Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Victory for Prior Knowledge

I'm hanging out with the folks at the Student help desk these days.

I keep looking for the post where I sing their praises.
If I haven't yet - it is a grave oversight. These kids are pretty awesome!

Every day, with much grace, they deal with panicky students, angry parents, language barriers (large population of international students where I work), and the usual rounds of misunderstanding. These kids work hard, for not much money.

Right now, I am listening over the cube wall. The team leader is discussing World of Warcraft healing and tanking tactics with some of the students and staff. And I actually KNOW what he is talking about!

I'm not going to let on that I know their code.....


Yesterday, one of the students received a phone call from an older Education PhD candidate working on her dissertation.

As is common with folks hitting the end of their disseration - she was just a bit panicky.

The student gets off the phone and turns to her boss (who I am fondly going to call the "Student Wrangler").

Oh my god! This person is on Word 97! She can't create roman page numbers. I don't even know if Word 97 can even DO roman numeral page numbers.

I sit right next to the Student Wrangler and hear all of this.

The Student Wrangler is a newly minted grad himself. I think he was 12 when I worked on my Master's Thesis back in '93-'94. He looked just as confused.


I vividly remember that last phase of writing my Master's Thesis. At the time, I was working on a "custom built" PC with Windows 3.1 and a very early version of Microsoft Word.

The library, as part of their "Formatting Your Thesis" package, gave us a template. Essentially a piece of paper with boxes that your text, headers, footers and page numbers had to fit into. (Dr. Byrne may have better memories of this process than I do.)

I spent many hours in front of that blasted machine getting the $%&^# page numbers to fit in the *&%#@* page number box and to get the document to paginate correctly.
Part of the document had to be in roman numerals (the introduction) and the rest had to be in arabic (the rest).

I KNEW Word 97 could do what the PhD candidate wanted. But from the student's description of the problem, it sounded like something else was going on as well.


The student went to get more specs on the machine.

Oh...My...GOD! She's on Windows 98! And using an old AOL browser!!!! This is like fixing an abacus!!!!!

The abacus is an easier machine to fix.

That said, the PhD was working on a machine that I was intimately familiar with from 1997-2003. The Windows 98 / Office 97 configuration. This machine type appeared in practically all of my early jobs when I first left Grad School in 1996.

Though it was far from perfect - it worked for this student's purposes. She saw no need to go through the trauma of upgrading. Heck, this was why I kept seeing this beast in the wild as long as I did. IT departments knew its quirks and could work around it.

As the machines began to die - they started being replaced by the Windows XP/Office 2003 critter. For those with sturdier beasts, Microsoft eventually forced everybody's hand and quit supporting Windows 98/Office 97.

Hence the problem this PhD student was having finding help.


While the student, the Student Wrangler and I were chatting - the PhD candidate also sent an e-mail to the Student Help Desk, which clarified the issue she was having.

Thankfully - the User Interface between Word 97 and Word 2003 is practically the same.

The essential problem was that she did not know how to change the page numbers from roman numerals to arabic numerals in one document.

The solution - multiple sections!

The PhD candidate mentioned in her email that she was having a tough time finding a solution via Google. I performed my own Google search and saw exactly what she meant. Thankfully - I also found the following handy tip guide from SmartComputing.

I sent the guide to the Student Wrangler to pass on to the PhD Candidate.

Then we all hoped for the best.


The next morning, the Student Wrangler received a thank you from the PhD candidate.

Crisis averted.


4 hours later, one of the other students receives a phone call. This time, from one of the library staff.

Turns out - the library staff and the Electronic Thesis and Disseration tool vendor have been BOMBARDED with calls for the exact same issue.

How do I put roman page numbers and arabic page numbers in the same document using Word 97?

No one knew the answer! Not the librarians. Not the vendor. And they can't find it anywhere since the library got rid of their Office 97 references. (I'm personally surprised this is just NOW coming up as an issue - but I didn't let on to the librarian.)

I passed the tip guide to the librarian with the reminder that Word 97 and Word 2003 are very similar beasts - especially when it comes to dissertation formatting.

Happy librarian. Happy vendor. Happy PhD candidates who don't want to upgrade.

A small victory for prior knowledge.


This post is for the Student Wrangler and the Director - who both told me:
You really need to write about this in your blog!


Unknown said...

There is no education more valuable than experience, especially in the IT world.

Wendy said...

I also see this as a victory for history ;')

Unknown said...

It's good to be thirty-something