Some day, by the grace of God, I’ll have the son of some Novell or Microsoft executive in my class. I keep imagining an after-school conversation that goes something like this:

“Mr. Shaw, I tried to follow the instructions you gave on this assignment, but my project just isn’t coming out right. I think I need some help.”

“Gee, Billy, I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m currently busy assisting other students. Why don’t you stand over there, and I’ll answer your question just as soon as I am able. Your problem is very important to me.”

“Mr. Shaw, do you think you could help me now? I’ve been waiting an awfully long time. The music is very nice, but I really need to get some help on this so I can go home.”

“I apologize for the wait, Billy, but I’m currently busy assisting other students. Please stand over there, and I will be with you shortly. Remember, your problem is very important to me.”

After another forty-five minutes or so, I’ll wave Billy over and he’ll sit down.

“Okay, Billy, I think we’re about ready to get started. I just need a major credit card.”

“A credit card! I’m just a kid.”

“Gee, Billy, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you until I have some form of payment. What do you have left over from your lunch money?”

“Only about a buck twenty-five.”

“Well, it’s not my usual fee, but I guess it will have to do.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. The reason I’m here is because the project you assigned us doesn’t come out right according to the directions that you wrote. Now, in addition to giving up my afternoon, I have to pay you to answer questions about your own assignment?”

“I’m sorry you’re upset about this, Billy, but the goal here is to get your problem solved. Addressing the problem with that mind-set is really counter-productive. I haven’t heard any complaints from any of the other students about the project, but if you’d prefer to submit a ‘bug report’ on the instructions, you’re free to do that. I’ll then review the instructions and make any necessary corrections. Of course, if there isn’t anything wrong with the instructions, you won’t hear anything back, and that process could take weeks or months to complete. Since your project is due the day after tomorrow, I’d suggest that you just pay me the dollar and a quarter.”

“Fine. Here’s the money.”

“Great. Now, what seems to be the trouble?”

“You say here in the instructions that we are supposed to take these figurines from Gone with the Wind that we made in your English class and bring them to history. In history class, we are supposed to add them to the Civil War models we were building there. I’ve tried to get them into the proper positions about a hundred times, but they just don’t fit.”

“Oh dear, that is a serious problem. What version of the figurine kit are you using?”

“Let me check … um, 3.24.54e.”

“Well, that’s the current version. How about the Civil War model?”

“You mean there are different versions of that, too?”

“I’m afraid so. The history teachers are always adding enhancements to the model, and that then forces us to update our figurines. So what version is the model?”

“It says here that it’s version 3.0.25.”

“And have you added the Battle of Gettysburg service patch?”

“Of course—I’m not an idiot, you know.”

“Did you add it before AND after you updated the path of Sherman’s march?”

“Well, I added it after. I figured that would save some time.”

“No, you need to add it before, or else Sherman’s March won’t install correctly, and that screws everything up.”

“Okay, I’ll try that.”

“Let me give you a case number, and you can let me know how it turns out.”

(Later) “Still the same problem.”

“Hmmm. This is getting tricky. Now, you say that you’ve followed the assembly instructions for the figurines exactly, and they just won’t fit?”

“That’s right.”

“But the figurines function perfectly well in English class?”

“Yes.”

“What grade did I give you on the figurines?”

“I got an A.”

“So it’s only when you go into history class that the figurines become a problem?”

“That seems to be the case, yes.”

“I’m starting to suspect that this is a history-related problem. Have you checked my web site lately? The answers to many commonly asked questions can be found there.”

“I’m starting to suspect that I gave my lunch money to the wrong teacher.”

“Well, have you spoken to Mr. Dalton about it?”

“No, because he charges twice as much as you do.”

“Well, my next suggestion is to disassemble everything and start from scratch. Tear down the model—take apart the figurines, and rebuild from the ground up.”

“That will take weeks, and this project is due tomorrow!”

“I know it’s not the best solution, but unfortunately, I’m up a tree here. I don’t know where to go, other than to start from scratch.”

“Could the modifications that I made for art class have caused the problem?”

“What modifications?”

“I added the diarama conversion kit.”

“You did what?”

“It was the only way my art teacher would accept the assignment.”

“Billy, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you any further. We don’t support the figurines or the model after those kinds of modifications have been made.”

“But you told us we could submit this project for extra credit in other classes. It says on the box that it’s compatible with that conversion kit, and that’s how Mrs. Lamourt told us she wanted the project submitted.”

“Billy, who gave you the figurine kit?””

“You did.”

“Who gave you the model kit?”

“Mr. Dalton.”

“Where did you get the diarama conversion kit?”

“I bought it myself at the hobby store downtown.”

“Can’t you understand that Mr. Dalton and I don’t have the resources to support every conceivable configuration of these models and figurines?”

“But if they worked as designed, you wouldn’t need to support them.”

“Billy, I’m sorry, but the best I can do is to refer you to the manufacturer of the conversion kit or to your art teacher. I’m not sure, but I don’t think the art department charges for support, anyway.”

“Is there any chance of getting my lunch money back?”

“You’re kidding, right?”