Murphy's Law, or This Week's Answer to "What Do You Do, Anyway?"

Long week this week. I made the mistake of taking last Monday off. It proved to be unwise during of Board of Regents week at the U — so much to write, and all of my usual sources are busier than I am.

Had a big budget presentation to create for 9 a.m. Friday morning. On Tuesday, we walked through the numbers in spreadsheet form. The spreadsheet was complex for those of us who aren’t “numbers” people. I spent Wednesday trying to come up with a non-spreadsheet way to illustrate the problem posed by a major cut to the University’s state base budget contribution, followed by “backfilling” with temporary federal stimulus money … namely that, if you spend that federal money as though it were base budget money, when the stimulus bill expires, you have a major hole to fill two years down the road. Temporary money is not a permanent solution.

I managed to remember how to “animate” a slide in PowerPoint. Took longer than expected, as always. I created a vaguely hole-shaped bar chart and filled it with base funding, then cut that funding so the hole was partially empty. Then I filled the hole back up with temporary money, which faded away after two years, leaving the hole partially empty two years down the road.

It looked alright, and was a metaphor folks could relate to. I showed our CFO, and he saw several problems with it, however, as a result of my overly simplistic understanding (repeat: not a numbers guy). On Thursday morning, he proposed an alternative way of showing the problem over time. I began to rebuild.

Again, it took longer than expected. He liked the result, but suggested a few tweaks. Unfortunately the tweaks messed with the animation, so even the tweaks took longer than expected. By Thursday afternoon, we were in good shape — except that my boss, who would deliver the presentation, hadn’t reviewed it yet. (I needed one more day to work—what happened to Monday again?) He took it home with him and said he would call with changes Thursday evening. Hard copies of the presentation for the Board and members of the public attending the meeting would have to wait until morning.

I rose at 5 a.m. Friday and headed for the office to make copies — I arrived at 6:20, extra early, in case of problems. Sure enough, I walked up to the front for of our building to see a note announcing network maintenance — periodic outages beginning at 6 a.m.

Uh-oh, I thought. I might not be able to connect to a printer …

Unlocked to office and fired up the computer. No access to printers. Crap. No place else open at this hour. What now?

I connected my computer directly to an old color inkjet we use for printing remarks on index cards, printed a handout that I could copy black-and-white for the public in attendance, then started slowly cranking out color copies for the board. After a few copies, the old printer ran out of color ink. I don’t use it to print color — so it turns out we don’t have color toner for it. I pulled out the tiny travel printer and hooked it up.

So slow. It’s 7:45 now.

The travel printer won’t print. My computer still is not registering a network connection. Hoping against hope, I shut down my computer and the printers and restart. Finally, the network is back. I start printing.

Printing animations in PowerPoint requires you to print each individual step in the animation as a separate slide — so the single animated slide is actually 7 or 8 when it prints, and some of the intermediate steps make no sense as standalone slides. As each printout comes off the printer, I sort through and remove the nonsense slides.

8:30. Two-thirds done.

At 8:50 the last one comes off the printer. I close the laptop, grab the paper, and run across campus to the meeting. I hook up my computer and test the presentation just as the Board chair sits down to start the meeting.

The session begins with several faculty recognitions. Halfway through, I notice that my computer has launched its screensaver. As the faculty members shake hands with the board, I slip forward and disable the screensaver. Nothing like having your computer idle and run the screensaver during a presentation to the Board.

Three days = one PowerPoint presentation. Two and a half hours = 55 copies. Oh, it took about 30 minutes of the Board meeting to present and discuss, and I pushed the button to advance the slides. The Regents liked it — found it very clear and easy to follow and asked that it to be posted to the Web site as a PDF. To do that, I had to unanimate the slide into its constituent parts.

Yeah. That’s what I do.

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