Today I spent my day being an I.T. person.
As soon as I arrived at work this morning I was asked to help one of our lab techs with a computer issue she had been having. I then helped another student install some complicated software (although not entirely successfully), then fixed up some software issues of my own.
I’ve always been my family’s go-to person for tech issues because I systematically find the problem and fix it, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing. Somehow, being a scientist makes me a good tech person (or at least a reasonable substitute).
The final hurdle today came when I went to download some data, but wasn’t able to get the website to work. It had worked in the past – I’ve downloaded many datasets from it before – but since Christmas, something hasn’t been working properly. I contacted the site administrators and they assured me everything was working from their end.
It was then that I slipped into subconscious science mode to fix the problem.
Step 1: Repeat the experiment
The first thing I did when I had the issue was to try to download the data for a couple of different things. When one didn’t work, I tried another. Still no luck.
Step 2: Run a small-scale experiment
When I was satisfied that the site was definitely not working on my computer, I started asking the people around me to try to use the site too. When my office mate, and friend down the hall also couldn’t get the site working I knew it wasn’t just my computer.
Step 3: Increase the sample size
At this point, I sent out an email to all the students in my research school asking them to try the link for me. I got a series of emails back with both, “yes, it’s working fine,” and “nope, didn’t work for me either.” The information I had didn’t actually help me at all. I needed to look at what the difference was between the yes and nos.
I then sent back an email to the people who had replied, asking them if they were running a mac or pc. A pattern was starting to emerge.
Step 5: Compile the results
I had 11 people test the link for me. Four people got it working, seven didn’t. Of the seven people who couldn’t get the link working, six were using a mac.
Step 6: Conclusion and reporting of results.
I then sent an email back to the students, telling them what I’d found, “Thanks for all the responses!
The tally is 5 got it working, 7 didn’t, BUT 6 of the people who couldn’t get it to work are running a mac.
Looks like it might be an issue with macs on the site.”
I was pretty happy with myself. Looks like the issue is with macs trying to download data from the site. I now had something I could report to the website administrators.
I then checked my email, and in response to my follow up email to the students, someone sent me an email simply saying, “SCIENCE!!!!”
It wasn’t until this point that I realised that I had essentially just conducted a scientific experiment to try to diagnose my website issue. Looking back at the email I sent out with the results, it reads just like a conclusions section in a report. I admit to feeling like a complete nerd, but also satisfied that my subconscious is science-y too.
Turns out I’m a scientist, even when I don’t mean to be. Has this ever happened to you?