Systems Analysis

The instructions on the assignment bore into my brain like a drill. Look through Flickr. After finding three photos, derive your own tags for the photos and then compare them with others’ tags and the metadata provided by the Library of Congress.

Gah . . . every word tightens my nerves like another turn at the medieval rack. My sinews stress, my jaw clenches, I yearn to visit Florida and sip pina coladas with Michelle, my masseuse, professional model, and online guild leader. I read another sentence of instructions and feel my stomach clench.

Summarize the main points of the following articles. More PDFs which discuss adapting information retrieval tools to the digital age flash onto the screen, now rendered dull and soporific with words like “utilize,” “protocol,” and “incremental process.” I wonder how many authors collapsed writing these sentences, whether the end of each paragraph was toasted with a long draught of cooking sherry, followed by a primal scream atop a high balcony, a fleeting desire for sun-baked beaches and lengthy breezes before turning back to the laptop for another page.

Slowly I begin to type my own summary.

You see, I am a big fan of universality. Two thousand years from now Shakespeare will still remain a genius, two plus two will still add to four, and unless the moon jumps from its orbit to collide with earth, a feather and a brick if dropped will still accelerate at the same rate – minus air resistance.

Yet a mere five years from now, the tagging and metadata methodologies of today will not exist. These systems will not matter. The conventions, abbreviations, and technology that I use, memorize, and ultimately reiterate using my own words today will cease to matter then. I have a big problem with that. Mom and Katie simply tell me to act like a man and suck it up.

“These are simply the hoops everyone has to jump through in order to get that diploma, honey. I know it’s a pain, but it has to be done.”

Yeah, but once again the professor is asking me to memorize facts for the sake of a test and then jettison the material afterwards, a strategy I have tried long and hard to abandon since grade school: learn for the sake of a grade then forget everything. If I follow Mom’s advice, I will have spent nearly fifty-thousand dollars for a piece of non-recyclable paper and tabula rasa.

I suppose that even a semi-blank mind supersedes abandoning amino acid tables, Shakespearean sonnets, and those few memorized lines from Casablanca. Nonetheless, the assignment makes me cringe like the sound of an anxious cat thrown against a chalkboard. In the end, you are left irritated and slightly befuddled, questioning the sense of it all.

“Hold on,” you ask. “What purpose did hurling the cat serve?”

“It’s part of the curriculum,” they respond.

“Why not then hurl her at something softer, less irritating, like a mattress or at least mildly interesting like a flock of geese or a pool of Jello?”

“Who knows?” they respond again. “Just be sure to fill in the circles completely with a No. 2 pencil. You have five minutes remaining.”

Sigh. Well, no one said education was going to be easy.

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

— Rick

Sigh. Yeah, someday maybe I will too . . .

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6 thoughts on “Systems Analysis

  1. Interesting. I think you can say similar things about many fields though, even in science so to speak. Things may not change as fast as they do in cutting edge fields, but researchers are constantly changing their view. Stability is a luxury to have and in your (future) field and in my current one, we just have to stay on top of everything.

  2. Yet I would separate research (as in scientific research) from the changes within information systems or business models. Regardless of the shift in viewpoints or theories, past science still encompasses the foundation for future science. Newton’s theorems still apply; the laws of thermodynamics do not fade; the rules of algebra remain intact. Even creatures that lived over 65 million years still garner interest, impacting modern theories on evolution.

    The views and principals change but are never abandoned or rendered unimportant. Not so with information systems, which like a snake shed and discard their outer skin as they grow. Librarians today no longer use card catalogs. Programmers no longer code with Basic or LOGO; outdated programming languages are abandoned with ever increasing speed.

    Thus, stability I would say exists in a great many fields. At least the science I learn today or tomorrow will still impact or influence the science a hundred years from now. Old systems, their structures, languages, models, and functions meanwhile are simply forgotten, when we fail to encounter them on a daily basis (unlike nature).

  3. I would amend that last statement to say that stability exists in mature fields. While certain fields may never become stable (the ever-evolving nature of computers, power, and technology in computer science), mankind has had thousands of years to refine their method in algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, etc. Even newtonian physics, which work well in the macro world, does not apply in the quantum universe. All the while, quantum rules are being revised so they work in the macro world. What we know about health is constantly being revised, from thinking all fat is bad to only certain types of fats are bad. Coffee was bad but now we believe it has antioxidants and so is good. And then we have psychiatry, which is another topic altogether.

    Perhaps the method you’re learning now in regards to information is equivalent to early man measuring circles with string. It’s certainly one way to get there, but you’re still waiting for someone to discover pi.

  4. Oh, and even though archaic languages aren’t used in the technology field anymore, the ones that we do share similarities. If you grew up learning Assembly Language, then it’s successors are much much easier to learn and follow the same principles. Variables, conditionals, arithmetic operations, they still exist and are crucial.

    It’s hard to build and grow off shaky ground but I think those that can and do show the ability to adapt, a very useful trait.

  5. Clever bloke, we are moving farther from my initial point.

    You see, I never had a problem with the change and evolution of ideas. Science adapts to new ideas that rise from the foundations and sometimes misconceptions of older theories and beliefs. Just as complex life stemmed from simple a cellular organisms. The earth changes, yet the age does not dramatically affect the importance or value of these old ideas.

    Newtonian physics may not apply to quantum science, but it is still important. Health care may present different opinions, but the composition of the human skeleton, our basic anatomy has not. Heck, even the belief in humors is important to understand for literature and history.

    Yet systems change so frequently, so arbitrarily that they sometimes do not even enter into the vernacular. The OS of the day, hour, second. The popular office policy of the week lasts as long as the next reorganization. Systems once abandoned stay lost, as new systems and technology replace them like a city built upon the ruins of another. No one cares what systems existed a decade ago. Only now matters.

    As a final point, let me offer the following story: when Dad came home one day with our first computer, we learned to play around with DOS in order to load word processors or play games.

    cd\games\donkeykong

    That knowledge and language is dead now. I put that on a resume and an IT consulting firm would laugh in my face.

    Yet interesting enough, the books I read as a kid still matter. The math, science, and languages still matter. Possessing a doctorate in Ancient Greek and Roman Literature still means something; Hercules and the Perseus, their stories still provokes interest and instill curiosity. Can you say that about the systems, the company policies from twenty years ago? Would you want to save that?

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