The Race To The Finish Line:

June 30th, 2001:

I am Ian Sidle. I have done quite a bit on computers. I supposed you could call me IT or a Tech Dude. I go to Monta Vista High School as a student, but also I help out with the computers there whenever I can. I generally spend brunch, lunch and an hour or so after school. I have been in the lab quite a bit more recently, since it is crunch time. During the last week of school, we had to move more than two hundred computers over to the library, along with racks, cabling, and servers, since the building we are supposed to go into isn’t done yet. It’s all expected to magically stay intact.

We just received twenty-eight new Toshiba laptops. It’ll be a big feat to get them set up and done in a week. The problem was that all of the laptops came misconfigured! It was hours of pain having to come up with workarounds. The laptops are Toshiba, which by itself isn’t a bad thing, but they were bought from CompUSA, which pre-installed Windows 2000 on them. (Our whole school is switching to Windows 2000, and at a great loss to our Mac labs, which I fear in a few years will be all but extinct.) These laptops originally came with Windows 98 and bonus software. Then CompUSA did an upgrade, not a fresh install, but an upgrade. It’s not a big deal with a Mac to do that, but it’s very painful with a Windows machine. (The machines run twice as slow because of this.) To make things worse, they left the Windows 98 drivers (.cab files) on the hard drives so that when we added a network card, it couldn’t connect because it was using the wrong drivers!

To add insult to injury, the DVD software that came with them wasn’t supported in Windows 2000!

We sent them email for them to send us new restore CDs, since we only had the Toshiba ones, which of course were for Windows 98. A day or so later after fighting tooth and nail to get hold of a real person, I finally reached the right person by getting him on his cell phone while he was about to board a flight. We received some homemade “restore” CDs that obviously were made on a CD burner. We figured to give them a shot, although we were getting there on our own. When we ran the disks, we found that the image files on the restore CD used a higher version of the software than the boot disk. So they could not install! Of course, we got twenty-eight of these “restore” CDs sets in a box, two in each set. Coasters, anyone? So we hurriedly set the laptops up manually, as the teachers needed them Monday for teacher-tech classroom training.

Of course a day or so later we received a bill of three hundred dollars for the restore CDs.

This is bad because: A. They don’t work in the first place B. The new ones should count as tech support, and the school paid extra for the three-year onsite next day service. Even if the bill were for the original disks that came with the laptop, these were the Toshiba ones that came with the things for free! What a mess this has turned into.

Anyway, what we ended up doing was just overriding stuff manually on each one, while at the same time pulling cables and carrying the computers over to the library in carts. Later on hopefully we will get our own image software going, which ironically is the same product CompUSA used to make those image CDs. It runs inside DOS, and is a pain to set up the drivers (don’t get me started…), which we haven’t gotten to work yet.

Of course, simultaneously we were receiving the “old” teacher laptops, Compaq Armadas, for upgrading. The plan was to upgrade their RAM to 128MB and their operating systems to Windows 2000. Of course we didn’t have time to deal with upgrading the machines, so we just did the RAM. Every teacher that came in didn’t have anything backed up anyway, despite what was suggested in an email sent out earlier. So it was just as well we didn’t do a system upgrade. Also luckily few even bothered to come up with their laptops at all! We somehow managed to get through the insanity and got everything out. I left on Saturday to go to my grandma’s house. School ended on Thursday and I spent the rest of that day working. I worked until eleven and a couple of hours on Friday (as I had to go to sleep for the flight). I came back the next Wednesday and we had managed to move everything else over. When I left, we had just set up a server and two switches for the teachers so that they could use the network. It wasn’t that big of a deal. We just set up the servers and got the WAN Wireless Access point to work at the district office.

So now I’m back home. All the teachers are gone, so there really isn’t anything left to support. The two “tech dudes” have to stay at school though. Now with a bunch of free time, they most of their time playing Counter-Strike and having a periodic visit from some bigwig with some plan or other. Of course now we have to come up with a way to set up a new lab without being able to use the lab! Well, that’s another story.

Ian Sidle

SF Bay Area