Why is a Manhole Cover Round? Because Microsoft!

I’ve had some friends lately go through the interview process (and some who will be soon). What I always try to impress upon people (and myself when I have to do it) is that the interviewer is bumbling around about as much, if not more than you are. I think the interview at my current job was pretty good, but then I remember this gem:

“Why is a manhole cover round?”

At the time I didn’t know that this was an open-ended question. I thought it was a riddle or a logic puzzle. I’m surprisingly good at these. I say surprisingly, but maybe it isn’t all that surprising when I answered:

“Because the hole is round.”


“Well, is that right?”

“Uh. There wasn’t supposed to be a right answer. It was just an open-ended question.”

“What else would someone even say?”

At the time I thought it was a dumb question, but another way to look at it is that they found out a lot by the way I answered. I work in a job that requires logical reasoning and troubleshooting all day long every day. We quest for the best and most logical answers. I thought I did well.

Still, I don’t know what other people answer this question with, so I thought I’d Google it (about two years after I was asked). Apparently the real reason manhole covers are round is because Microsoft started asking why in their interviews.

I was not the only one who gave the practical, boring answer, but some other answers:

“A round manhole cover cannot fall through its circular opening, whereas a square manhole cover may fall in if it were inserted diagonally in the hole. (A Reuleaux triangle or other curve of constant width would also serve this purpose, but round covers are much easier to manufacture. The existence of a “lip” holding up the lid means that the underlying hole is smaller than the cover, so that other shapes might suffice.)”

Okay, you got me. I’m not an engineer.

“Round tubes are the strongest and most material-efficient shape against the compression of the earth around them, and so it is natural that the cover of a round tube assume a circular shape.”

I’m still not an engineer. This would explain why the internet is so strong, it also being constructed from a series of tubes.

“It’s easier to dig a circular hole and thus the cover is also circular.”

That’s a good point. I spent a lot of my youth in Cape Cod digging holes at the beach and I can’t say any of them were squares or triangles.

“The bearing surfaces of manhole frames and covers are machined to assure flatness and prevent them from becoming dislodged by traffic. Round castings are much easier to machine using a lathe.”

Yet again, these are things I didn’t realize. For all you machinists, score one for you.

“Human beings have a roughly circular cross-section.”

Here are the dumb answers I was looking for! Phew, all of these alternate answers were making me feel inadequate! This one I can totally feel superior to: “We’re kinda (but not really) circle, so they are too!”


…and I burst out into song, from Fiddler on the Roof. TRADITION! TRA-DI-TION! TRA-DI-TIOOOOON! To me, this answer is like saying: “Because that’s how God made it.” or just, “Because.” Even traditions have origins, people. I call FAIL on this answer.

Important to note, upon some investigation, not all manhole covers are actually round. Yes. The question itself makes an incorrect assumption. While round is most common, they also come in square and triangle. I think this easily ties into the message I was trying to send here. People who are interviewing currently, and will be soon as you graduate, don’t be too nervous as you interview. Know that the questions you will be asked and the people that ask them are flawed. They make incorrect assumptions, they steal things from Microsoft, and most have no right answer.

Just do the best to show your best, and you’ll do fine.

So, what do you answer if you get asked why is a manhole cover round?

Because Microsoft started asking people why.

Dramatics & Nightmares

Blaster Master NESThis post is brought to you by Blaster Master for the NES. When your pet frog jumps down a hole, you follow like Alice in Wonderland. The only difference, besides the frog, is that Alice didn’t get a tank at the bottom of the hole. :)

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, or know me personally, you know that I am single and pretty stubborn about staying that way in recent times. Regardless, this doesn’t make me completely removed or foreign to the dramatics that forever follow on the heels of lovers, loves, more than friends, and even WTFs.

When that thing clenches your heart and you are pulled into what seems like an endlessly complicated swirl of events, you have to gain perspective. The only way to do that is spread your broken hearted cheer, because the subject (you) is always too close to the situation.

People who may be pretty bad at their own interpersonal relationships have surprising perspective when you go to them with the timeless situations that have transcended time and culture. I propose that the phrase ‘love is blind’ doesn’t just mean you don’t pick who you fall for, it also means that it blinds you to what is actually happening around you. You just don’t know what you can do to avoid as much heart ache and embarrassment as possible.

To anyone who is in this situation currently and hasn’t found that poor friend’s ear to snag I offer the following bits of perspective in no particular order…

1. You can’t logically argue your way into continuing a relationship with someone. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t tried. Even if you can stave off the inevitable for a bit longer, let’s consider that it took a lot for your other half to come to you with a proposal of breaking things off. I’ve known people to continue relationships they want out of for weeks, months, even years without letting the other half know about it. They may or may not have thought about it with your perspective, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever bond that kept you together can’t be repaired with Elmer’s glue. If they’ve considered it enough to say “We need to have a talk.” then it’s not worth trying to argue. They’ve found enough reasons, even if they won’t share those reasons, and even if they’re stupid. The issue is not yours and the battle is not yours to fight. Short of mind control, you can’t change how a person feels. You can’t argue a person out of the way they feel. If they are going to change their mind and come back, they have to do it on their own.

2. Only good things is a fairy tale. It’s not always this bad is a sign to get out. We’re talking about the L word, so I’m going to have to use some cliches. It has to rain sometimes, and when it rains, it pours. Every person has their rough spots. Every pairing doubly so. A better litmus test is how you deal with those moments when they come, and yes, how often they come. People resist change, including cutting off something that is no longer mostly a good thing. If you’re defending to your friends, “She/He/It’s not always this bad.” then it’s a sure sign you’re who I’m talking about. On the flip side, you can’t run at the first sign of bad weather. Rough spots can bring people closer as well, like all of this rain we’ve had this week has made things begin to bloom. (Okay, now I’m making myself gag.)

3. It’s never you. If you’re being broke up with, of course it isn’t you. The other person has identified reasons, be they irreparable problems with the relationship, or problems with their own feelings and position. At a stretch, we could say, it’s both of you. But really, it’s the one breaking up that can’t see you together beyond the present. The one breaking up is done trying. I’m not saying they are the bad guy necessarily, but I am saying that you can’t go down the path of “I should have”s. One more kiss or one less disagreement isn’t going to change a pattern, or like I said above, someone else’s feelings.

4. Chances are, they don’t know themselves. Of course we’re going to ask why. Of course you will be given reasons. But, really, if the reasons behind why we fall for people is so cryptic, organic, strange, and unexpected, would you expect no less from the loss of these feelings and the break up?

5. Life goes on. The worst, least helpful, most cruel cliche I’ve saved for last. As much pain as you get yourself into, it will fade from the forefront of your mind over time. You will find someone else better than the last, especially when your head clears and you realize they weren’t so amazing and you weren’t quite right for eachother anyways. More importantly, you can exist and thrive without that other person in your life and you will. What made you attractive to that person in the first place is how awesome and vibrant you are on your own.

None of these things I’m saying will get you through that darkness following a bad ending. That is really something you need to push through on your own, but it doesn’t help to be surrounded by sympathetic ears and distracting personalities.

So this dramatic scene passes, and the nightmare ends, and the world keeps spinning into a new day bringing with it another slew of possibilities.

Doubly Singular

Soul Blazer crab walking

This post’s image is brought to you by the Enix game Soul Blazer for the SNES. On one hand, this may be an introduction to a tutorial. On the other hand, it might be a pickup line.

I enjoy being single. The world is, in general, a much simpler and happy place when you’re dealing with a single point of view. It’s a bit harder to argue with yourself. I’m not much in the habit of betraying myself. And when I screw up, no one is there to tell me so or rub it in except me. I’m hard enough on myself, so it’s a bit of a relief to not have double the guilt.

I’ve seen enough people cringe when I go on like that. I know approximately what they’re thinking. “Wow. That’s a pretty jaded viewpoint. What about all the good stuff?”

I used to have good answers to this sort of cynicism. I used terms like “…when I find my soul mate…” as opposed to, “…if something close to this even exists…”. I used to believe that love could be enough to make any relationship work if you worked at it hard enough.

But, really, it doesn’t work that way. People suck. A person will expect you to work at the relationship while simultaneously looking over their shoulder for something better, making you feel like you’re doing something wrong, and not feeling even remotely obligated to meet you half way on anything.

The two ways of dealing with someone when they try to make you meet them half way on anything:

1. Argue.

2. Agree without even listening to what you’re agreeing to.

I prefer people that will argue over those who will ‘yup’ you. “Yes, honey” makes me want to impale peeps and marshmallow bunnies on knives while pretending they’re real. You at least can be sure the argumentative ones are being honest about what they think and feel with you. They trust you enough to expose their own opinions and feelings. Unfortunately, they also usually think their thoughts are automatically more qualified than anyone else’s. It’s not that they think they’re always right, it’s that you’re always at least more wrong than they are (if you are performing the great sacrilege of having a different point of view).

To these people, being wrong is a significant event that determines one’s mental capacity. Proving someone wrong and making them feel stupid for it go hand in hand. Nothing says “I love you.” more than, “You moron, you got that movie quote wrong.”

Even though I like being single, I will admit that finding that ideal other person would also be wonderful. It’s something that is always at least in the back of every single person’s mind: what is your ideal like? What are you going to look for differently next time (as if we don’t chose slight variations on the same type of people over and over)?

I’m thinking that next time I will try to find someone that has the capacity to both be very honest *and* very caring. I want to find someone that will feel like they can say anything to me, but would like that person to have the ability to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” and “I don’t agree with you, but you make a valid point.” and mean it.

I could go on to say that the idea person would be a dichotomy between a lot of things. I am someone who has always been (somehow) extremely left brained and right brained at the same time. I also have the capacity to be both over logical and over emotional. If this doesn’t make any sense, get to know me better. If this sounds frightening, it can be, so you might want to poke me with a stick through my cage a few times before getting too close.

But what is with this useless exercise? It’s the ultimate self centered thought, to pretend there is going to be someone else out there who you will find in your lifetime that matches your wants and needs more perfectly than you even understand those wants and needs.

On top of that, I’m pretending I’ll actually chose things about the person the next time my mind and body betray me and do the love suicide march once again.

I have not planned it when it’s happened. I’ll not even be looking.

So, as I continue to actively not look for someone else, I also try not to go down this silly road wrought with self-indulgent romanticism. The pessimistic blather may not be much better, but it at least supports my independence. It’s better than being a desperate romantic any day.

Trust, Even After Trying it’s Gone

Rex attacks with poison flour
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest for the SNES. One of the crappiest Final Fantasy games ever made has some of the crappiest writers and translators at the wheel.

A warning to those who don’t know eating flour provided by undead dinosaurs may be potentially hazardous: an adventuring career maybe isn’t for you. This has been a video game public announcement.

What kind of adjective is “flamerous”? It certainly isn’t English.
– – – – –

Gawn and Treye sat down together in a cafe in a the small, industrial city of Worner, sleepy in its wintry shell. They hadn’t seen each other in months, though they live but miles apart. Treye had been calling Gawn off and on for weeks- as well as everyone else she knows in the city with little luck. Even friends with which Treye knew nothing but good times seem to have moved on to somewhere or something new and exclusive. Treye was getting sick of being positive about her loneliness, and her desire to vent was fast overcoming the desire not drive Gawn away. It had been three days since Treye spoke to anyone other than customers at work and voicemail boxes of friends. All of her recent attempts to try and meet new people were met with polite but cold reactions or hopes of sex.

Treye was about to give up on humanity and the act of putting trust in people. Still, she reached out to Gawn on more time hoping she’d be proven wrong.

Gawn tried to reassure Treye but also has a hard time disagreeing with her assessments.

“In all trust there is the possibility for betrayal,” admits Gawn.

“Then it is better not to trust,” Treye stared into her cup of black tea, hunched over it as if huddling for warmth..

“But… without trust there is no real friendship, no closeness, none of the emotional bonds that make life worth living…” Gawn lists passionately.

“These are the experiences and feelings that make up life itself,” agrees Treye.

“Exactly,” Gawn slapped the table, glad to be getting through.

“So… you put yourself at risk, and do so knowingly and willingly.”

“…every single time,” admitted Gawn, smiling.

“How do you know when to trust others and when to trust your doubt?” Treye pushes herself and her tea further across the table towards Gawn, “How can you separate paranoia from a real, deserving lack of trust?”

“Hopefully you trust yourself over others before the knife ends up in your back. Other than that, I really can’t give you an answer. Some people trust others until they give them sure reason not to. Some will even forgive and extend trust again and again.”

“How does one find a trustworthy individual?” Gawn seemed to have all the answers, and Treye hoped she could pull some to apply to her own life.

“The same way one finds an honest man.”


“I’m saying, one doesn’t. The capacity for betrayal is within all of us.”

“Not me,” Treye denied without a hint of pride or happiness at the proclamation.

“If that’s true, then I pity you. You are doomed to a lifetime of expectations that no one can fulfill and things given that no one can reciprocate.”

“Perhaps there is something wrong with me,” Treye squeezed the ceramic mug, “Sometimes I suspect I am not human.”

“Oh, you’re human all right- human enough to feel betrayed, rejected, isolated, like no one understands you-”

“So, I’m just a whiny cliche?” Treye chuckled at herself without a bit of humor.

“No, just human: individual, but part of a common experience of common emotions.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. People don’t feel the same way,” Treye paused, thinking before finding the words to explain, “Sure, we all get sad or angry, but one person’s depression is barely another person’s sadness. The same sad person maybe feels barely any anger”

“How would you know?”

“I know when I react honestly and deeply, there are times I’m told I should be in a mental institution or on a drug.”

“Yes… I guess some people are… sensitive,” Gawn conceded.

“And I’ve met other… sensitive… people and have found they understand me better, but are perhaps even more selfish that the norm. The can be more unsympathetic.”

“They’re trying and protect themselves maybe?”

“I could think of many reasons. In the end, it just is. The sensitive person is a victim in a cycle of their own creation making themselves more the victim by throwing themselves under trucks and into fires- that is unenjoyable, but comfortably selfish: the attention they attract, the band aid of other’s pity and self pity. Other people become competition,” Treye shakes her head bitterly.

“And you’re different..?”

“Yes. I know I hurt myself by giving trust to those who don’t deserve it, by not being able to connect with people that would treat me better, but I don’t advertise it like a beacon hoping for those to flock to me to ease the pain as well as allow it to continue so the flock stays.”

“Maybe you should. Maybe you just don’t because you’re afraid they won’t come.”

“No, I’m afraid of being disgusting and weak like them. I’m afraid of my own guilt,” admitted Treye.

“Oh, so bottle it up inside and try hard not to trust those you want to. There’s a logical solution,” Gawn rolled his eyes and nibbled at the left over crumbs of his scone.

“I guess I’m caught in a bit of a paradox.”

“If your values weren’t mixed up in this, I’d have a solution: throw your honesty, integrity, pride, loyalty out the door… Just be and accept.”

“What, like them? Those people don’t accept anything- they live in constant delusion. I’d rather be miserable than delude myself,”

“Would you rather be lonely than to try to trust again? To never connect or know someone else again?” Gawn was getting frustrated.

“It doesn’t matter much what I want. I’m lonely either way. Trust gives darkness a face to whisper to at least.”

“For a bit of pity for you?”

“No. Connection. For real, honest connection. Not ‘I feel bad for you’, but ‘I know what you mean, and hang in there.’.”

“You’re talking about wanting someone to care, understand, and accept you as you are,” Gawn was trying the best to be understanding and sympathetic, but was seeing the circular logic Treye was caught in.

“Yes. And I know I will find it again. It’s just painful knowing it never lasts. At the next inconvenient moment the connection ceases.”

“Um… can we maybe talk about this some other time? I mean, it’s been good talking but… I just have a lot of stuff to do, you know?” Gawn got up to leave. He put forth a forced smile and mentally asked for forgiveness.

“Yes. I understand. I know. Goodbye.”

Treye and Gawn never saw each other again.