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April 20, 2012

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When I first got to Large Public University to begin a doctoral program -- after having attended two Small Private Schools -- I could not for the life of me figure out the course catalog.

Each course had a Course Number (some kind of departmental abbreviation and a three-digit ID, e.g. MUS 688) as well as a five-digit Unique Number (e.g. 31642).

I was armed with the name and Course Number and could not for the life of me accurately find the Unique Number (required for online registration (also, incidentally, required)) in the catalog, which was the size of a mid-sized town's phone book.

After 15 or 20 minutes of fruitless page turning, I finally asked the nice student worker to help me.

"Oh," she said, "they're listed in numerical order by the second number."

Well, obviously.

The first number, it turns out, signified the number of credits the class was worth, and ("therefore") wasn't used in their ordering.

I still have no idea if this was poor planning, or a clever, farsighted, elaborate prank.

bob, it sounds like one of those things which make perfect sense to the person creating the system. After all, he knows how it works, so it seems pretty obvious. So obvious that there is no particular reason to document it.

But someone who is missing critical bits of information (e.g. that the first digit is the number of units) has no way to figure it out from first principles. Either you pick it up from oral tradition (as you did), or you fight your way thru the bureaucracy (and probably a badly-designed phone tree) to someone who can give you the official explanation.

I wonder to what extent the requirements for Japanese schools, such as backpacks, are formally communicated. And what simply have to be picked up informally. Which, as I think about it, is a great way to insure that everybody be and remain part of the tightly knit community -- you have to be in the network to get the information you need to function.

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