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The NOVA gang in Prince William Park

The NOVA gang in Prince William Park


Evans’ Rag

Vol 1 Issue 18


Side Job

I had a side job back a few years ago, managing our firm’s IT stuff, not because I was particularly good at it–I was OK–but mainly because I’m fascinated by all the tech toys created in my lifetime. That and my wife and son both are in the field. While working on his degree, for several years Sean maintained the firm’s network, computers, servers, routers, etc. so when he left to pursue a career, I picked up some of that work.

This was in the days of blue screens of death and slow cable connections.

Back in the dark ages when I studied architecture, I was given a list to buy the following: architectural and engineering scales, 30-60 triangle, 45 degree triangle, adjustable triangle, T-square, lead holders, pencil sharpener, board brush, white trash sketching paper, vellum, and probably a few other things. Later I bought Rapidograph pens for ink drawings, an electric eraser, bags of eraser powder, drafting tape, etc. Pastel pencils, magic markers, watercolors, acrylic and oil colors, raw canvas, wood for stretcher frames, brushes and gesso for art classes.

All of these were for one purpose: to create to-scale drawings in 2D and 3D and render them for presentations. At Clemson you were given two grades in studio, 50% for the designs and 50% for how well you could draw them. We began with 150 + students as freshmen and graduated 26 four years later.

Oh, and my sister lent me her beautiful aluminum slide rule for the years of calculus, nonlinear differential equations, strength of materials, steel and concrete engineering classes taken alongside the engineers. You were not allowed to bring a calculator to take exams, only slide rules. The joke was the architectural students were “the curve.”

I had terrible skill at a slide rule, but by the time I hit grad school, my presentation skills were top notch. Today’s architectural students are trained on 3D software and laser printers. All that stuff I bought as a freshman? None of it’s used any more.

What got me started on this blog was a recent Medium article about the dangers of connecting your personal cell phone to your company’s email system. Don’t Put Your Work Email on Your Personal Phone -

The author argues that the convenience of having all your email on one device is outweighed by what the company (or an IT person with a grudge) might decide is in its interest, namely tracking you. Taken further, using the company’s email for personal communications might fall under this same caution. The article was depressing. Not that it was wrong, but because no doubt it was written from experience.

As I started this piece, I once headed up IT. And since the company’s Exchange server was mine to manage, I didn’t bother with a private email account; had one but didn’t use it. The IT support company reported to me. Was I going to spy on myself?

Given that I’d allowed myself the privilege, I decided that our firm’s policy would be as hands-off as we could be regarding the staff’s computer and email usage. We were a firm of professional architects, and I wanted to treat them as such; no Big Brother. The point was, you did your work on time and on schedule, and the firm didn’t look over your shoulder. We did have policies, only they were self-policed.

When it came time, I worked to let in personal phones, and yes, we had the means to deactivate a lost phone, though we never needed to use it. I’ll admit to being a pain about passwords–they had to be real ones, and changed regularly.

Occasionally people landed on bad sites, but they’d own up and it got fixed. A handful of computers had to be wiped and rebuilt to remove spyware but it was nuisance stuff. One guy loved guns and would be on gun sites at lunch, but no one went for porn sites. In the thirty years we were in business, we were hit by one ransomware attack, that for unexplained reasons went after an archive drive instead of the one with active projects. We recovered quickly.

So what is it about these companies that seek to make slaves of their employees? Is it really a benefit to track your employees?

Power does strange things to some people. Machiavelli meant his treatise as a cautionary tale, not a handbook. Maybe that was lost in translation from the Italian.