August 8th, 2009


What should I be when I grow up?

As those of you who are following along with my main journal know, I am presently, in the charming euphemism, "between jobs", and am spending the bulk of my time trying to find the "next opportunity" out there (lovely economy for it). So, I have been dusting off some job search books that I had lying around from my last time through the ranks of the painfully unemployed, and Carol Eikleberry's The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People is one of these.

As one would deduce from the title, this is a book primarily aimed at "Artistic" folks, as defined by John Holland's theory of personality types. The first part of the book deals with finding one's "Holland code" and defining that. When I first picked up this a couple of years back, that's as far as I'd gotten, and used Eikleberry's rough estimation quiz to determine my code. This time I went off to the government's "O*Net" site which offers all the "official" tools and took both the "Interest Profiler" and inter-related "Work Importance Locator". The former determines your scores in terms of the categories "Realistic", "Investigative", "Artistic", "Social", "Enterprising", and "Conventional", while the latter ranks what you want to get out of work in terms of "Achievement", "Independence", "Recognition", "Working Conditions", "Relationships", and "Support". Eikleberry only deals with the former here, and, while from her quizzes I looked like an "AIR" (Artistic, Investigative, Realistic ... which pretty much leaves you with "Architect"), the O*Net tests put me pretty solidly as just an IA, scoring a 25/30 for "Investigative", 18/30 for "Artistic", with the next highest being just a 3 (and with 2 categories at zero). Now, lest one think that I was running off and getting "external feedback", the author encourages readers to use these services, and has many recommended on her web site as well.

Once the reader has determined their "Holland Code", the book spends a while putting the "Artistic" personality into context, discussing how creativity can be expressed in various areas, discussing historical cases (such as Wallace Stevens and T.S. Elliot who both had "suit" jobs by day but produced significant literature in their free time), and the challenges and opportunities of having this sort of mind-set.

The middle section of the book deals with practicalities of searching out one's career path, from various general options ("run a small business", "teach in your field", etc.) to a whole collection of functional behaviors ("create a career notebook", "develop a relationship with a mentor", "resist perfectionism", "give yourself time", etc.)

The last third of the book is the weakest, however, as it's simply a long list of possible occupations, grouped into the authors' broad "Career Trails" of "Ideas", "Ideas and People", and "Ideas and Thing", which are then subdivided into categories such as "Writers", "Negotiators", "Performers", "Finishers", etc. Each of the hundreds of individual careers briefly sketched out under these is given a 3-letter "Holland Code", but because the list is sorted from the "broad strokes" down, there's no way (short of going through each) to search out one's specific code matches (note: if one does the O*Net instruments, the results in their analysis tools are sorted by code, making it much easier to get a sense of "where one fits").

I was amused to find that nearly everything that I've ever done professionally, and most of the things that I had planned and/or considered doing, were right in my profile categories. Admittedly, this time around, my score being Investigative/Artistic/??? left things a bit open-ended, as the third factor was pretty much not a factor.

Overall, however, The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People was a bit of a disappointment from my perspective. This could well be useful for somebody in highschool, wondering what to do with their life, or in college, trying to figure out a career that wouldn't "crush their soul", but there was little in here which spoke to me at my stage of life (unless I was suddenly able to "Get A Grant Or Find A Patron"), as I've already been down many of the roads suggested. I would certainly recommend that anybody picking this up follow the authors suggestions of using some of the other tools presented (such as the resources on the O*Net site), which gives a depth to the assessments not possible with just what's in these pages.

This 3rd Edition of the book is still in print, which will set you back $10-15.00 ... but previous versions are also available through the new/used vendors at Amazon, with "very good" copies going for as little as a penny and "new" copies at just shy of five bucks. Again, this is one of those books where "it depends" on where you are in life to how useful it would be to you. If you're looking at making a major change into an "Artistic" (or, generally "Creative") career path, there might be some very useful things in here for you, but if you've spent a quarter century doing stuff that's already in the book, not so much.

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Peer amid?

This is another one of those "older books" ... another, in fact, that I picked up at the Newberry Library Book Fair a couple of weekends back. I note that it's "old" (and it's not all that old, having come out in 1974), because I recognize several things in here which are no longer the case due to research in the intervening 35 years, and I understand that there is also more stuff in here which is "dated" that I'm not familiar enough with to comment on.

That being said, The Riddle of the Pyramids is a very interesting book. Written by a physicist, Kurt Mendelssohn (who had studied with Planck, Schrödinger, and Einstein in Germany and ended up in England after fleeing the Nazis), this spends 80% of its length looking at the pyramids of Egypt. The author claims to have somewhat "accidentally" come to writing the book, having made a connection between the dynamics of various landslides (in Wales) with the condition of "the collapsed pyramid" at Meidum. Fascinated by his perception (of the physics involved in the Meidum pyramid's collapse), he goes on to look at the entire period of pyramid construction.

The first half of the book pretty much looks at the construction of pyramids, from Mastabas, to the first "step" pyramids (which were essentially "stacking up" mastaba-type structures) to the evolution of the "true pyramid", and the eventual decline in pyramid building. The Meidum pyramid was built in three phases, a small step pyramid, a larger step pyramid, and eventually what would have been a "true" pyramid ... except that it (according to Mendelssohn) collapsed during construction of the third phase. The author looks at construction techniques, types of internal buttressing, the physics of materials under pressure, and then takes his conclusions from the specifics and expands to more general hypotheses.

One very interesting suggestion he makes is that the Egyptians did not actually know pi, even though the pyramids involve ratios that express that concept. He posits a "rolled cubit" measurement ... where height was determined by a linear measure (a hanging rope), but length was measured using a wheel with a diameter of a Royal Cubit, the tracing of the circumference creating a measure that inherently expressed pi, but all the Egyptian engineers needed to do was create ratios involving both measures. A 4:1 ratio resulted in the "true pyramid" angle of 51° 52', while a 3:1 ratio resulted in 43½°, the angle of the top of the "bent pyramid" and the "red pyramid"! Mendelssohn suggests that construction on the "bent" pyramid was well under way when Meidum collapsed, and that the angle was changed to the lower figure to avoid the same thing happening there. It was only when the ancient Egyptians figured out the material issues (those huge blocks of well-cut stone used at Giza), that they were able to successfully build the taller form.

The realization that there could well have been overlapping construction projects (Meidum and "bent") brings him to looking at the dynastic timelines, and finding that there are, during this particular period (as he was dating the construction by, there certainly is a lot of argument in this area that he simply side-steps), considerably more pyramids than Pharaohs to bury in them, and the construction projects seem to be on-going despite who was wearing the crown. This brings Mendelssohn to considering the logistics of building these monuments. Again, he side-steps the "technical" debate about how, specifically, the pyramids were made and (in true physicist fashion) simply breaks the problem down into how much "work" an individual human can do (in terms of, say, dragging a sled with a large stone on it), how much mass is involved in a given edifice, and figuring how many men over how many days it would take to get the blocks from the quarry and onto the pyramid (and then add on support, oversight, and technical staff estimated to be needed for that number of workers). He ends up with some charts which show how difficult it would be to "gear up" for one of these projects, but how reasonably easy it would be to maintain this on-going use of the population (for about 3 months a year, while the Nile was in flood and there was no agricultural work to be done), shifting resources between construction sites.

This then leads the author to another hypothesis. Looking at the uncertainty of the pyramids being specific burial sites, the on-going nature of the building process, he asks "what were they for", and instead of coming up with some Sitchin-like scenario, he posits the pyramid building phase was a significant cultural shift, creating what we know today as "the state". Rather than having an unorganized web of small village structures, loosely controlled by a "divine" king who happened to have enough of an army to extract tribute and a certain degree of loyalty, there was now a structure which brought all these various minor entities into a common concern, over-seen by a organizational caste, working on a project that spanned many generations. He posits that the end of the "pyramid era" came when the tribal nature of Egyptian society had pretty much been erased by generations of "working for the state" on these huge construction projects ... once the societal goal was achieved, the "tool" for achieving that (building the pyramids) was no longer needed.

The book then takes a bit of a side-trip off to look at Mesoamerican pyramid building, and some general thoughts on how these sorts of huge "public works" projects become the defining elements of "the state". Ultimately he suggests that the "nation-state" which evolved from these various cultures (and has been humanity's primary organizational template for the past 5,000 years or so) has reached "in the nuclear era" (remember this was being written in 1974) a level of unsuitability that needs to be supplanted by a more global model, and asks what could be "our pyramids" that would erase the nation-state the way the Egyptians erased (or substantially supplanted) the village millennia ago. He suggests a unified space program which would focus vast resources over a long period of time on a project that might not have any true utility but could organizationally change the cultural template.

Anyway, The Riddle of the Pyramids is out of print, so if you're interested in checking it out, you'll have to go through the used guys ... "very good" copies can be had for under a buck, and a couple of them have "new" copies for as little as $7.50 (plus shipping, of course). If you've read a lot of archaeology/Egyptology (as I have) this provides a thought-provoking "outside look" at the pyramid era which strips away all the religion (well, the book does deal with the issue, but more on an "organizational" level) and tries to specifically look at the function. Very interesting.

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