Sunday, 13 May 2012

I Really Wonder If You See Today Like I Do

The title of this post is from some song lyrics, in case you are wondering, and I will be semi-impressed if you know the reference without looking it up.

This song got into my head last week and refuses to leave. The instigating incident for the infliction of this song in my head was the nth in a series of similar, recent incidents that I will describe below; apparently, there was a tipping point, the consequences of which for me are these song lyrics in my head.

What happened? Not much, actually, but on several separate occasions, groups of people were sending me files. Imagine that a group of people -- say, students or colleagues serving on a committee with you -- are all sending you files by some electronic means (email attachments, uploads to a website etc.). Imagine that there are a 10 or 20 or more of these files, and you have to read them on your computer (for various reasons, you can't read them online).

Because you have to store them, at least temporarily, on your computer, it is useful if these files have distinct filenames. But some/most of these files don't have distinct filenames unless you change the filenames. Imagine getting 10 or 20 or 57 files all named "homework7.pdf" or "myreport_2012.pdf" or "proposal-text.pdf" or even "CV.pdf".

Even worse, for some of these documents, some file creators didn't even put their names in the file, assuming that you can match their file with their name in some other way. Well, you can, but only if you do it right away; after the file has been detached from its original source, you have to go back to the original source to figure this out, assuming you can do that.

In an average year, I spend more time than I would like renaming people's files.

This is possibly rather fascinating(ish). Does anyone think that filenaming habits indicate anything significant about the personality, world view, level of empathy, or something of an individual? For example, is there a deep and important difference between a person who anticipates that (for whatever reason -- your convenience and/or their own) it would be better to put their name in the filename vs. someone who gives the file the most immediately convenient name?

I don't know, but I think that anticipating that it might be more useful to use lastname_CV.pdf instead of CV.pdf does show an ability to think beyond your immediate computer environment.

I realize that in some cases we don't really know how our files will be accessed and by whom. For example, only once I was on a particular committee did I realize that files uploaded by individuals to a website were not compiled into a single pdf with the uploader's name attached to it; committee members just got the files with the original filenames, exactly as they were uploaded. It was a lot of stupid work to rename files (typically 4-8 files for each person) and create folders and keep track of everything. At the very least, I thought that if that particular organization/unit couldn't get its act together to have a decent website, they should at least give some instructions about file names, Clearly, leaving file naming to individuals was not a good idea. I am no longer on that committee, thank the committee gods.

I was thinking about this not only because I got a bunch of generic-named files recently but also because I received instructions from someone who requested that those of us in a particular group only send him email with one very specific subject heading (which he listed) and with information organized in a very particular way. This was clearly someone who had dealt with uninformative emails and files before and wasn't going to take it any more. I give similar instructions to my students when they send/upload homework files.

I sympathized, especially since I had just searched my computer for a CV that someone sent me a month or so ago.. finally found by returning to the original email, which I had saved (unusual for me).. and the file was named: CV.pdf. What was that person thinking?

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