Late last month I provided a brief historical travelogue that pointed up a once-broken fraud protection mechanism at Chase Bank (click here if you happen to be interested). I tend to notice such “systems” that just aren’t working and need to be fixed. This annoying fixing-upping trait gets me in trouble sometimes. I most often simply swallow the inclination, leaving broken things unattended to. People don’t like to be told they’re working in a broken system. Some individuals can be quite invested, too, having been cogs in the wheels that built the system in the first place. Even if they don’t personally care too much about the founding concepts and inner workings, it can still be annoying to hear “That’s stupid. It just doesn’t work.”
Case in point: after three years, I finally took solid initiative to try to fix a broken system involving communication between our Admissions/Visit Office (for prospective students) on the one hand, and our School of Music Administrative Assistant and faculty on the other. I’m happy to report that all, including my boss, seem to have received my initiative well, but that doesn’t mean we have a working system yet.
In other broken system news. . . .
The six-month-old Savin copier/printer/scanner/fax machine in our office is pretty highly evolved, but the nature of the “improvements” since the last model result in no particular gains in our work life. This kind of thing happens when back-office people design features and functionalities they think are cool, but that no one who actually uses the thing has been requesting. We now have so many new, non-used features that the touch pad doesn’t have room for them all, so you have to work hard to isolate and touch a single spot on the screen.
Moreover, my fingers must be too cold, or too warm, or too reverse-magnetized, or something: I can’t seem to make the touch pad respond. I kid you not—I spent more than a solid minute last weekend trying different finger angles, different fingers, etc., just to get one lousy hotspot to respond. Another issue on this particular machine is the door you open to clear paper jams always makes you feel like you’re breaking something to close it again—the flimsy plastic parts are begging to break so we’ll have to get them fixed. The Bypass tray is quite prone to jams, I might add. And it’s a slow machine, to boot–much slower than machines I used 8 or 10 years ago.
While this Savin machine is sort of broken itself, I’m more interested in the human systems behind the scenes. Some Savin design team, in my opinion, represents a broken human system, because it built something that doesn’t work well, and/or wasn’t needed. (I’ll refrain from commenting on the system at our institution that saw fit to rid us of a functional, albeit three-year-old machine, in order to inflict on us this new-and-“improved” model, but this latter human system may be the real culprit—paying for, and dispensing, unnecessary items, no matter what contracts and maintenance schedules and “sweet deals” might have been involved in the “upgrade.”)
Onward and upward. (Not really upward, actually. Despite our budget constraints, our institution appears to be run a lot better than our state.) New York has a particular penchant for thinking its way is the only way, or at least for an aggrandized view of itself. One instance of this is the ubiquitous “State Speed Limit” signs; in other states, there has been no perceived need to proclaim that it’s a “State [this or that]”; elsewhere, we see speed limit signs with no explicit reference to the state authority. New York, though, somehow needs to assert its statehood and authority.
New York also calls its county subdivisions “towns,” which strikes a newcomer rather oddly. Most folks in my experience say “I have to go in to town” in order to mean they need to go to the population center where all the businesses are. “Town” is where the courthouse is, or where Main Street intersects with Market Street, or something along those lines.
In New York, though, “town” is no center at all–which still confuses us after 3.5 years in this state. We’ll see signs, for instance, that welcome us to the town of Hume, although Hume is also a tiny hamlet that’s farther away than the “town” of Fillmore. What we have actually entered when we see the welcome sign is a larger area that in my opinion should be called a “township” or something else, but not a “town.” Sometimes there are “towns” that don’t have any population centers or intersections bearing the name of the town at all.
For New York, then, there is an assumed system of political subdivision that uses vague/misleading terminology. A town here is really more of a sub-county. In Delaware, this “town” would be called a “hundred,” and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it would be a “township.” Googling “’new york’ township” gives precious few results that use the term “township,” and these are more than a century old, but I still suspect that “town” is but a shortened form of “township.” This “system” of naming geopolitical areas is a mite confusing to newcomers and travelers.
More tomorrow . . .
 A hundred was comprised of ten tithings, each of which held ten freeholder families. The hundreds of Delaware originally served as judicial or legislative districts, but they now remain only as a basis for property tax assessment.