Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mr. Murphy On Steroids

Well, we are now at that final part of the semester, when term papers come due and students start having to hunker down for the final exam marathon. One thing that I have noticed about this time in the semester is that 'Mr. Murphy', of the famous 'Murphy's Law' starts to haunt many corners of our campus. Indeed, not only is Murphy omni-present, he also appears to be in some kind of steroid, over-enhanced, fugue state.

It often starts simply enough. A paper is due at the beginning of a morning class. Rather than printing out the paper the night before, a tired, worn out student decides to print out the paper before class. The students are warned not to do this, but there are always a few who do. Such students stand like lambs for the slaughter for Mr. Murphy.

There are so many things that things can go wrong. First, the printers can run out of paper and the person with the key to the paper supply mysteriously is nowhere to be found. Second, as the printers have been shooting out papers for days, this is a favorite time for their ink cartridges to give up the ghost. Finally, if a student manages to avoid all these Murphy inspired pitfalls, there are always the wide range of 'out of left field' problems. This semester, we had a power surge than crippled the main computer network for a couple of hours, rendering the connection between the machines and the printers dysfunctional.

Of course, it is not just students who can fall into troubles. Faculty members have to print out and photocopy many copies of final exams. These activities are more places for Mr. Murphy to have fun. The normally reliable office staff can suddenly flake out under such circumstances. Photocopying machines start to exhibit worrying and incomprehensible messages and refuse to do anything other than impersonate office furniture statues. Needless to say, all photocopier technicians have been mysteriously spirited away to Patagonia, or somewhere. Thus, the prudent professor prints and copies exams, well ahead of time.

Other gremlins often appear at this time of year. Students struggling with final projects run out of disk space quota, so they cannot save the data, vital to writing up their projects. My telephone has already rung three times today, with distressed students suffering these kinds of problems.

Matters are also made worse by the fact that the students are tired, short of sleep, under nourished and living mostly on a combination of Jolt and Red Bull. Tasks that would normally be simple and have been done many times before, become logistical nightmares. People forget how to export data (even if they can manage to find disk space). They forget what format files need to be in, in order to get pasted into documents. In other words, Mr. Murphy is in his element. Not only are there all the time pressures that arise at this time of the semester, which naturally bring Mr. Murphy to the fore, he is now assisted by a small army of tired and wired students, to ensure that maximum mayhem will occur.

Wise, experienced faculty members know what to do at this time of the semester -- hide with their piles of grading, armed with garlic, shamrocks and whatever talismans they have, to prevent Mr. Murphy from coming calling. This is what I shall be doing! Good luck to everyone else doing likewise.

The CP


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