Earlier this week I ran across the following piece that I apparently spat out in a fit of anger a couple of years ago, regarding the attempt to purchase and install two fax machines. It reminds me of the stuff I used to write when I first launched the site, which illustrates how much angrier I was at the time (hence the name of the blog) compared with how relatively not angry I am since I left the school. Things are pretty chill here. Still, I have an occasional flareup, and this was one of those times:
Today I want to talk to you about fax machines.
At a recent staff meeting held this summer, the suggestion was made that the clerks in our department would like to have their own fax machines, rather than having to continue to share with the other department that resides on our floor.
As fortune would have it, as we neared the end of the fiscal year we still had some stimulus funds that had to be spent or they would be lost. And so it was decided that our clerks would get their fax machines.
Let me now step aside and share three things with you:
1. I do not install fax machines for a living. I do not know anything about fax machines. Well, that’s not strictly true. Here is what I do know about fax machines: you put a paper with writing on it into the fax machine. The machine then utilizes some sort of dark magic to then take a picture of the paper, disassemble it into tiny, invisible atoms, and then send those atoms across phone lines to another fax machine which then reassembles the particles back into the picture that you took on the other line. IT IS A MIRACLE.
2. However, it’s an old miracle, much like magnetic tape. That’s the old magic. The new magic is email and scanning. In the age of scanners and e-mail attachments, there is no good reason why anyone should be using faxes at all, much less BUYING NEW FAX MACHINES. Fax machines are bad. Paper usage is bad. It’s all bad. And dumb.
3. It’s ultimately not up to me to decide what is bad and dumb, it is just up to me to buy what I’m told to buy. (“Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to order fax machines and cry.” – Proverbs) So, if the department wants new fax machines, I have to get them.
So began my odyssey, back in September of 2011.
First of all, I had to figure out which vendor we used for ordering fax machines. There are very strict rules about which companies you can buy from based on bids that they make with the District. There are a lot of financial and political implications to these bids and contracts, so you have to stick with them. It’s like the Geneva Convention plus Watergate and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, only with fax machines instead of Michael Palin and Robert DeNiro.
That’s fine. That was actually the easy part. I found the approved vendor, and I called him. He actually CAME TO SEE ME at my office, and we looked over a brochure and picked out two machines that would suit us just fine. You might think that, again, in this age of newer, better miracles, he could have just emailed me a brochure or something, but no, he utilized fossil fuels to transport himself and his paper goods to my place of employment so I could circle one of them and say “I guess that one looks ok.”
Now, the first wrinkle: Although I was the one ordering the machines, they weren’t being paid for out of my department’s money, so the order actually had to be placed downstairs, because it was “downstairs money” that was making this possible. It wasn’t a really problem, because the downstairs people are nice and helpful and easy to work with; it’s just that it is one additional step to have to coordinate with someone else when you want to buy something. You have to explain things that you would otherwise just be able to take care of on your own, therefore putting more distance between me and fax machines.
But that part of the process moved along swiftly, and in relatively short time the machines arrived at my office, wrapped up in cellophane like the world’s most instantly obsolete technological mummies.
Fax machines have to be hooked up to telephone lines to work. That’s how the (old) magic happens. But before they can be hooked up, phone drops have to be installed in the area in which they live. To do this, you have to contact the Telecommunications Department, who will come out, look at the spot and say “Yep, you have to have telephone drops”. They’ll nod, you’ll nod, and that is that, pretty much.
However, they don’t do the installation themselves. They contact an outside contractor, who then comes in and gives you an estimate. This takes…a while. I’m sure contractors are nice folks, really, but they aren’t exactly fleet of foot. But eventually they did come to my office, and at that point we walked over to the same spot we had previously surveyed with Telecom, and we did some more nodding together.
When they came to look at the wall and said “Yes, you will need drops”, they asked me “Do you need voice or data drops, or both?” As I was uncertain, I asked “higher-ups”. The answer was given that we just need voice drops, for faxing. Just voice. No data. Why would we need data? We’re not going to be playing your topical and currently relevant computer games such as “Doom” and “Castle Wolfenstein” on this machine. You’re just going to be sending magical faxes, and magical faxes are transmitted via voice lines. Data drops are silly and we don’t want any of their kind up here, thanks.
Once the contractor showed up and gave us an estimate, I then had to put on a Purchase Order, to order the work to be done. Once again, since this isn’t my money, that means I had to contact the nice people downstairs to actually do this for me, which, again, is not a problem. The nice people downstairs are nice after all and we like them and they like us, it’s just that they have things to do and we have things to do, so at the end of the day, having to ask the people downstairs to order the things you need for you is simply going to take more time than ordering them yourself. Such is life.
But, they did order them as soon as they could, and then, eventually, on a date determined via astrological charts and studies of weather patterns, the contractor came and installed the phone lines in our area. Perhaps even “all up in our area”. Regardless, the fax machines now had phone lines, so it was time to fax, you mother!
So, as I had been instructed to do, I now contacted the vendor who sold us the fax machines, to come in and program the machines for us. So, he showed up one day, took a look at the machines, and said “You have no dial tone. These aren’t hooked up”. I then pointed out, oh no no no, au contraire my friend, I personally watched the contractors come out to install the phone lines, and the machines are CONNECTED to these phone lines. Surely there is a mistake.
But nope, no dial tones. He shrugs. He has done what he can. He is a good man.
So, I contacted Telecom again, and said “Hey, we had these phone lines installed like you told us to do, but they’re not working”. And Telecom says “Well of course they’re not working, you have to have the phone lines turned on.” Of course you do! I mean, it seems to me like someone would have mentioned that from the get-go, that once you have phone lines installed, they are apparently not “on”, and someone has to turn them “on”. But I do not work for Telecommunications, or Telemundo, for that matter, so I know very little about fax machines and/or telenovellas.
Telecom would do this for me, but it was gonna cost another $600. $600? I thought we were friends? I work upstairs, you work...somewhere...and you can’t spot me $600? But hey, it’s not my money, and these fax machines aren’t going to do us much good as doorstops, so I filled out the appropriate paperwork. By now we are months beyond the expiration of those initial stimulus funds. You’ll recall that this process started back in September 2011. It is now winter of 2012. This money was going to have to come from our own budget. So be it. I filled it out, the boss signed off, and we should have been golden. GOLDEN.
Once they had the paperwork, it took Telecom all of 30 seconds to turn the lines on, and by 30 seconds I mean more like 22. I am convinced I could have done this myself, but oh well. Now we had the lines on, and the phone numbers assigned, and our long national nightmare was at last over. LET THE FAXING COMMENCE!
Of course, within a week of having the phone lines set up, a new request appeared: “We need to be able to use these with our computers.”
That would, naturally, require data drops.
You know, the data drops that we decided we didn’t need way back when we started this?
So it all began again.
I contacted Telecom, who tells us that they don’t do the data drops (and goodness, why would I assume that they do???), and we actually need Management Information Services, or something like that.
So, I put on a work order for MIS to come and tell us we need data drops, which is something we actually already know, but hey, someone has to tell us that we know it before we can do anything about it. So we wait, and after a period of time that borders on ridiculous given the amount of time that the actual consultation is going to take (about 2 minutes), we got the word from MIS: sure enough, we need data drops. Who knew?
And then we’re stuck in some sort of hellish time paradox, replaying the same scenes out time and again. We had to put on a Purchase Order to get the contractors to come out and look at the wall and agree that we need the data drops that we know we need. Then more waiting, then eventually they showed up and installed the data drops.
But this time I’m no dope. Fool me once, fax machines! I realized that they’re probably going to have to be “turned on” or whatever else it takes. So I put on a work order for “whatever else it takes”. I WILL NIP THESE THINGS IN THE BUD! I AM THE BARNEY FIFE OF DATA DROP PREPAREDNESS!
Of course, the people who come to do the software things are not the same department that installed the phone lines or the data lines. No. The installation of the software is going to fall to Business Machines.
I know what you’re thinking, because you’re a rational person: Telecommunications, Management Information Services, and Business Machines…they should all be the same people, right? Of course not. These are three distinct departments with very disparate identities and drives. You cannot put your chocolate in my peanut butter. You cannot put your peanut butter in my chocolate. You can have peanut butter. Or you can have chocolate. Or you can have Business Machines. But you can’t have Peanut Butter and Chocolate Business Machines.
Eventually someone came and did the things. However, the people that “do the things” just do SOME of the things, not ALL of the things. And the thing they don’t do is install the actual software, apparently. Also, please note, we are not allowed to install it ourselves. (Also, because fax machines are ancient artifacts, the software actually comes on a physical disc, and I can’t put it on. I am not even kidding.)
So, another work order must be placed so that the people who install software can come install the software on the computers so that the people who wanted the faxes can use the faxes from their computers.
Several weeks passed, and then the man came in to install the software. SAINTS BE PRAISED, the saga is nearly concluded! I show him the machines, and he tells me he’s already downloaded the appropriate drivers. That sounded very official to me, so I assumed that our worries were at an end. I introduced him to the clerks that he will be assisting, and I returned to my desk, content that another dark chapter in American history has nearly concluded, so Howard Zinn can start writing it all up.
Moments later the gentleman reappeared and told me that the networks aren’t working. They haven’t been turned on. They aren’t connected. The machines need static IP addresses. AND the address books haven’t been set up.
Of course, I don’t know what any of this means. I know that it DOES mean that the people who do all of the things (except for the one thing) didn’t do all of the things, even though I specifically put on an advance bud-nipping technology service ticket specifically requesting such, and I have been smited.
It also means that I am almost certainly losing my mind, and if I had the strength to do it all in one shot, I would be hurling the fax machines through the window behind my cubicle and into the busy street below, laughing maniacally whenever I wasn’t crying.
We have disappeared into a technological rabbit hole up our own ass into a realm of absurdity. Five months, four outside contractors, three internal departments, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a bell tower going postal with a sniper rifle, just to hook up two fax machines that we shouldn’t even be buying because we should be scanning and emailing and fax machines shouldn’t even exist anymore and AH!! AHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!