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Play Me That Violin, Mac

By Cathy Faye Rudolph
Editor, The Daily Apocrypha

Periodically we have the paper bigwigs come through and announce that they've decided to 'recomputerize' us. Now, that's a fancy term that near as I can tell means "spend money on big shiny machines." The expectation is that we will immediately be 500 times as productive, will have great new ideas what with all the extra time we'll save with the new toys, and likely as not, we'll smell better too. Since I've been Editor-in-Chief around here for a good long while, I thought I'd add in my two cents about the coordination and expectation and useability issues that invariably come up every time a recomputerization rolls through.

The expectation and useability issues can best be summed up by that old joke that goes something like:

"Doc, after the operation, will I be able to play the violin?"


"Oh great, 'cause I've always wanted to play that instrument."

We appear to be 'blessed' with an embarrassment of riches: pointy-headed pinstriped suit guys who genuinely hope that bringing in a plethora of great new wonderful umpty-ump MHz computing machines with racing stripes will enable the staff of The Daily Apocrypha to do greater deeds than it does now. But as we all know, just _having_ the technology isn't enough. *Learning* to use the computer --from the basics of backup and making headway through the OS, to the intricacies and idiosyncracies of the latest features, video editing, prepress, and Microsoft products in general-- just *learning* to use the newfangled goldurned things is not a 30 minute task. And on those occasions when the suits said, "OS and platform doesn't matter, here's a new computer for you," forced conversion meant an incredible degree of frustration for the staff and it showed in their plaintive "somebody tell me how to do this" or "this thing is a piece of junk, it won't do what I want it to do".

Earth to Suits, come in, Suits: *learning* to use the new computers really does take time (and plenty of practice), so where is that time going to come from, and who is going to impart the training? We simply don't have the manpower or the time to ship the staff out in shifts to take cushy multi-week courses. Nor do we have time to hang on every note of the 'hold' music and hope that the tech support staff will deign to speak with us sometime this century. All that ends up happening is that the feelings of frustration grow and are reinforced.

I keep asking for a coordinator, someone who will help us migrate the new technology into the paper when the suits get a recomputerization attack. No, not an MIS department, but a computer-savvy consultant or employee to look at the bigger computing picture, someone who could actually save big bucks by stalling unnecessary computer purchases and who could make sure that new employees know the computer fundamentals here at The Daily Apocrypha. Besides having the patience of a saint, the coordinator would charitably listen to "Help! I was printing out a critical article I'd been working all day on, and someone tripped over the printer cable and the network crashed. How do I get my report?--it didn't print out," and benignly reply, "from your saved backup: once the network is up, open your saved file and print again." Of course she or he would have to avoid wincing at the response of, "I didn't save it, but the network shouldn't have crashed."

Yes, ideally hardware/software shouldn't crash, and yes, intelligent caring software should anticipate life's little disasters and auto-save for the user, but, to paraphrase a popular saying, "stuff happens" and learning what you can and can't do with the computer, and what you can and can't expect the computer to do for you, is one of the most important lessons in computing. I'm still hopeful about the coordinator position--I'm thinking good thoughts. In the meantime, I have a speedy new computer, courtesy of the Alliance of the Pinstripy Recomputerizers.

Hmm, I wonder...think I'll be able to play the violin now that I have this nice new shiny Mac G3?


Cathy Faye Rudolph is Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Apocrypha and the owner of Wayward Fluffy Publications. She designed The Daily Apocrypha and the spoof company site Just Any Idiot Web Design.

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