rare snail tartar they offer only on the first Wednesday of the month
  • Where someone lives exactly if I don’t plan to ever visit them (no, it is the 5th floor, on the very right!)
  • When something happened exactly, when the exact time plays absolutely no role for the story someone is trying to tell me
  • The history of the arbitrary workplace rules that we are following at the moment
  • Political opinions that come directly from the right-wing pamphlet.
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