Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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IT is not my friend. Or is it?

I’m not talking about my iliotibial (IT) band, nor am I talking about the monster from the Steven King novel1. I’m talking about information technology. Which seems to have had my number recently. I think this whole IT being a problem thing actually started last Thursday, when I ordered a pizza online and when it didn’t arrive after a long, long time, I called the pizza place and apparently their computer had crashed and they hadn’t bothered to reboot it, so my order was there, but they didn’t know it ’til I called and they went “oh, I guess we should reboot our computer”. And I ended up with a later pizza than I wanted, though I did get it for half price!

Crick on a pizza box

While not happy the pizza was late, Crick was satisfied with the pizza box as a new place for sitting.

The next morning I awoke happy that I was able to work from home today, but then discovered that my wifi was not working, though a reboot of the modem fixed that issue. Much more concerning, however, was that my work laptop would not start. The power button light came on, but the screen was just blank. I tried turning it off and turning it on again, the universal fix for computer problems, but that didn’t help.

Props to my friend Steven for finding that clip on YouTube!

The first few times I tried holding the power button to shut it down and then holding the power button to turn it on, I saw a flash of the ThinkPad logo for a fraction of a second, but after a few attempts, I couldn’t even see that.

I tried plugging it into my monitor in my home office, in case it was just the display, but that didn’t work – my monitor just showed me a blue screen. (In fairness, I’ve never plugged my work laptop into my home monitor before so had no idea if it is just that they aren’t compatible with one another2. ).

I was doing this while on a series of conference calls. Thankfully, my home laptop was working so I was able to check my emails and calendar and whatnot with that so that I knew things like what the teleconference number was and getting the emails about why everyone else missed one of the calls and what time we could reschedule the call.

Eventually I decided that doing the same thing over and over again was not getting me different results, so I emailed the IT guy from my office, who suggested that I turn it off and turn it on again3 When I informed him I had tried that, he told me about a reset hole that you stick a paper clip in to do a reset, which I didn’t know my laptop had and though it didn’t work, at least I know about that for future reference.

So he suggested that I bring the computer by the office for him to look at. So much for me getting to work at home! And off I went to my office to drop it off. Our schedules unfortunately did not match up so I couldn’t actually meet up with him – I could be at the office by 1 pm after finishing my conference calls, but would have to leave by 2 pm to get to another appointment, whereas he had another meeting that meant he couldn’t get to my office until 2 pm.

Anyway, I got to the office and decided to try plugging into the dock there and lo and behold the damn thing worked, albeit only showing stuff on the external monitor! So apparently the problem is with the laptop screen not working, rather than the computer as a whole. I still left it there for the IT guy to see if he can figure out what the deal is – he emailed this morning to say that he had to send it in for repairs, so it will be *at least* 10 business days before I get it back. My office was able to provide me a loaner laptop for that time, but now I have none of my bookmarks, my browser add-ons, or my various other settings for stuff I do every day.

The other – minor by comparison – IT annoyance was that I’m not able to use my credit union’s deposit-a-cheque-by-taking-a-photo-of-the-cheque-with-my-smartphone option to deposit royalty cheques from my publisher because it is a US company and you can only do that with Canadian cheques. So today I had to go to an actual credit union branch, like Neanderthals used to.

As I was reflecting on my IT woes, I thought about this bit by Louis CK:

And really, when I think about it, the vast majority of my technology worked flawlessly during this time (and most days). I was able to work from home for most of Friday because my own laptop worked fine (as did the modem after a quick turn-it-off-turn-it-on-again), my smartphone allowed me to keep up with emails while I took the driver-less Skytrain (which I paid for by swiping my Compass card, which automatically reloads itself when my balance dips below a certain amount so that I never run out of transit fare) to my office, which I accessed by swiping my fob, and then I dropped off my laptop, the repairs for which will be taken care of my IT guy, who responded pretty much immediately upon my sending him an email. And now I have a fully functioning loaner laptop for work while my main laptop is being repaired. Most fortunately of all, I had just backed up all my files onto an encrypted thumb drive on Thursday4,5, which I did after a co-worker lost a bunch of files when her laptop died and she’d been saving stuff on her laptop’s drive rather than the network drive. I have an iPhone, an iPad, a laptop, and a television, all of which connect to all of the information ever via The Internets. My car tells me when it’s time for an oil change, my alarm clock updates itself automatically to account for Daylight Saving Time6, and my washing machine can tell how dirty my clothes are. I can email money instantly to family and friends from my phone, I don’t have either a home phone or cable TV because I can get everything I need through the my smartphone and the Internet, and I have a contraption that will feed my kitties at whatever time I set it for so that I can work a 15-hour day without having to come home for cat feeding duties7.

So, yeah, I think maybe I’ll give IT a break here and be thankful for all the modern conveniences I have rather than being upset when one of them doesn’t work perfectly at all times!

  1. Though both of those things would be good guesses for things that might not be my friend. []
  2. Spoiler alert: It was just that they weren’t compatible, for some unknown reason. []
  3. In fairness to him, I’m sure that many people call him without trying that. []
  4. I’m not able to back my files up on a network drive due to a peculiarity of my work situation where I technically work for a research centre, but am mostly at a project office, and my research centre-owned laptop does not play nice with the project office network. []
  5. I also store the most up-to-date copies of my most important files on a SharePoint site that I share with my business analyst. Fortunately, none of the files I have as of yet contain any confidential information, so I’m able to do this. []
  6. Yes, I still use an alarm clock instead of just using the alarm on my iPhone. I’m a Luddite. []
  7. OK, maybe that last one isn’t so great! []

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Unhelpful Suggestion

So the other day a colleague of mine was using MS Paint on his computer at work1 and attempted to close the program, which should be a relatively simple task:

Error Message 01

However, he got an error message message when he tried to exit:

Error Message 02

Let’s look at that a little more closely, shall we?

Error Message 03

There’s not enough memory to close a program, so the suggested solution is to close some programs. Thanks, Windows!

 

  1. Don’t make fun. It’s the only image editing software we have access to! []

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Rampant Consumerism

Apparently January is the month for me to buy all the things! In addition to buying two living creatures, I bought a bunch of electronics1.

You may recall that I recently bought a 13″ Macbook Pro because the 15″ one cost $1,000 more than the 13″ and “2″ are just not worth that kind of money2, with the intention of buying myself a big monitor for my office and a big TV, which can double as a computer monitor, for my living room. Well, a combination of Boxing Week sales and an unexpectedly large royalty cheque ((Unexpectedly large in that I wasn’t really expecting much, as I didn’t know how many classes had taken up our book.)) meant that I may have gone a wee bit crazy on the screenage.

First: a 55″ Panasonic TV for my living room:

My new TV

My new TV

Given that I haven’t had a TV in ages, this really feels like it dominants the living room. But holy crap is the picture quality amazing. It has built in “smart TV” features, so I can watch Netflix and Youtube directly through wifi, and it’s kind of neat to hook up my computer in the living room and be able to surf the net or send an email in extra large size!

Next: my computer monitors. Yes, monitors plural. Because there was a sale at Dell that meant that it was actually cheaper for me to buy two 24″ monitors than one 27″ monitor. So I did this:

My new home office setup.

The Macbook Pro, but apparently not the Air (from what I read), allows you to hook up two monitors *and* still use the laptop screen at the same time3. Because three is better than one. At least when it comes to screens.  I like to be able to see several things on the screen at one time – like if I’m marking a student’s assignment, I can have the assignment on one screen and the marking guide on the other screen4. Now that I have this set up, I’m really kicking myself for not getting it while I was still in school – it really would have made my life a lot easier!

  1. Incidentally, the living creatures were much less expensive than the gadgets. []
  2. That’s what she said! []
  3. When I was in Toronto at Christmas, I met up with my friend Jen at her office – she works in Finance – and got see the trading floor. It pretty much was just a bunch of desks that looked like this. []
  4. Or, you know, have 24″ of Twitter going on while I work! []

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Modern Conveniences

Skype logoHow did students ever get by without the modern conveniences of online journals and Skype and Google Docs? Case in point: I just got off a Skype chat with a group for one of my courses – we are preparing for our class on Thursday
and while on the call, we were brainstorming and then looking up resources to check out some of our ideas – we sent links via the chat function of Skype and emailed articles from online journals in mere moments as we talked.

Google Drive logo

Tomorrow I have a group meeting with another group for another one of my courses – which we’ll be doing by WebEx, so that we can share our computer screens with one another as we talk and we’ll be participating from various places across the Lower Mainland, plus Calgary and Kelowna1. In preparation for that call, we’ve been brainstorming by adding our ideas to a shared Google Doc.

When I was a post-secondary student the first time – i.e., in my undergrad2, Masters3, & PhD years4 – we didn’t have any of this stuff. Want to share a document? You had to print it out on a piece of paper and hand it to the other person! Or, if you wanted to be fancy, you’d save it on a floppy disk!

remember when your whole life fit on a 1.4 megabyte floppy disk?

Group meeting? You had to do that in person! We actually went to the library to work together. But that was OK because you had to go there to photocopy that article you wanted from a giant bound volume of journal issues from the stacks.

We did have email – I got my first email address very early in my first year of undergrad – but the only other people I knew with email addresses were other university students and we all had to go to the computer lab to check email, since we didn’t have Internet access in our rooms. You were likely to see the person to whom you had sent an email in class, in the caf, or in residence before they actually got to the computer lab to see the email. And then when you did get an email, you’d print it out on a dot matrix printer, because it felt like you should probably have a record of that.

Hell, my profs didn’t even start to use PowerPoint until I was in my third or fourth year, and even then it was only the most innovative of profs and they had to have a back up set of slides on acetate because there was a 50/50 chance that the computer and projector wouldn’t actually be able to connect properly.

Now5, my profs post their PowerPoint slides lecture notes in our class Connect site, or in SugarSync or some other such marvel of modern convenience, I meet my classmates virtually, and I have access to virtually any article, website, or other resources in a millisecond. I collaborate on group papers in Google Docs in real time, I submit those papers via email, and my profs mark them using an annotation app on their iPads. And then I blog about it to a world wide audience! When you stand back to think about it, it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time.

Floppy Disk Image Credit: Posted by ehpien on Flickr.

  1. Unless our Kelowna-based group member is working in the field, in which case she’ll join in from wherever the heck she ends up tomorrow evening. []
  2. 1995-1999 – a.k.a., grades 13-16 []
  3. 1999-2000 – a.k.a., grade 17 []
  4. 2000-2006 – a.k.a., grade 18-23 []
  5. I.e., in grade 25. []

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Computers Hate Me

Computers hate me.

First, it was my work computer. It started out when I called I.T. to ask them to figure out why I suddenly couldn’t print to one of the three printers in my office, which are shared among all the staff. It’s my preferred printer to print on, as the other black & white printer1 is at the front where the clerks sit and they often print on labels, so when I send a print job there, it sometimes ends up on a sheet of labels that one of the clerks has just stuck into the paper tray – so wasteful. I.T. told me that it would be simple to fix – the driver was corrupted, so they needed to remove it and replace it with a non-corrupt driver. But when they logged onto my computer remotely, they couldn’t remove it, no matter how hard they tried. A couple of different I.T. people tried, yet the driver would not budge from my computer! They could remove the drivers for the other two printers, but not this one. Clearly, my computer is haunted.

They also noticed that it takes eleventy billion years for my Windows profile to log onto my computer. I usually deal with this by logging on the moment I get into my office, and then taking off my coat, bringing my lunch to put in the fridge in the lunchroom, etc. etc. and by the time I’m done all that, I’m logged on. But the I.T. person said, “Oh, we can fix that.” And then they did a bunch of stuff and it didn’t help at all. In fact, one of the things they did was reset my Windows profile, and the next time I logged on, a whole bunch of files appeared on my desktop. Files that I had deleted A YEAR AGO. Clearly, these files are zombies, returned from the dead to eat my computer’s brains.

So the next step I.T. decided to take was to do a complete reinstall of Windows on my computer, which fixed my printer driver problem, but pooched my qualitative data analysis software, which reinstalled fine, but refused to be activated. Qualitative data analysis software, I might add, which I’m needing for a few of my high priority projects right now! Clearly, my computer is a vampire, sucking the activation-y goodness from my qual software.

Then, just to add insult to injury, the printer at the back – the one that started this all – went on the fritz and we can’t use it right now. I really wish I were making this all up, but alas a truer story has never been told.

So that’s just my work computer. But would you believe that two other computer systems, completely unrelated to each other, and both of which are for Big Important Things I’m working on, both screwed up royally on me? One had a major glitch whereby the work that I did appeared on my end to be submitted back at the end of September but was not received by the people who needed to receive it and I only found this out this week when I emailed them to follow up. The other system first wouldn’t let me enter any of the information I needed to enter at all and then, once I got that fixed, kept giving me error messages that my entry needs to be 1000 characters or fewer, even though my entry is only 995 characters. O. M. G.

How is it possible that this many computer issues could happen to one innocent young lady such as myself? Clearly, this must be some conspiracy of global proportions. I’m pretty sure the spiders are behind it. Or the zombies. Or, god forbid, the zombie spiders.

Image Credit: Comics are by xkcd.com – they are hilarious and shared with a Creative Commons license, because the creator is awesometastic. 

  1. The third printer is a colour printer and I only print on it on the rare occasions that I need to print in colour. Obviously. []