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The Non-Expert

More Miscellaneous Concerns

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we answer questions about how to avoid getting sick of and at the office, being sunburned while traveling at the speed of light, and the origins of the Spanish-American War.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Everyone in my office is coughing and sneezing, how do I avoid getting sick?—Micah

Answer: It’s true, germs are everywhere. Just look at your arm. There must be five million diseased microbes swimming there, sicking up the place. Now look at your other arm. Gross.

That’s right: You are covered in germs, and you’re only a cubicle wall away from a room of diseased coworkers, who are hocking up even more germ recruits that are primed and ready to storm your body. You’re lucky there are some ways you can stave off such nastiness.

Sterilize. Wash your hands frequently, with soap and warm water like your mother showed you. Just think: Every time you eat without washing your hands, you’re actually ingesting tiny morsels of whatever was on what you last touched. For those who ride public transportation, consider purchasing oven mitts to wear to work.

You should also wear a surgical mask at the office, even if you’re not a surgeon.

Medicate. Swallow massive doses of Vitamin C in pill form. And also Echinacea, even if your mother says it doesn’t help. Wash it all down with orange juice—the kind that’s fortified, of course, with even more Vitamin C and Echinacea. Finally, root around your medicine cabinet for any unfinished bottles of antibiotics. You will probably need these in a pinch. Still have your Cipro?

Change environments. Call in “not sick,” and tell your bosses that since you’re the only one at the job who’s not ill, you don’t want to get everyone “well.” If they balk then quit, citing “health reasons.” Sue for your back pay and arrive at the hearing in a plastic bubble.

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Question: Is it possible to get sunburned while traveling at the speed of light?—Laura

Answer: That depends on which direction you’re heading and where you are in relation to the sun. If you’re going west to east, and you’re just ahead of the sunlight, you should be fine. If you’re inside the range of sunlight, however, traveling at the speed of light will do little more than ensure constant exposure to the sun, which, if you’re out there long enough, means you’ll burn. So either change your position or try to speed it up a little.

But traveling at the speed of light or not, sunburns are a serious health matter, so always, always wear sunscreen, though not indoors—unless you have any sun hazards in your home, such as a skylight or sunroom. Then you’ll need to slather on the stuff, in whatever SPF is right for your skin. So how do you choose the best caliber for you? Here’s a simple way to find out.

During peak sunlight time, go outside and travel at the speed of light for one hour. (In that time you will have journeyed just over 670,616,629 miles, so make sure you bring a map.) Based on how your skin reacted, here’s the kind of protection you’ll need.

Burned: SPF 45

Tanned then burned: SPF 30

Tanned easily: SPF 15

Burned, and cheeks chaffed due to high travel speeds: a tight fitting helmet filled with SPF 45, rubber pants

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Question: How did the Spanish-American War really start?—David

Answer: Shots were fired, war broke out. If you wanted to know how it ended, well, that would make for a good story, wouldn’t it?

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Question: How do you survive your summertime federal job that is far, far, far from New York and is so dull, bureaucratic, and depressing you kind of want to take the elevator up to the 9th floor and tell your respective secretary you quit? Any advice would be appreciated.—Bethany

Answer: We’ll assume you have a job for the summer because you’re a college student who needed a paycheck to cover the air-conditioning bill. So you got a summer office job and, like every other college student who got a summer office job, you’re miserable. (Note: College students are miserable all the time—except when, according to the captions in magazines marketed to college students, they are “kickin’ it” with their “peeps” on the “quad.”)

Unfortunately, the only difference between you, college student, and everybody who works at your office is that while you get to quit in six weeks, they’re praying they don’t get laid off and have to make their children sell Tic-Tacs at the flea market.

So how did they get to this awful place? It all started with the first important decision of anyone’s life: what to major in. Our advice is to learn something from your summer job: How to avoid it turning into your job after graduation. How do majors in college translate into real-world occupations? Here’s how:

Advertising & PR: MFA post-post-grad student

Anthropology & Sociology: Erotic-technique instructor

Art: DJ (Wednesdays, early-90s British night)

Business: PowerPoint-pusher

Classics: Column-shaper

Computer Science: Inventor of world-changing new means of communication and expression; breakthrough digital artist who changes the way people think about technology; or “guru” at a web-design company who eventually becomes a salesman who hates his job

Economics: Rich but empty, but rich!

Engineering: Musician

Geography: National Geographic inserts department

Government: Majority whip

History: Someone who is never doomed to repeat an earlier career

Kinesiology: JV volleyball coach (Varsity if you graduate cum laude)

Liberal Arts: Dull, bureaucratic, and depressing federal job far, far from New York

Management: The secretary on the 9th floor, plunging to the first

Mathematics: Electric-slide-ruler

Music: Engineer

Philosophy: Bartender

Psychology: Bob Newhart

Science: L. Ron Hubbard

Social Work: Ex-drug dealer

Speech Communications: Orator


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack