i woke up a bit before 6:30am to get ready to ride down to newton city hall for my census orientation at 8am. it only takes 30 minutes to get there but i got up early so i could use the bathroom. unfortunately times like this, when i add pressure to go to the bathroom, that's usually when it backfires and i ended up not going at all. i must've sat on the toilet for a good 30 minutes before i finally gave up. after a shower, i got dressed and left a bit after 7am. there was hardly any cars on my side of the street due to street cleaning which would begin at 8am.
i arrived at newton city hall by 7:35am. i'd never been here before, normally town/city halls are situated in a commercial district but there seems to be nothing around newton city hall. i went inside not sure where to go but there were others also here for the census orientation and i followed one guy upstairs to council chambers. it felt like entering a church, with pew-like wood chairs and high ceilings. a few enumerators were already seated, socially distant at least 6ft apart, everyone wearing masks. i found a seat but was asked to move when an old lady who arrived late sat directly in front of me.
the managers didn't seem to be very organized, but in their defense, there probably weren't very many veterans from the last census 10 years ago, and even if there was, the way the training was now organized - in times of coronavirus - is completely different from decades past. how do you train people when you're not allowed to get close to anyone? as a result, the managers and supervisors were probably improvising as they went along.
i was handed a brown folder with forms already filled out with my personal info the moment i came in. i also got a laminated id card on a lanyard. that was followed by a box with an iphone (8) and a black nylon brief case emblazoned with the census logo on one side and filled with forms and other documents one needed for census field work. there was a lot of sitting around as we waited for last minute stragglers to arrive. demographically, it a mix of young and old, mostly white, a few blacks, and i think i was the only asian. people not only sat in the council chambers, but there was also an upstairs balcony area where you could go as well, where they repeated everything we did downstairs.
the first half of orientation was filling out forms: id checks, pledge form, tax form, and iphone responsibility form. government and their love of bureaucracy and forms! we had to swear to protect the confidentiality of our cases, but the pledge was so long, i mumbled a lot of it since i couldn't remember it all. the big was great for social distancing but terrible for hearing as i could hardly hear our speakers, especially when they're talking behind face masks.
the second half was setting up the iphone. they passed out handouts earlier with instructions. basically change the default passcode, the default census server password, and login with new credentials. once that was done, they gave us a phone number and a code and told us to join a conference call at 3pm. with that we were free to go, it wasn't even 10am yet. normally i'd still be asleep, and already today i've been up for hours.
i was trying to find the straps for the census briefcase but couldn't locate them. there was a manila envelope stuffed with something that i thought was the straps but turned out to be a ziploc bag with a small bottle of purell and two cloth face masks. ah, so these are the fabled PPE they were said to be handing out to us! it felt a little underwhelming, for some reason i thought it was going to be face shields and a boxes of disposable face masks and gloves. doesn't the federal government have a stockpile of PPE's? i ended up tying down the briefcase to the back of my motorcycle.
i went to the cafe briefly to show my parents my new toys. i ate half of a leftover egg sandwich and my mother made me another glass of thai ice tea, this time with condensed milk. it tasted better than last time, but still a little bland. my sister showed up as well, made her own thai ice tea which tasted more authentic. the trick is not to mix any milk with the ice tea, only use condensed milk and mix it in from the start instead of pouring it in later.
back at home one half of the street was empty. i wasn't sure if they already cleaned the street or not, so instead i parked my motorcycle on the side street. later i'd move it to the front of the house. now that the initial nerves and stress of census orientation was over, my plumbing started working again and i used the bathroom before taking a shower.
the rest of the afternoon was spent waiting for the 3pm conference call and staying cool by intermittently turning on the AC. the AC only cooled the living room though, so i ran the box fan in the hallway and put a large tray of ice water in front of the fan to circulate more cool air. it seemed to work somewhat, as the kitchen area wasn't as hot anymore.
even though it was a little late, i did a load of laundry around 1pm. today was yet another hot day (90 degrees) but the difference was the 40% humidity, dry enough to hang my clothes outside, what i like to call artisanal sundrying.
i also started some of my census training, using the training app on the phone to give me an idea of what an enumerator does. i thought maybe i'd be making phone calls from home but it seems like its mostly door-to-door interaction. enumerators are kind of like collection agency agents, but instead of money, we go out and collect census data. the people we have to deal with are the ones for one reason or another haven't submitted their census forms yet. some people simply forgot, or didn't have time, but there are a few who don't like the federal government asking them personal questions, and can potentially be belligerent. there's an element of real danger with enumerator work!
as for the phone, it's an apple iphone 8 installed with an AT&T 5G sim card. there's an opensignal app which tells me the download speed is a decent 25Mbps (compared that to the 100+Mbps of my cablemodem). the phone's been modified so there are only census approved apps (weather, calendar, google maps, a few census-related apps). there is no access to the apple store and the store app itself is missing (there is a catalog app which can download about a dozen census approved apps, most of which have already been installed). strangely enough, it uses google maps instead of apple's native map app (which isn't even available). not that we're supposed to be installing our own software on the phone anyway, it's strictly for census bureau business. the camera is active but we've been instructed to only photograph receipts for expense reimbursement purposes (tolls, parking fees) and nothing else. there's also a folder that says "do not open" that has a NRFUMap app. i'm tempted to see what it is but i don't want to get fired before i even start working.
regarding the other census apps (the ones i supposed to open), the GUI is functional but could be made slicker. i read an article where they said the census spent $15.6 billion upgrading their system for 2020. i suppose as long as it works and is stable and secure, everything else is superfluous. but $15.6 billion? couldn't spare a few millions to hire some GUI designers to polish up the interface? maybe for the 2030 census that'd be a possibility; 2020 is after all the first census that's using smart phones for data entry, something that was attempted in 2010 but failed before launch.
when 3pm came along i called the number and put in my conference code. i was afraid i had the wrong code because the manager gave it out verbally instead of writing it down somewhere, and sometimes i hear a certain number but i write something different, so i wasn't sure if i had the right ones, but i did. carole was the supervisor running the conference call, she did a roll call before we got started. it gave me an idea who the other enumerators were. she called out about 2 dozen names, about 25% were present. a few were on the roster list, including myself; not surprising, since i was a last minute addition to this group as of yesterday.
carole basically repeated a lot of what i'd already learned from the training app. we didn't have to respond, and in fact she told everyone to set their phone to mute so she wouldn't be interrupted. somebody didn't mute their microphone however and the whole time we could hear it brushing up against their clothes as they moved around. the conference call last less than an hour. we have 6 days to get through 12 hours of online training before we get a private one-on-one capstone phone call with our supervisor.
i didn't find out who my supervisor was until later in the afternoon. i'm also working massachusetts district 4, which includes brookline, newton, and stretches all the way down south to fall river. i don't know if they'll make us work all the way down there, seems kind of far, it'd be lot easier if they found more local enumerators for those areas.
when evening came i finally brought in my laundry. for the most part they were all dry, but while folding my t-shirts, i found a few garments that still had damp arm cuffs. i think it's because those t-shirts were touching each other and didn't get enough air circulation to dry properly. not a problem, i just hung them on the back of chairs. all my underwears were dry though, but the socks were still damp. it's not 100% but hang drying is 100% free and it doesn't heat up the house like the dryer.
i didn't go grocery shopping today (i'll go tomorrow), so i had to forage in the kitchen for something to eat. i ended up having some biang biang noodles that i got a while back, the label said it'd already expired back in 2019. the noodles smelled a little rancid but didn't taste all bad once cooked and tossed with vinegar and hot sauce, xi'an style. i've got another package, if i get lazy tomorrow i have tomorrow night's dinner already mapped out.