We are in Exam days now. In the School of Dramatic Arts, this is when we review design portfolios and stage manager’s prompt books, perfectly illustrating  the “inefficiency” that makes a fine institution of higher education like USC worth the big bucks. 450 other faculty and staff listened as the brand new Provost of USC to be inefficient in just this way.  It was a festive ceremony, Town and Gown full of hundreds of spirited well-wishers there to welcome the next Provost, Dr. Michael Quick, to his new position as the Chief Academic Officer of the University. Provost Quick, extremely charming,  treated the attendees to many examples of his Quick wit. In his remarks, the Provost thanked the stakeholders, trustees, the Deans of all the schools, “All but one of you who are doing a great job.” Brilliant.

I did not know until I received the invitation, that naming a new Provost is called the “Installation of the Provost.” In honor of his wit, I asked several people yesterday as we milled about at the reception,

“How many faculty does it take to install a provost?”

But anyway, that aside, Provost Quick noted that we should not get too efficient, because it is in the moments when we are mentoring the students, one on one,where the educational fires get stoked. This week we have a blazing pyre at our school, as we review and coach, correct and instruct our way through the production students’ work of the last semester.

From way back in the late 1980s when I had my first Macintosh computer, the squat ivory colored cube sitting atop the floppy disk drive, I have strived for perfection. It was magical, the Mac, a far cry from the SMacintosh Computermith Corona word processor which I had used prior. There was another typewriter, too that you used to be able to backspace and it would white it out as you backed up.

Stage Management was a lot of whiting out in those days. I created Contact sheets in multiple versions, discarded paper balled up at the base of my desk. When I got the typewriter that could automatically erase up to an entire line of text, I thought I was in heaven, but then came the personal computer and I no longer even needed to backspace my way to perfection.

Recently, I began receiving a weekly delivery of fresh food from a company called Blue Apron. For about $60.00 a week, we get a box full of the foIMG_4010od to make three entrees for two people. The food arrives in a cardboard box, with water-soluble ice packs and each ingredient measured, labeled and separated. Each recipe takes about 25-45 minutes to prepare; they are restaurant quality meals at about $10/entree. The portions are ample, and flavorful, and the only obstacle to perfection is the fact that I might gnaw off my arm before I have finished preparing the food. This is one example of a real improvement in our lives due to technology. Jimmie looks across the beautifIMG_4011ul plates at me with incredulity; his life just got so much better than the previous rotation of Trader Joe’s lasagna and the occasional poorly prepared pork chop with a side salad from a bag dressed with bottled dressing.

Like the mini Mac of the late 80s, Blue Apron has saved my bacon. Having said that, it is inevitable that when you are the busiest and have the least amount of time in ytapingoour day, things are always bound to go wrong. Technology notwithstanding. No matter how much you have planned to backspace your way into perfection. And god forbid you should try to show off your techno-skills when you are in a hurry.

Today’s human adventure involved the app Tapingo, which allows you to pre-order your coffee, pay for it on your phone and then waltz into the coffee establishment to scoop it up next to the barista station. Pretty good timesaver, right?

When one of my portfolio-reviewing colleagues got up to go get coffee, today, I sprung to my feet and said, “Its on me today,” whipped out my iPhone and digitally ordered a tall chai latte, no sugar, and a tall black house blend. The app reported that the coffees would be ready “in five” and we walked out the door of the building heading over to the Coffee Bean at the Cinematic Arts building. He went to grab some food as I watched the baristas making the drinks. It was pretty quiet in the store, and we encountered another of our colleagues there getting a coffee. When my phone said “Done,” I strode up to the counter and asked if my drinks were ready. The barista, a tall student who looked far more ready to tackle a Stanford tight end (can you tell I know absolutely nothing about football?) looked quizzically at my phone and asked me my name.

I don’t have that order here. It must be at the Tutor Campus Center Coffee Bean.

I don’t have time to walk over there. Is there any way you can make the drinks here?

No, sorry, I can’t do that.

I get it. He didn’t have permission to make duplicate drinks for every middle aged technology immigrant who strays in her ordering. Neither he nor his manager who subsequently came out and looked at my phone could figure out what I had done wrong. The manager told me to call the Campus Center and tell them what had happened and to cancel the order. By this point, I was embarrassed, wanted only to hand my gracious colleague a steaming cup of reciprocation to his kindness from the day before. I didn’t care about my chai latte, no sugar. I also was flustered that I couldn’t see where the coffee was supposed to be on the app – in the past it had been labeled “Cinematic Arts” when I looked for the locations – now, the generic Coffee Bean and Tealeaf logo with no identifying location. As we walked out of the store, I told my colleagues I was going to walk to the Campus Center to pick up the coffees, and I’d be right back.

A quick 6 minute walk to the campus center, and I held my phone up for the baristas there, who also said, “It’s not here.” I think they could see that I was near tears, and took pity on me, quickly the drinks. I walked back and handed the cup to my colleague, while whispering “It wasn’t there, either.”

He laughed and I sat down to continue with the work at hand, reviewing a student’s scenic design portfolio.

About two minutes later, my cell phone rang, with a 415 number that I didn’t recognize. I quickly excused myself, stepping out into the foyer to answer the phone. It was the Tapingo headquarters. The very insistent customer service rep was trying to figure out what the issue was with my app. I knew I didn’t want to waste any more time while the student was inside, but had to ask before closing the call,

“Where was my mystery coffee order?”


Perfect. A campus only 40 minutes west of USC. This is how I back myself into perfection with technology.

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