This week, IT Manager Republic is featuring the daily journal of Tom Rule, an IT manager and teacher for a private school in Macon, GA. The following journal entries are from Wednesday.

7:30 A.M.
Before classes began, we had a student approach us about using his laptop for a Flash presentation. We have a projector available, and Brenda Timms, the other half of the IT team, has been working with him on the technical details. I joined in after they had set it up with an IP address and discovered that the machine needs a special video-out cable. If he doesn’t have it, they’ll transfer the file to Brenda’s PowerBook, which has a VGA output.

We’ve tried to stick with cross-platform solutions wherever we can just for this kind of situation. This gives us flexibility, which is critical in an educational situation. We deal with so many variables, situations, and technical comfort levels that having flexibility avoids a lot of “can’t do that” situations.

If we really can’t do something, I try to explain why. The faculty seems to trust our opinions and it will always smooth ruffled feathers.

I was able to finally get our middle school principal, Sister Geraldine’s new iMac moved to her office. She couldn’t decide how to react—fuss at me for how long it took or hug me for finally getting it there. She has been patiently waiting for a new computer for too long!

Catch up with these journal entries

Monday: “Journal of an IT manager: Juggling tasks is part of the high school curriculum”

Tuesday: “Journal of an IT manager: Backup plans and patience help pass the test”

First period
My Web class finally completed the sports schedules for the soccer team, which gave me time to discuss the process of collecting information for a Web site and to introduce the students to graphics file formats.

Second period
For my planning period, I was supposed to grade 25 e-mailed tests, take care of some paperwork, and replace a CPU heat sink in the same PC I’ve been working on in the small computer lab. But the librarian told me that the library Web search wasn’t working, so I went back to the library instead.

An AppleScript I set up to copy the library’s automation database to the Web server timed out because the hard drive is so busy doing nothing that a critical folder was not renamed. I manually renamed it, and the search came back up, but I need to figure this out. I could write an AppleScript to take care of the rename locally and have the cron [utility] run it at midnight, but that only takes care of the symptom. Another problem to add to my “ponder” list.

Third period
Brenda spent the period in the small computer lab trying to set up printer sharing with the HP inkjet. There is no reason why the printer queue on the Linux server isn’t working, but it isn’t. And we’ve got to get it printing—fast.

Brenda also gave detailed instructions via e-mail to a faculty member who needed to know how to print out a student contact list out of their grade book. This type of e-mail takes forever to write. We try to keep [instructional] e-mails for reuse. Perhaps one day we can put them up on the faculty’s intranet.

I taught the entire period without repairing anything. It was quite nice!

Fourth period
Brenda ordered the HP printer we need. She also ordered one USB video-output device for testing. We’re hoping this works better than the TView Golds we bought last year, which won’t work with the new iMacs.

Brenda and a former coworker [who came by to help] finally set up the printer sharing by installing a Win95 driver on the Win98 machines. They also had to allow the print server machine to “look for new hardware” because it insisted on it. I kept canceling it, but after Brenda let it set up a printer using the old driver, it seemed happy and printer sharing began working. Now I know why they call it “plug and pray.” Give me my MacOS!

Getting the most from the budget

Stretching IT dollars is important, especially in an educational institution. Rule joked that working in the “education market equals stretching the money until it squeaks.” To make every purchase matter, Rule follows these four steps:

  1. 1.      Prioritize: List what purchases must come first from the working budget.
  2. 2.      Assess functionality: Know who the purchase will affect—one person or multiple users.
  3. 3.      Recycle: Can the replaced equipment be reused somewhere else in the organization?
  4. 4.      Converge: Can you fix two or more problems with one purchase?

Sixth period
I still have two machines that need Office, but I went ahead and introduced my class to the procedures for using Office, so I had two students who watched for about 15 minutes.

The class was busy typing on a project while I tried the install. One machine had a 4-gig drive with only 400K open, but there’s not that much software installed on the machine. After a frustrating 30 minutes, I discovered 2 gigs of TEMP files!

“Windows Temp Files” seems to be an oxymoron—ranking up there with the phrases “giant shrimp” and “pretty awful.” Two gigs of temp files is inexcusable!

I probably could have found a tip on this by researching online but felt that it would take longer to do research than to dig around on my own. This is always a tricky call. When do you stop to research and get help vs. when will it be faster to find a workaround?

I work a lot on “gut reaction” when making that decision and probably waste a lot of time better spent on other things!

Meanwhile, Brenda spent time in Sister Geraldine’s office installing software and showing her how to copy documents to her network drive space.

The campus minister saw Brenda there and listed about three issues he was having with network passwords and such. He gets my vote for asking the funniest question of the day: “When will you have some downtime from computer problems?” I’d laugh if I weren’t so tired.

Brenda hiked down to the gray cottage on campus to deal with another machine with a crashing browser. She installed IE4 to replace Netscape and will have to go back to move the bookmarks over from Netscape.

This machine belongs to a less technically proficient faculty member. In this case, we must take extra care to make things transparent and easy to access if he is going to successfully use the computer.

That is really a key point for us. We try to customize our support to match individual style. Some faculty have no problem trying something with just a bit of advice, but others have a high “fright factor.” It can be tough (but rewarding when it works) to match your instructions to their style of learning. (Ask any teacher you happen to know!)

Seventh period
I stay in the big computer lab to finally get Office installed on the last two machines. Brenda ordered the new HP printer. But no one knows how long it will take to arrive since the air traffic system was shut down due to the terrorist attacks.

After school
I’m still in the lab. I managed to get the September cafeteria menu scanned, edited, and posted to the school’s Web site.

The new printer will be nice, since it is cross-platform and a heavier duty, but that means another piece of equipment to learn, plus the moving of the IBM laser to the smaller computer lab. I enjoy setting up new stuff, though. Meanwhile, I’ve got those 25 e-mail tests!

Do you go by your gut?

Rule said he often works by intuition. Do you sometimes find yourself going by your “gut”? When has following your instincts worked? When has it failed? Do you encourage such decision making in your shop? Let us know by sending us an e-mail or starting a discussion below.