It’s getting to be inventory time again, and that usually invokes trepidation and stirs the nightmares of the ghost of bureaucracy past. Somebody, somewhere, needs to know that all that shiny equipment you’ve purchased hasn’t walked off, and that’s fair enough — I’m spending somebody else’s money, and they have the right to know that if I’ve used it to buy a new 60″ plasma monitor, that it’s not being used at home to confirm the resolution of the HD-TV ESPN signal. But I just wish they didn’t make it so painful.
Whenever an inventory-worth item gets purchased (anything over a certain dollar amount, computers, monitors and other computer-related things comprise the bulk of them) I have to
tranquilize and tag it with a sticker, fill out a form to record what the item is, how much it costs, and where it will live. I bundle that form along with the duly-signed invoice and purchase request and pop it in the pneumatic tube and send it to the accounting trolls. (I kid, I kid. We don’t have a pneumatic tube system.)
And every so often someone will come around with a barcode reader and scan everything, and then the fun begins. Equipment gets mounted in racks, or moved in some way which obscures the barcode, or moved entirely out of the lab, and you end up short of what the inventory list says you have. And then the great equipment safari starts, where you try and track down the missing equipment. If you could, you’d hire the expert tracker to come in and find it — checking for electronics spoor.
Oooh. Smell that? That’s the unmistakable scent of a 1460A 100 Megahertz programmable waveform generator … and she’s a big one! (Best done in an Australian accent, for some reason)
The last time the inventory push happened, the list of the MIA only contained the barcode number, serial number and a generic description — nothing else. So there’s this list that has a dozen entries with two numbers followed by “computer,” and we were told to go out and find them. What the? All that extra information on the inventory sheets that would have helped — all the useful stuff like make, model, owner and room number, was not given to us. The serial number does no good, since it’s hidden just like the barcode is (or else it would have been scanned already). It’s not like we humans refer to the machines by either number (I don’t know about the trolls). “Joe’s Mac that’s supposed to be in 329 is missing on the inventory” is a lot more useful than “computer XWK19886FG32Q is missing.” I’m wiser now, and all that information also lives locally on a spreadsheet. I know someone who went as far as photographing all their inventoried equipment so they could match up inventory numbers of missing equipment with a mug shot, which would help them find the equipment.
Inevitably, some of the equipment is just missing. Lent and never returned, or disposed of improperly because the sticker was hidden, and then begins the paperwork to explain all of that. Ugh.
And it’s not like this is tremendously different than places I’ve been in the past. I recall a conversation with the bookkeeper when I was in grad school, which went something like this:
I’m filling out the inventory form for this purchase of a “30/70, 1″ nonpolarizing beamsplitter cube.” What is it, and what does it do?
Well, it’s a cube, 1″ on a side, that splits a beam 30% one way and 70% the other, regardless of and not affecting the polarization of the light.
That won’t fit on the form. You said it’s optics? Like a lens?
Well, it’s sort of like a lens, in a very vague sense, in that you can send light through it.
Can I put down “lens?”
OK. I’ll fit the whole description in, somehow. Here’s the sticker.
You can’t put a sticker on it.
Because it’s optics! An expensive piece of optics that will be ruined if you put an inventory sticker on it!
I have a colleague who went through a similar discussion concerning a component that lived in their vacuum system. The compromise was to put the sticker on the shelf where the component would live if it weren’t in the vacuum system.
I’m sure I’ll survive this, somehow. But in any event, have a weekend, enjoyable, one each.