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Monday, May 17, 2010

When to go Low Tech

Recently someone asked me to subreferee a paper for a conference. She emailed me a pdf file but when I printed it out it was unreadable- the spacing was all off. What should I do?
  1. Print it out in different ways with different options.
  2. Change printers.
  3. Email the sender (perhaps ask to resend).
  4. Email my staff.
OR I could do the following:
Spend no more than 5 minutes on the problem and if that does not work email the sender ``the paper you send me does not print correctly on my machine. If you want me to subreferee than FAX to (I gave the number). I have already spend 5 minutes trying to get it to work and that is my limit.''
I of course opted for this option (she was happy to do it and it worked). I have seen too many people waste too much time on things that either do not work, or eventually do but the solution discovered do not help at all the next time such a problem occurs.

If the fax machine did not work I would have asked for the person to use a technology you may not be familiar with. Its called Snail Mail. If you don't know this technology then ask one of your older faculty to help you since this was a common way to send papers 20 years ago.

This is NOT being a Luddite. This is recognizing the limits of technology and knowing when to stop wasting time.

8 comments:

  1. How much time did you spend writing this post?

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  2. > I have seen too many people waste too much time on things that either do not work, or eventually do but the solution discovered do not help at all the next time such a problem occurs.

    The benefit to finding a solution is not to keep the solution to yourself and hope it helps you in the future. No..it is to share this solution with as many people as possible. That is the foundation of academia: write papers to share results with others.

    In the case of software, you should write a bug report that contains your "work-around" solution. When the developers fix the problem, neither you nor anyone else will have this problem.

    I primarily use open source software because of this collaborative effort for problem resolution.

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  3. FWIW, this is also a good argument for having machines at hand that can run the three major OSes. I bet had you just booted into Windows/Linux/MacOS X you would have seen what you wanted.

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  4. Yay, old GASARCH is back!

    Spend no more than 5 minutes on the problem and if that does not work[,] email the sender ``[You're not writing in latex] the paper you send[sic] me does not print correctly on my machine. If you want me to subreferee than[sic] FAX[Why all caps? It just seems rude] [it] to (I gave the number). I have already spend[sic] 5[sic, spell out small numbers] minutes trying to get it to work and that is my limit.''

    On the other hand, if I ever received such an email, I probably would never ask the sender to do anything again, so it's possible GASARCH is being crazy like a fox here.

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  5. Actually I thought TAX was the correct useage- I just looked it up and you are
    CORRECT (is it rude to use caps when you
    are saying something good about someone?).
    So in the future I will use fax or Fax.

    The receiver of my email did not see it as rude. Other subreferees that she had this problem with had insisted that the problem was on her end. I just proposed a simple solution. (However, other people may well have seen it as rude, as you are evidence of.)

    I know the rule is that you are supposed to write out numbers like
    five instead of 5, but since nobody ever told me the REASON for the rule I often forget it. If you know the reason then let me know.

    Now onto another commenter- Often whatever works that day for that problem
    does not work later, so its not worth
    figuring out what ``really wrong''.
    Software has gotten to complicated for that. If I was in the business I might have a diff view, but from my (limited)
    experiences, this is what I see which is why I don't waste too much time trying to get things to work WHEN THERE IS A SIMPLE LOW TECH SOLUTION AVAILABLE.

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  6. Correction - in last comment TAX
    should be FAX.

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  7. I used "FAX" all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I like gasarch, he makes me smile and feel good about myself.
    for instance, "I have spend..."

    ReplyDelete