26 February 2010

The Sequence Trap

In an essay where he records having a conversation with his wife, Bun, Patrick McManus describes how sequences influence our lives. She has asked him if today would be a good day to clean out the house gutters and drains, and he says yes and that he will go get his fishing rod right after breakfast. Her puzzlement as to how a fishing rod will contribute to cleaning the gutters leads him to explain:
Well, in order to clean the gutters, I'm going to need a ladder. But Joe (down the street) borrowed the ladder last month and hasn't returned it. When I go over to Joe's house, his wife will tell me Joe went downtown, last she saw him. She will also tell me that Joe loaned the ladder to someone else, but she cannot remember who. I will go first to the cafe where Joe drinks coffee in the morning, but he will have just left for the hardware store. At the hardware store, I will be told that he left for the post office, but at the post office, they will say they overheard him and a friend planning to go back to the cafe.
When I arrive back at the cafe, the waitress will tell me that Joe, his friend Mike, and Charlie (the cafe owner) will have just left to pick up Charlie's boat and head out to the lake for some fishing.
So, my getting the fishing rod out and heading to the lake for some fishing will shortcut the process of finding out who Joe loaned the ladder to. Of course, if the fish are biting, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to leave off fishing to clean gutters on the house, but in any case, we probably wouldn't have been able to get them cleaned today anyway. Fishing today is probably the best way to clean the gutters tomorrow. (I'll just have to remember to ask Joe who he loaned the ladder to.)
Of course, McManus' rendition is much more detailed than my summary (with more trips, more failure, and much more humour worked in than I can manage), but you get the point:
Life is full of these little sequences where things we do lead us to other things that lead away from what we were trying to accomplish at the outset.
Recently, I decided to switch over from Firefox to Chrome as my main browser of choice for things Google-related. In order to get the neat little extension that would allow me to bookmark research items on Diigo, I needed to upgrade to the developer's version of Chrome. This took awhile to do, but I eventually was happily bookmarking sites for students, colleagues, and my own research.
One of the main reasons I switched over from Firefox to Chrome for browsing (particularly when Google Documents was involved in any way) was that Firefox had an annoying habit of assuming when I clicked on the Insert menu that I wanted to insert a graphic (I usually wanted to comment on a student's work). (Now in all fairness to Firefox, I should probably mention that the problem I encountered using Firefox 3.5.1 has now been fixed in version 3.6, but that enters the story in a much more entertaining way later, so I'll leave it for then.)
Chrome seemed to handle things better, so I made the switch. With the Diigo tool extension added to Chrome, I could happily read email, check blogs, edit documents, and collaborate on Wave--all the Google Apps I regularly use in work--using the beautiful and fast Google Chrome. So far, so good.
Then yesterday, I saw where Google Documents has this cool extension that allows people to work on their Google Documents when they are offline (i.e. away from Internet access). Since I work in a region that has quite unreliable Internet access in places, and since I have some students who have laptops, but no web access from home, I thought this would be really good. When I tried to install the offline extension, I was told that I first needed the extension "Google Gears." When I installed the Gears extension, I was told that Gears does not work on the developer version of Google Chrome. Curses! Foiled again! (Set to one side the logic of a Google extension that does not work on its own browser--it will only lead to further distress.)
Then, I thought: "How about trying to install the "offline" extension on Firefox (not a developer's version)?" So, I fired up Firefox :), and navigated to Google Docs. Upon clicking the "Offline" link to install the extension (Can you feel the excitement?), I was told I needed Gears; when I clicked on the Gears link, things hummed along nicely, tools being downloaded, installers grinding away, then I saw this message: "We're sorry, Google Gears does not work on Firefox 3.6. It does work with earlier versions of this browser (3.5.1 and before)."
At this point, I should explain that I like to keep my browsers current, since this helps to deter hackers. When I upgraded from 3.5.1 to Firefox 3.6, one of the first things I noticed was that the old problem where Google Docs thought I wanted to insert a graphic when I clicked on the "Insert" menu item had been fixed. So that problem has been taken care of.
I'm thinking of going out fishing until the extension problem has been fixed at Google and I can work offline. The only problem is that I loaned my fishing rod to Patrick McManus. . .

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