Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why sir, don't you understand?

My (mis)adventure in आय्यायटी land.

When junta was busy mugging for exam, somewhere amidst the ill maintained computers of systems lab, a recipe of mass entertainment was brewing. At what many might call "height of joblessness", I was sitting there reading smail! For the poor ignorant (I mean blissfully ignorant) souls who haven't had the misfortune of knowing and experiencing what smail is, GO  GOOGLE  IT! Okay, let me save you some trouble, here is what you would see...
For the more technically inclined - "smail is what आय्यायटी Madras uses for intra-institute communication" (courtesy: Wearium-Mobster)

 Here in insti(tute), 5 th semester onwards, students have some courses called "free electives". Various inter-disciplinary (or otherwise) courses are offered by the professors across the insti, in which one can enroll taking that course as a free elective. But as someone wise (?) already famously said, there is no such thing as a "free" elective. For many courses, an approval of the instructor is required before one can register for the course. This is to ensure that the student has the required background for the course. Also, this ensures that classrooms don't overflow for any course (blame the overflowing on Arjun Singh - may he rest in pieces-) and the course functions smoothly. This approval is officially termed as Consent of Teacher or simply COT. A list of all the available courses and whether they require a COT or not is maintained on an internal website, to which all students refer when they want to take a course as a free elective.

Enough of background knowledge. Lets dive into the story! Here is a mail which was sent to all the students in the insti.
Course. MM **** *************** .
Please note that this is a COT course and it  will be followed strictly. In case of numbers exceeding the capacity of the class students for this course will be taken on first-come-first-serve basis. In any case signature on the COT form is must.
I could not decipher the secret and ultra important message hidden in this gem of a mail. All I could see was repetition of facts already present in the website. After trying various code language deciphering techniques, I finally gave up! Then it dawned on me that the mail might actually be just what it says. I could hear, somewhere distant in my mind, faint cries of "spam! spam!" echoing. Just to be sure, I checked the website, and to my surprise, I found the list of MM department course empty! But still the point remained the same. "Smail is not the right place to tell whether a course requires COT, the website is." That too a mail to all the students? What do 1st and 2nd year students have got to do with free electives and COTs? So I sent the following reply.

Respected sir,
   With respect to the above mail, I checked the electives list at the link - http://academic.****.ac.in/eleclist.html
For the department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, I found the list to be empty. Now, 2 possibilities arise -
  1. The course is newly being offered or there is some problem in the website. In any case, I thought it should be brought to notice so that it gets fixed.
  2. The course is not listed there because it is only meant for MM students and thus is detailed on MM department website. In this case, I would humbly like to point out that it would have been much better if the above mail had been posted to the respective department mailing list instead of all the students in the institute.
  It is disheartening to see that in an institute of "Technology" such crude measures of communication are used. (or in the first case, websites are maintained poorly)
   I hope that this mail is read in the right light and the right feelings are conveyed.
Regards,
--
Sujeet Gholap
A student who is repulsed from smail because of spam
I tried to write the mail as clearly as possible, making each point clear so that the problem (if at all it is a problem) is understood and action is taken. Beyond my wildest of dreams, of all the infinite responses possible for my mail, I got the following...

Dear Mr. Sujeet,
Thanks for your mail. I do not know yet what's your connection with this course (whether you have registered, going to register, registered but going to drop or what). If you have registered then let me tell you before you register for a course it's YOURS duty to find out whether the course is a COT course or not. If it is COT then you are supposed to meet the instructor and take his consent. The information regarding this is very well available and I have no idea how "Technology" is not enabling you to access that information. The "crude measure" aka the mail was just to reinforce this COT requirement because there are people like you who take things for granted and register for a COT course without the knowledge of the instructor even in his/her wildest of dreams.
Let me also tell you if a B.Tech student wants to register for an M.Tech course as in this case the COT is a MUST. I also wish to tell you that I am not taking any B.Tech for this particular course because of high demand of this course in the graduate level across the institute.
Apart from all the students, the above mail was also sent to all the faculty members! The mail starts with "I don't know what you have got to do with this course"! I believed that knowledge of the Latin alphabet and that of the English language is all that is required to get the answer to that question from my mail. Although the soundness of the latter can be doubted if one gives too much importance to (obviously a typo, isn't it?)  "... it's YOURS duty to..." and tries to conclude something from it. I didn't! Instead I sent another mail...

Respected sir,
    From the above reply which you sent, it is clear that what I want to convey was totally different from what got conveyed. At the risk of sounding rude (which I am not, as I have utmost respect for you), let me put it straight.
    The course you are talking about is not there in the institute list of electives. Hence we students don't even know such an elective exists. So either the site it outdated (which I wanted to bring to your notice) or it is a department specific course, if that were so, why was a mail regarding the course sent to all the students of institute instead of the particular department specific mailing list? I totally understand that such things happen inadvertently, but nonetheless it is spam.
    I would also like to point out certain things.
  1. "...because there are people like you who take things for granted and register for a COT course..."
    The statement is downright personal, accusatory and makes sweeping generalizations.
  2. "...before you register for a course it's YOURS duty to find out whether the course is a COT course or not."  Although I got the correct meaning that you are not shouting at me, in emails, generally all capital letters is considered as shouting / yelling. Words can be emphasized by making them bold, or placing a pair of * around them. It is always better to avoid misunderstandings, isn't it? (http://www.dynamoo.com/technical/etiquette.htm)
    I am cc-ing the faculty mailing list, as I thought it would be rude if I don't, because although the reply you sent was personal to me, it was sent to faculty mailing list also, and I guess you think it is important to involve other faculty members in this conversation and hence you chose to include them.
See, the point is, the mail was sent to everybody, not just me. I know that the prof(essor) did not mean to shout at me. But it was no longer only about me and him, was it? The whole insti (that is, the people who still read smail) was watching the drama (and having fun I guess). You must understand that it was out of concern for the prof, that I mentioned email etiquette. I don't want others to think that the prof is shouting at me while he does not mean to, do I?

If only I had looked at my inbox before hitting the send button, the above mail would have been totally different. During the time I was writing the above reply, another faculty member had sent me a mail pointing out that the website was working! Now only a time machine could have helped me. Here is the mail by the other faculty member, with my reply interleaved...

Dear Sujeet,

Sorry, I am not able to understand the problem here.  I can clearly see the entire list of electives from MME by clicking on the same link provided by you (there are 21 electives from MME listed here) and I have copy-pasted the list from the website.
I am really sorry and deeply regretful and full of shame for what happened and although I don't know how it happened, at the time of sending the mail, I had looked at the list, and it was empty even after refreshing 3 times. It was a mistake on my part to not check the site in a different browser, or on a different computer or at a different time, I regret beyond any measure about that.
  So, maybe it would have been simple and prudent for you to wait before you make a complaint about "technology" or "crude measures of communication" and pass harsh judgements, without even identifying yourself properly.
In any case, I still don't understand how does sending a mail "COT is required" tell anything different from what is already being conveyed in the elective list? (apart from adding one more mail to read in the inbox).

Regards and apologies,
--
Sujeet Gholap
As it turned out later, the list was actually empty for quite a long time. The person who fixed the page (before the prof pointed out that is it working) did not acknowledge that there actually was a fault in the website. And what a way of fixing a page! A new page with the complete list was created and was linked to from the website. The old, empty page still exists and can still be accessed with its address. It is just not linked from the website anymore, that's it.

And as expected or rather dreaded, within 15 minutes, another reply from the first prof was waiting in my inbox.
Dear Mr. Sujeet,
I hope by now you have read Prof. <name removed>'s mail which clearly shows the information that you wanted is available. The CAPITAL letters were to tell you that what someone is supposed to as per well defined and practiced rules. If someone is not doing that then of course things are taken granted for - There is no question of being "personal, accusatory" or "shouting / yelling". Outright baseless accusations like "Technology" "crude measures of communication "were actually hurled by which I am going to take up with Dean Students separately.
Regarding your accusations of spamming someone's mail box - It was necessary to send the mail to all the students as it is an interdisciplinary course and students from many other departments take this course. Again please verify your data before outright accusing anyone.
Sending the mail to all faculty- your personal reply to me was copied to all students so my "personal" reply to you was copied to all faculty. Faculty and students are anyway complimentary each other, isn't it?
See! He still did not get the point.Oh and please don't get me started on the "technology" here. That demands another blog-post in itself. Let me give one example of how "advanced" and "state of the art" is the technology being used here...

One fine day, all of us got an email saying that the administration needs our data. We were presented with a huge online form, which included fields from roll number and name to parent's occupation and recent photograph to passport details. Such a huge form, and you must fill it in one go! Can't save the progress! That would have been even bearable, but no. When you click submit, some random error would occur (unless my case was an exception - that too twice) and the form will go blank and we have to start over again. After successfully completing the herculean task of filling the form, we stupid students hoped that they won't need any more data ever again. Yes, stupid we were! Next semester, to get a digital (magnetic, to be more specific) mess card, we were told to submit hard copy of our photographs. You won't believe what they were doing to the photographs... There was a lady sitting in front of a computer, scanning one photograph at a time, retouching it in some software if need be, and uploading it somewhere (from where it will be printed on our digital cards). No wonder in such a place eyebrows will be raised if one talks about technology not being used properly! Why in the world would students want to upload their own photos? If they do, how are we supposed to waste the ink that would have gone into getting them printed? What will the poor lady do? Won't her exceptional skills at photoshop go wasted? And most important of all, what the hell to do with the time and money saved?

Now that you have got the taste of the technological advancements here, lets get back to the smail story. I had lost all sanity and hope of getting the point across. But then, another mail in my inbox and I realized that not everything is lost. The second prof (the only one who ever understood the point I was making) had sent me another mail. Here is that mail ...
 Dear Sujeet,

Thanks for your mail and there is no need to be so very apologetic about it!  Yes, I understand that things do happen and many a time we (me included) tend to react in a knee-jerk fashion.  It is without doubt quite a mystery as to how the electives appeared when I clicked on the link, but did not when you had checked.  Guess, one can always blame it on the "gremlins" in the system!

On a different note, there is sometimes a need to advertise a course and also drive home the fact that although it is, in a manner of speaking, "open" to all, it does require some background and, therefore, a teacher's consent.  Of course, it does not convey anything more (or different) from what is already conveyed in the elective list.  But as you saw from your recent experience, the electives never got displayed (at the time you checked) and, in the same way, a faculty may not know whether the information concerning his/her course has been communicated to the students!  So, what do you think would be a good way to handle this?  You guys are all quite tech & internet savvy and perhaps would have a simple solution to it.  And if you have one, we could try implementing it and see if that works.  The obvious answer is, of course, to make sure that the websites are updated instantly and constantly, but sometimes that does not happen (the recent issue being a case in point). Perhaps, having a link on the electives list webpage could be a possibility where the faculty could enter details, such as course information and COT requirements without having to send a mail?

Yes, I am adding one more mail to read in your inbox, but I am really interested in seeing if there are some simple suggestions and methods to sort such issues.  Let me know if you have an idea and I will certainly take it up in the department/Institute.
Finally something which was to the point, was devoid of personal hatred, something which did not look down upon students. Now I know how the insti is still functional! Thanks to the sane people like this! I replied promptly. And the prof replied saying that the solutions I suggested will be discussed and seriously considered. But as the reply is not very entertaining and as it does not exactly fit the negative-sarcastic tone of this post, let me not put it here.

Aftermath : Once threatened with action involving the dean and all, I just gave up! Went to the prof involved, apologized. Met the dean, apologized again, kept my calm when statements like "Just because you are in CS, does not give you any right to talk about technology..." and "Give me some time and I will find 100 faults with guys like you..." were made. When I opened my mouth to explain myself I was shouted at "DON'T ARGUE WITH ME!" Here is the interesting part : All this shouting thinking that I am a student who is interested in that course and want a COT! Did you really infer that from my mails?

Wait! What story is it if it does not end with a twist? Yeah, this one has got a twist too! After I had calmed everything down with apologies, next day, there is the following mail staring at me...
Dear <my faculty adviser's name>

Can you please advise the student not to pull this simple issue any longer? Thanks. (see the mail quoted below)

Sincerely
<faculty in charge of smail>
________________________________
From: <some name, which is not sujeet gholap> [*******@gmail.com]
To: <the two profs involved>
Subject: Re: [Mtech] [Students] [Faculty] [Btech] MM ****_COT requirement

Get a room guys. Smail is not a medium for M&M faculty to threaten students. Why do you send all these shit to everyone. Blowing your own  trumpet about the high demand for your course itself was inappropriate in the first place. Hundreds of courses are offered in our institute every sem and most are so called 'interdisciplinary'. If mass mailed that is statistically significant amount of spam, even our dean would agree. Smail is supposed to be moderated. I wonder how this is happening.
The man is a prof himself, can see clearly that the offensive mail was not sent by me. The entire conversation was openly available to any student, and still, holding me responsible, he sends a mail to my faculty adviser citing a mail by someone whom I don't even know. Didn't he get from my previous mails what kind of language I use? I googled for the sender of the offensive mail (guess the smail in-charge uses ultra advanced technology which is not compatible with simple googling). The sender of the offensive mail has already passed out of the insti!
I called the smail in-charge and explained. His reaction was "He is a pass-out you say, then how come he is still getting smail?" Wow! That is our smail in-charge asking me how old students' ids are still there in the smail lists! Talk of technology...
Disclaimer : The views in this post are personal to the author and bear no connections whatsoever with any organizations of any kind. The author makes no claims regarding the factual correctness of any text in this post. This post is, to the author's best knowledge, a work of fiction and any resemblance of any character or organization to any real world person or organization is purely unintentional and just a coincidence.

7 comments :

  1. 'Sending the mail to all faculty- your personal reply to me was copied to all students so my "personal" reply to you was copied to all faculty. Faculty and students are anyway complimentary each other, isn't it?' - liked this line the most in the whole spam hungama...sry it's not from your mail. Still I agree with most of your points especially about the spam thing. Nice blog, should make it to 'Last Bencher'

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  2. I liked the Disclaimer part...:P
    Why don't you make its font color almost the same as background -- red seems too noticeable? :P

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  3. btw, I passed out in 2010 and am still being spammed by smail. Only reason to put up with it is the occasional gem like this. I was following the action live :D

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  4. Well, if you ask me, you should send this link to the prof and tell him what people think about such stuff. On an other note, I am still unable to get an idea as to why the prof sent it to all the students and faculty. That was a bit wrong on his part.

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  5. Why don't you have Mr.Passout send this to the Prof ? Let him know how you can send messages to all@whole-wide-world.com.

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  6. @Ashwin, The prof was not at fault there. I was the one who made the mistake to reply to all. It is a different matter that it got blocked, but nonetheless, the prof saw that the student mailing list was marked for receiving the mail and was infuriated.

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  7. "Arjun Singh - may he rest in pieces" totally awesome

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