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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

"I, the Computer Center"

By Peter Rony

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 12 - November 14, 1996

I write to Spectrum to praise Mike Shelby, who works with the 4Help service at the Computer Center. Mike "made my day" on Friday, Nov. 1. What did he do? He solved my e-mail hang-up problem. Specifically, he told me to go to my Eudora "Special" menu category, click on "Switches", and then make certain that "Leave Mail on Server" was not checked.

This simple fix miraculously reinvigorated my Eudora 1.44 e-mail client, causing it to spew forth 519 messages that had accumulated-on my fraction of the Virginia Tech server memory over a period of weeks, months, if not centuries, of e-mail usage.

Besides praising Mike here, there is a second objective of this communication. Those of us who have been at Virginia Tech for 25 years or more remember the 1960s- and early 1970s-vintage IBM mainframes and their associated air-conditioned rooms, computer center, and personnel. It is common knowledge in 1996 that the personal computer that we now have on our desktop, a 133-MHz Pentium sweet thing with gigabytes of hard disk, 16-32 megabytes of RAM, and a susceptibility to software viruses, is equal to or better than the IBM mainframe of the 1960s which may have never encountered a virus.

I ask: Who is expected to maintain this powerful hardware and software in 1996? Well, I am looking at him in the mirror. For no good reason at all, I now expect myself to be able to handle the numerous hardware and software bugs and incompatibilities-not to mention computer viruses-that occur while I attempt to perform a simple task, namely, get my work done. Within the last month of a CD-ROM project that ended in November, I had to spend two hours goofing around to solve my computer bugs in order to get one hour of CD-ROM work accomplished.

The moral of this story is that in the progression from machine code and assembly language (mid-1970s) to DOS (early 1980s), Windows (late 1980s and early 1990s), to the promised land, Windows 95 (mid-1990s) or the PowerMacintosh operating system, the complexity of the hardware and software that I am using has reached a point where I cannot readily contend with personal computer problems. I must seek help from Riley Chan in the ChE department, from Mike Shelby with 4HELP, and from my two, computer-literate sons (both Virginia Tech alumni) who have far exceeded their father in computer skills.

It is all very good for the administration to repeat the mantra "high-tech multimedia computer technology at Virginia Tech," but I sure hope that these same administrators insist on adequate funding for high-caliber individuals such as Mike Shelby. I, for one, do not desire to become a one-man computer center during the 1990s. I have "been there, done that." It is no fun at all.