(Or, “Chapter 57, in which Mapcon makes me sad“)
Okay, I promise, I really promise, that I’m going to start getting outdoors and posting stories and pictures of penguins and polar bears.
But I’ve spent much of the last few days staring bleakly at my monitor at one of the inevitabilities of life with on the station: Mapcon. Name officially stands for “Materials Planning and Control”; it’s the system the USAP uses to keep track of its material inventory. Every monitor, every notepad, every pack of pencils has a Mapcon number, and in theory, Mapcon (along with its companion programs CTS and P1000) can answer every question you might have about where your stuff is.
The “in theory” part is important because Mapcon is a bit quaint in some ways. The interface on the current version (MAPCON 96, yes *96*) is essentially unchanged from that of MAPCON 89, which means it’s always time for “Back to the Future”. It you don’t remember computer interfaces from the 80’s, it’s a wild ride: set your caps lock and forget your mouse, because we’re back in the land of DOS. It’s unnerving to realize that without this artifact from the previous century the entire Antarctic Program would collapse. And yet, improbably, it works. Most of the time.
Given the need for a yellow ink cartridge for that DesignJet 800 plotter in the corner, the proper incantation through a rabbit-hole of nested VGA ASCII Mapcon menus will reveal that by going to Aisle 20104, Shelf 04, Bin A, you can fetch one of the 7 remaining replacements in stock. Pretty crazy stuff.
Of course, the accuracy of the locations and stockroom counts relies on making sure that when new stuff comes in, someone looks up the Mapcon numbers for every monitor, notepad and pack of pencils, copies them onto the package, notes them on the manifest, then stores the items in the appropriate aisle, shelf and bin for future retrieval. Given the joy that Mapcon inventory inspires in station personnel, that “someone” frequently trickles down to the low man on the Pole, which over in IT-land would be…. me. Which is fine. It means I get spend some time getting back in touch with my DOS roots, then roaming around the station, clipboard in hand, looking for extra shelf space for printer cartridges when we discover there’s no more room in Aisle 20104, Shelf 04, Bin A (which is, curiously enough, on the back wall of the main server room downstairs. Turns out we had plenty of space upstairs in Aisle IT/A3, Shelf 23, right next to the printer that actually used the cartridges).
Alas, the past few days have not been happy Mapcon days. The massive box whose shipping manifest claims to contain a thousand or so Memorex DVD-Rs in fact contains that number of Lightscribe DVD+Rs, for which there is no appropriate Mapcon number. The box claiming to contain two Microsoft Model B2M-00012 ergonomic keyboards contains ten Model B2M-00015 keyboards. These materials were ordered some time in the distant past, for reasons barely remembered, and have taken close to a year to make their way to our humble station. Where it’s my job to figure out what to do about them.
I have help, of course. The keepers of Mapcon are our Materialspersons, with Grace as their high priestess. Her shirt reads “Mapcon is not a game”, and she means it. If you want to get some exercise, stroll through the Logistics Arch and casually mention that you’ve spent the morning “playing Mapcon.” Then be prepared to run (Note: running is not allowed in the Logistics Arch).
But sitting here at my desk, surrounded by the mountain of homeless Lightscribe disks and Microsoft keyboards, I do see the error of my ways. Truly, Mapcon is not a game. You can win a game.