Did I Really Just Say That?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:19 pm

I have mentioned many times, both in conversations among friends and here on Uncle Andrew dot Net, my fascinating and contradictory relationship with my boss. I like my work, I love our company’s mission, and I admire my boss to no end. But he has his quirks. Some of his quirks are so quirky they couldn’t get markedly quirkier if they were produced by an automatic quirking machine running full-quirk-boogie 24/7. Quirk.

Paul is a brilliant scientist, with the ability to apply laserlike focus to a problem or situation. But he is also a man of extremely divided attention. He is being pulled in eighty different directions, all the time. As a result, he can often only afford to apply the aforementioned laserlike focus in any particular direction for a few femtoseconds at a time. That may warm the target up a bit, but it hardly qualifies as a kill.

Consequently, his grasp of concepts or paradigms that are not of paramount importance to him is often, paradoxically, tenuous yet intense. This can lead to problems.

Case in point, his relationship with computers. Paul uses a variety of computers on a daily basis: desktop, laptop, PC, Mac, Blackberry. He is as dependent upon them as a person in a modern technological society can get. And yet, it is my unalloyed conviction, arrived at through years of passive observation and active participation, that computers hate him. I have long suspected that his intimate relationship with the natural world—and fungi in particular—somehow offends the God of the Machine, and that He goes out of His way to punish Paul for his allegiance to the sphere of actual living things. Hence, Paul’s computers are forever breaking down, powering off or freaking out on him, in ways that they never, ever do when I’m around.

A respectable portion of my job involves trying to simplify Paul’s experience with computers so as to cause him the least amount of stress and lost time. This goal can sometimes come into conflict with his own desire to be as tech-savvy as seems befitting for a bleeding edge fast company such as ourselves.

Take yesterday, for instance. I had spent quite a lot of time setting up his new laptop, a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. He will be using it for, among other things, editing his PowerPoint presentations (Paul is an excellent photographer and his slide-show-enhanced talks are always very well received). He may also be using it to present his presentations on occasion, and that has given me pause.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the Microsoft Office suite of programs for the Macintosh, just as there is nothing particularly wrong with Office for the PC, but trying to jump from one to the other can cause difficulties. For one, the font set for each platform is different, with some fonts having different names on each platform (the Image Club font Aurea Inline, for example, is called “AureaInline” on the Mac and “Aurea Inline” on the PC). If a given document contains fonts that have a different name on the platform from which you are viewing it, the computer will instead change the type to the default font, usually Times. This can really suck if you are not prepared for it. Even fonts with the same name can appear differently from platform to platform, and sometimes from machine to machine.

This is just one of many hurdles that must be overcome in moving presentations from one platform to another. How the platform handles media files of varying types is another. Until fairly recently, Audio Video Interleave (.avi) files were extremely problematic to view or work with on the Macintosh. I was concerned that my boss’ many presentations containing embedded AVIs would fail to play. I explained my concerns to Paul, telling him that, in the worst case scenario, we would need to buy a piece of software to turn all of his AVIs into MPEG files, with which Macs have traditionally had little or no problem.

Paul thought he might have a better idea. “How about we just change the ‘avi’ at the end of each file to ‘mpg’?”

As most of you know, the three- or four-letter suffix (also known as an “extension”) at the end of a computer file name tells the computer what sort of file it is. Not only the type of file, but in many cases the program that made it as well. Software companies and professional groups get to choose the suffixes that their documents will bear, such as “.doc” for a Microsoft Word document, “.indd” for an Adobe InDesign file, “.mov” for an Apple QuickTime movie, etc. Mac users have less experience with file suffixes historically, because Mac files contain a piece of code embedded in them that tells a Mac what sort of file it is and which program to use to open it. For many years, programs that ran on the Mac did not automatically add an extension to the files they created, because it was not necessary in order for another Mac user to access them. As a result, many long-time Mac users don’t have the context for dealing with file suffixes.

I briefly considered how to explain the mistake in his logic, how changing three or four letters at the end of a file name did not change the essential nature of the file itself.

I opened my mouth, and what fell out was, “If you changed your name to Lucille, would your penis fall off?”

As I said, for all his quirks, I do greatly admire my boss. At that moment, what I most admired about him was his sense of humor.

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