Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Paperwork

As a general rule, I hate administrative paperwork. In fact, it seems to me to be one of the worst banes of the academic life. For reasons I have never quite understood, there are some people who seem to relish doing paperwork. They appear to find some sort of virtue in it. For the life of me, I cannot see why. It is most often boring, it seldom requires much careful thought, or creativity, and more often than not, it involves creating documents that nobody will ever read.

Today, unfortunately, was a day dedicated to paperwork. However, as opposed to it being a royal pain, it was actually quite exciting. The reason it was OK was because it was a day dedicated to putting together the request for my new computer.

We have many forms for things. These forms often require covering letters, supporting evidence and the like. Sometimes all these forms can produce bizarre results. One of my favorite of these concerns requests to send materials out by courier. This means doing a formal purchase request. Unfortunately, given the vast number of signatures such requests require and the huge number of offices that it has to pass through, such requests usually take a couple of weeks to finally get approved. Of course, this rather defeats the goal of using the services of DHL, FedEx and similar companies. As a result, it is easier to just pay for the couriers out of one's own pocket.

In my younger, less responsible days, I also used to have fun with our various forms. For instance, I sent in a formal travel request in the name of a very dotty senior faculty member requesting authorisation for travel "Back to Reality". Not many people knew it was me behind such antics, but those that did thought that it was a pretty good joke.

It turns out that requesting a new computer, as I did today, is an activity that also requires a plethora of forms and documentation. A normal computer is complex enough, but if one wishes to request a laptop, institutional paranoia is such that there is a whole special extra level of forms and justifications required. As I have done this many times before, it was pretty straightforward, as I was able to use the text that I have used on previous occasions.

Another quirk of our computer purchasing process is that we are supposed to order standardized models of machines. Needless to say, although this sounds sensible in theory, hopefully guaranteeing standard parts and the like, in practice the result is a complete mess. When I looked up the standard laptop today, I discovered that it is no longer sold by Dell! A few calls later, I was able to find out the newly approved standard models. I was actually quite impressed. At least one of them is not a bad machine at all. In fact, it is quite a bit better than my current machine.

Unfortunately, the new machine is not quite right for my needs. Some of my research work requires the use of software that is not too usual for a philosopher. This software puts particular and stringent demands upon computing hardware. Thus, I also had to provide a justification for why I should be able to order a machine that had more advanced features than the base model. This is where doing this paperwork got to be fun.

In addition to being able to design my dream system, using the Dell website, I also had to come up with detailed reasons for why I needed each of the enhanced features. This is the kind of paperwork that does actually require some creativity. Not only that, but one has to be able to make this justification in a manner that can be understood up the administrative food chain, often by people with few technical qualifications (e.g. Mac users). In other words, this requires some pretty sophisticated argumentative strategies. Of course, making arguments is one of the best fun things that one gets to do as a philosopher.

For these reasons then, this was a good kind of paperwork. As I carefully argued my case for a faster processor, doubling the memory and for a larger hard drive, I was also able to enjoy the very thought of what a joy this system will be, once I have set it up to my own taste. I just have to hope that this application meets with approval. I am pretty sure that it will, as I already have verbal approval. The next thing will be the long wait until the new system actually arrives. In the meantime, I have learned that not all paperwork is bad.

The CP

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