“My name is Steve Caplan and I have a problem…”
Isn’t that what they say at alcoholics anonymous? Well, that’s what I’m told they say–you’ll have to take my word for it.
Almost 3 weeks ago my office computer gurgled, made a weird grating noise and died. Or at least went into a coma. Since that day, my work-life has been a series of frustrations and I’ve been forced to close my office door to prevent some rather volatile cursing from escaping the confines of the office.
My computer is an Apple–and while, believe me, they are far less likely to crash and die than the rival computer types, they are far from immortal. Luckily I backed up nearly everything–emphasis on “nearly.” My Endnote library with approximately 5000 papers in it–gone with the wind. Cost for recovery by an external company–nearly $2500. “Forget it,” I said. “I’ll make a new library.” Papers worth their weight in gold…
I’m told that the information technology staff (very dedicated and skilled people, I might add)–who are entirely overwhelmed by their workload–was designed to mimic companies with a ratio of 1:250 people. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s probably close. The problem is that in a company, I would assume that there would generally be one computer per employee, and being a company, I would further assume that most of the computers and applications would be the same.
Not true for academia. First, for a lab of about 10 people, we have over 20 computers. I myself have a PC and 2 Mac laptops at home–actually a 3rd old Mac laptop (8 years old and still running, but not fast enough anymore). We have a computer per person in the labs, + computers hooked up to various pieces of equipment that include scanners, a Nanodrop spectrophotometer used mostly to measure protein and DNA concentrations, and a confocal microscope. Obviously, between Mac and PC, individual use and equipment use, we have a wealth of different applications. All necessitating an Information technology (IT) expert who can be available to troubleshoot when trouble (frequently) arises.
When my computer drive gave up its unix-like soul, I realized again how dependent I had become on these machines and the technology behind them. I reverted to a “nothing” lacking all power and feeling altogether paralyzed. Completely handicapped.
In the US, the issue of computers at academic institutions is a funny thing. Grant money given to the researchers (from NIH and most funding agencies) cannot be used to buy computers, computer equipment, IT services, etc. The reason? Each institution negotiates an “Indirect Cost” with the NIH–usually a very high percentage (45-70%) of the researchers’ grants–that goes to the institutions supposedly to support facilities and such. Including electricity, telephones, office supplies, and computers. But I am digressing into politics, and don’t want to. Not now.
All I do want to say is that I felt as though I was “losing it” these past few weeks, with grant deadlines, paper revisions with references that couldn’t be formatted, and all the frustrations of waiting in limbo for a solution. And I am not an especially patient person–at least for this kind of thing.
While I had nearly everything backed up, it turned out to be getting the new programs installed, talking to each other and running properly that was the biggest hurdle. But if I hadn’t had my things backed up, I would really have been up the creek without a paddle. Probably with several holes in the boat and no life jackets either.
So please remember to back up your data! As an IT guru said to me: “There are two types of computer users: those that have lost data, and those that will lose data.” Don’t let it happen to you!