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A comedy of errors, of sorts (#1085)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

The start of my day was, well, interesting. And yes, I know that interesting is a word that I shouldn’t use. Perhaps erroneous. Or difficult. Or just not as I intended. How did my day start? Let’s see.

About two weeks ago, I wrote to ask permission to visit my research lab. You see, my students and I are reviving a project from six years ago and some of the key data for that project are on a computer in my lab that is supposed to be on the Internet but wasn’t. It never rebooted after one of the many power failures of the past few years and, well, turning it back on wasn’t a high priority [1].

I didn’t hear a response for about a week and a half, so I wrote again. It turns out that I did get a response, but not from the person who receives requests. The response had been lost in my mailbox for that time. I kept searching for mail from this-person and didn’t see any. But once we’d worked things out, I was able to get permission to visit the building on Monday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., using my normal entrance.

This morning, I rushed through lots of tasks as I got ready to go. I tried to send email to a bunch of faculty; Word Online wouldn’t let me save. I tried to log in to check my responsibilities for AP CSP grading. Parts of responses wouldn’t show up. Have I mentioned how much I hate computers?

Now, along with picking up the server, I also wanted to drop off a computer. In late March, someone doing their spring cleaning found an old Mac or two that they wanted to donate to the CS department museum. I picked them up. And they’ve been sitting in my trunk ever since. Maybe sitting in is an understatement. Since one of them was one of those ginormous cathode-ray-tube monitors from the good old days, they more or less filled the trunk.

So I did what I normally do. I unloaded the minivan at the loading dock, drove over to what I think of as the Noyce Parking Lot [3], parked, and walked back to the loading-zone entrance. Then I called Safety to let me in. Unfortunately, it turns out that the loading-zone entrance is now only an exit, so they couldn’t let me in. That meant I got to lug the ginormous monitor, the smaller computer, and the paper cutter over to one of the other doors. Did I not mention the paper cutter? Oh, it’s been sitting in my minivan for even longer than the computer. I’m not sure how it ended up there, but it belongs in my lab.

Can you guess what happened next?

No, I did not manage to cut myself on the paper cutter. However, given how the morning was going, it seemed like a strong possibility. Rather, I discovered that the combination of (a) being out of shape and (b) wearing a mask with a filter that reduces my oxygen flow, results in (c) Sam rapidly getting out of breath. Nonetheless, I made it to the door and they buzzed me in. Then I got to haul everything back by the loading dock to the elevator.

Is that it? Let’s see. What are the errors? Miscommunication resulting in a delay. Check. Closed street requiring windy path. Check. Storing a computer in my trunk for two-and-a-half months. Check. Assuming that the loading zone entrance is to be used for loading. Check. Neglecting to maintain my health. Check. It feels like there’s one more.

Oh, yeah. I woke up at 2 a.m. last night and said to myself Sam, when you evacuated your office to move to 1127, didn’t you ask ITS to take away all of your old computers? Damn. I recall putting at least to on the to take away pile. I think that’s all I had.

As you may guess, while I was enthusiastic about my chance to visit the lab, I was a bit reluctant to go because I was worried about what I would find or, more precisely, what I wouldn’t find.

Now, you may not know about my lab. My lab puts my office to shame. On good days, it is barely navigable. And that’s before I moved about half the stuff that was in my office into my lab for sabbatical. So the first tasks were to find some floor space for the computers [4]. In doing so, I discovered something important that Middle Son had left in my office. Where was it? In one of those cheap plastic grocery bags, under a box, looking like trash. The box was other stuff he’d left in my lab, so I moved it and the plastic grocery bag stuff to the hallway to take home later.

I didn’t want to face up to the possibility that the server was gone so I did the only rational thing: I started straightening. Of course, I also had to straighten to attempt to find the server; there was a pile of stuff in front of the table I thought it was under. I also needed to clear off the top of that table so that I had a workspace. At least that’s what I told myself. What did I end up picking up? Books. Lots of books. Lots of distracting books. Or is that redundant? I identified a dozen or so to take home [6] on the off chance that I’ll find time to read. I also found something I’d been looking for for a while. My lab eats things. I’d been meaning to clean it up during spring break but, well, I was banned from campus for spring break.

I was wishing I had time to work on the lab [7]. Then I remembered that I had intended to grab some books from my former office [8]. I’m teaching a Tutorial on liberal education this fall [9]. I have a bookshelf full of books on higher education and related issues. It seemed appropriate to pull out some that might be relevant. I also wanted to dig through my too-many books on writing and teaching writing. I ended up with a larger stack than I had intended [10].

At that point, I realized that my time was starting to run out. So I looked on the floor where the server used to be, identified a similar-looking computer, and started the next process. I found a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse, attached them to the machine I thought was the server, and turned it on. Or maybe I first worried that there was nothing attached to it. That seems like a bad sign. It booted. Into Xubuntu. Why Xubuntu? I’m not sure. And the login screen was for Youngest Son. My first inclination was to say Oh, it’s one of those old computers that he was playing around with. I guess I’ll need to look some more. But I checked, and there were other logins, including one for Glimmer, my research lab. I surprised myself by remembering a six-year-old password that I haven’t used for six years. And, lo and behold, it was the server I was looking for.

Unfortunately, even though it was plugged into a network port, it did not seem connected to the network. And I’m not sure ITS would want a server with a six-year-old OS plugged into the Grinnell network. So I packed it up to bring it home.

I am fortunate to have some amazing children. Once I got it home, Youngest Son was able to get the server running and even attached to the Internet. Port forwarding on our router is a pain, so I’m impressed that he was able to figure it out [11]. We didn’t leave it attached; I may have less to protect than ITS, but I do still worry about network security. But I think we’ll be able to try it out with my lab tomorrow or Wednesday.

And that’s the story of my morning. I spent the rest of my day checking on AP exams, fomenting revolution, meeting with my students, and other things like that.

While the start of the day makes me want to say I hope that my next visit to the lab goes better, that doesn’t seem to be appropriate; the visit was quite successful. Maybe I’ll just say I hope that my next visit to the lab comes soon.

Next up: Figuring out how to get Physics to take and fix the laser cutter in my lab, while still maintaining my access to it. Of maybe just finding another space for it.

[1] It had been something I intended to do after spring break, but we all know what happened after spring break [2].

[2] If you are reading this sometime in the far future, I should note that a pandemic struck in early 2020, and Grinnell responded by (a) sending students home and (b) forbidding most people from entering academic buildings. That no visit policy lasted through at least mid-June.

[3] It has another name.

[4] If I were smarter, I’d have asked for permission to visit my other office to get my CS submaster so that I could have moved them to museum storage. I wonder if there’s still room in museum storage. I wonder who’s taking over the museum. I wonder wonder who, who wrote the book of love [5].

[5] I am annoyed by the song lyrics that invade my brain. I’m sharing them with you so that you may share in the annoyance.

[6] Sorry, Micki.

[7] I may have chaotic spaces, but I do prefer them to be somewhat clean. I just lack the time to make them that way.

[8] Or maybe I was still delaying the inevitable.

[9] At least I expect to be teaching a Tutorial on liberal education this fall. We’re still working out the revised schedule for those seven-and-a-half-week units that we are now calling terms.

[10] Sorry Micki.

[11] Non-technical people can ignore that comment.

Version 1.0 of 2020-06-15.