Monday, July 15, 2019

Adventures in Computing

I am not a software engineer.

I have a PhD in American history, specializing in the political culture of the late-18th-century United States.  I’ve read every issue of every newspaper published in Philadelphia between 1787 and 1801 – an eventful time in that city’s history.  I’ve read a disturbingly large chunk of the scholarship surrounding the Revolutionary Generation, their goals, and the political world they inhabited.  I’ve contributed to that scholarship, in fact.  I genuinely do know what this country was founded upon, in sharp contrast with the social media warriors and political demagogues making that claim today.  Unless others have done similar work I don’t expect them to have my level of expertise on the subject.  It’s a large part of how I make my living.

You will note that nowhere in that list of accomplishments is there anything about knowing how to program a computer, having taken any time to try to learn how to program a computer, or getting paid to know how to program a computer.

You do not want me to do anything with your computer more complicated than browse the internet or process words.  Trust me on this.  And yet for the last week I have spent an inordinate amount of my time masquerading as a software engineer, with predictable results.

Home Campus is in the middle of merging with another institution right now, a process that has taken several years and will likely take several more years despite the initial mandate from the Grand Poobahs to have this wrapped and done in eight months.  Fortunately the people on the ground were smarter than their leaders, which is something that happens a lot these days.  It’s gone about as well as the process could have gone, to be honest – no more chaos or dysfunction than expected, and a lot of work put in to make things go as well as they could.

But this summer is when the IT department gets involved.

We merged our emails at the beginning of the month, and despite the fact that I have now four different email addresses taking the place of the one that used to do everything I needed it to do, it went mostly well.  A few hiccups around the place, but again – no more than expected.

Last week they reimaged my desk computer so that it was no longer a Home Campus computer.  Now it’s a Main Campus computer.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. 

The guy looked at my computer – a six-year-old Mac – and decided not to bother with reimaging it.  He simply replaced it with a Main Campus Mac that is only half that old, since that counts as progress in an institution of higher education that has been systematically starved of funds for most of the last decade.  He then upgraded everything on it and told me to install my backed-up files wherever I pleased on the thing.

I’ve spent most of the last week trying to figure out how to do my job again.

It took an entire day and multiple crashes for my email and word processing programs to come back on line.  I don’t have any spreadsheet capability yet, but since I only use that program under duress I’m okay with that.  None of our shared drives work anymore so I can’t access those.  We did kludge together a substitute, and perhaps I’ll figure that out given time. 

I still can’t print.

Part of me is not surprised by this fact, since Home Campus spent the better part of thirty years walling off Macs and never quite managed to reincorporate them fully.  Getting me onto the Shiny New Printing System they installed a year or so ago was a week-long extravaganza of missed opportunities and excessive drinking.

But the IT guy – who has, I point out, been trained as a software engineer of some kind – couldn’t figure it out last week either.  He spent an hour fiddling with it, downloading random bits of code, having me try this or that, and then we all had to go home.

Today he emailed to tell me he’d managed to get one printer on campus to work with Macs.  It’s diagonally across campus behind a locked door that I don’t have a key for* but hey – it’s a printer.  Except that I had no idea how to connect to it.  

“Here’s the name of the printer,” he said.  “Just download the driver.”

“From where”

“From the Self Help.”

“The what?”

“Self.  Help.”

“And what do I do with this information?”

“You help yourself.”

I did eventually download the driver and I followed the directions therein, but it still doesn’t work and I’m not sure why I am expected to know how to do these things.  I don’t expect him to give me an analysis of neo-Harringtonian republican thought in The Federalist Papers, after all.  Isn’t that what the specialization of labor is about?

I keep coming back to the fact that last week I had a working computer and could do everything I needed to do, and then I was upgraded and optimized and now neither of those is true.

That and the simple fact that I don’t keep any whiskey at work, which is probably a good idea.


*There's no sign saying “Beware of the Leopard,” though, at least not that I’ve noticed.


LucyInDisguise said...

Context is everything - For those of you playing along at home, the full quote:

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Thought you had me on that one, didn’t you?

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


David said...

Had you? Perish the thought!

I was hoping that someone - I had my suspicions as to whom; could have been a couple of different people and you were one of them - would catch that reference. :)

Day: made.

Ewan said...

Have no fear; duly caught.

David said...

I have good friends.

quid novum infernum said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm IT people, and I know my people, and we are... problematic, too often. We ignore or forget that not everyone has keys to the filing cabinet and the lavatory and leopard-wrangling experience.

I wish I had something helpful to offer, rather than sympathy, but I said I'm IT people, right?

David said...

I'll take the sympathy and be glad in it - thanks!

The real kicker of the thing is that the room where the printer is located is one of only a handful on the entire campus that I don't have the key to.

I've discovered that if I email stuff to myself and then log in to a computer that hasn't yet been optimized I can print it from there. I'm hoping that this will work until they fix the problem.

Yesterday we discovered that you can't actually access the classroom management software that all of the online classes use from any upgraded computer, so it just keeps getting more interesting!

David said...

Also, great user name, Quid Novum. Not many people remember Dorothy Parker anymore!

quid novum infernum said...

Oh, thank you for the compliment. Surely Parker is ripe for a critical re-evaluation, if so!

David said...

She definitely is, though it's more of an issue with the culture having moved on to other things and unjustly forgotten her. I have the same problem with my students not knowing Kurt Vonnegut.