September 20, 2004

"It's SUPPOSED to be like that" (Rant)

There's one type of situation that is particularly effective at driving me up the wall, which occurs at regular intervals. This is when you find some non-trivial problem (usually originating with one of the administrative sections of the University), take the trouble to carefully inform the relevant person politely, and then said person defends the problematic situation and says that there isn't a problem.

Guess what happened to me today?


I'm not expecting a big apology, mind you. I'm not expecting the person in question, to say something like "Oh my goodness, you're right, I'm so sorry!" in an apologetic fashion, or a "Thanks for letting me know, I'll see if we can do something about it". Even a surly "I'll look into it" would be something. But no, what really drives me up the wall is when the person defends the situation and tries to argue that the problem isn't problematic at all, it's supposed to be like that, particularly when they're implying that they know a lot more about a computing area than I do, which, as a computing academic, grates rather.

Today's particular incident was rather distinctive and certainly not preserving of anonymity, so I'll give you an example from a few months ago to illustrate:

The printing department were issuing copies of a logo to be used in University documentation, both printed and electronic copies (e.g. for web pages). The electronic copies they issued were of very small size and in the JPEG format. Now if you know anything about graphics file formats, you'll know that JPEG was designed for photographs and doesn't do too well with logos; it's lossy (loses some data) and with logo-like images you see little bleeds of colour around the supposed-to-be-sharp edges. In other words, having the logo as a JPEG resulted in poor quality. Not only that, but having surreptitiously got hold of a GIF image of the logo, the GIF image was not only higher quality (not lossy for this image) but also a smaller file size! Yet it was the JPEG version that we were mandated to use. Not only that, but they wouldn't supply higher resolution copies of the image to use for printed documents. Our secretaries had to resort to ingenuity to produce copies of the logo for documents, and they looked terrible because of the poor resolution.

So I went to talk to the relevant person at the printing department. After politely asking for copies at higher resolution and a more sensible format, this person just point blank refused to accept the idea that providing the JPEG only was a problem. Even when I pointed out that the GIF format provided a smaller file size and better quality, she said "Oh well that's just your subjective opinion". Excuse me? 14K versus 16K ? Subjective? She might not have heard of the poor quality of JPEG for logos and not be aware that the difference in picture quality wasn't subjective either, but the difference in file size? And even if she did think it was my subjective opinion, then the opinion she was disagreeing with was the opinion of the person who probably knew more about graphics file formats than anyone else in the entire University! I went away fuming.

You do get some knowledgable administrators, mind you, and some academics who should know more than they do, but it never ceases to amaze me how there are several administrators who won't even entertain the idea that an academic might actually know more than an administrator on a subject that the academic specializes in! There are lots of other areas where the administrators refuse to ask for or take the advice of the computing department in their design and running of University systems: databases, interface design, data integrity, web technologies, I could go on and on. The University has a tubful of computing experts right on site and does it use them? Does it coco.

Anyway, I managed to get a small crumb of satisfaction out of all this: I set a data compression exam question where I asked students to discuss the choice of JPEG format for a logo. I do so love using real examples in my teaching. :-)


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