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Monday, April 29, 2013

Replacing 2000 monitors in some harsh-looking schools

Have you ever really looked at your job description? If you work for certain sorts of companies, it may include something like "... and other duties as required". Back when I was running a small flock of Unix boxes and dialup lines for a school district, there was something like that in my job description. In practice, it meant if something came up and they needed bodies, they'd loop everyone in... when I wasn't putting penguins in jail, that is.

Writing about that youth challenge program which was held in the old Army jail got me thinking about the summer we had to replace all of the monitors. We had something like 2,000 of these Optiquest 14" monitors all over the school district. We had standardized on them during the rollout of the big multi-million-dollar technology bond which put computers in all of the classrooms, built a bunch of labs, and ultimately paid for my Unix boxes.

I don't remember exactly what happened, but somehow it was determined that everyone of these stupid things had to be replaced. The company was good enough to send an 18 wheeler full of replacement monitors to us, and we imposed on the warehouse guys by filling it with our hardware for a while.

Then we had the problem of actually delivering them and fetching the old ones. We tackled it one school at a time. In the days before we'd get there, all of the monitors in the building would be rounded up and placed in a common location, like the gym, cafeteria, or a computer lab. It was summertime, so they could leave most of them disconnected for a couple of days and not really notice. Then, we'd fill our vans, cars, and a big scary old "stake truck" with monitors and would drive out to the site. We also took along a bunch of cardboard boxes, styrofoam packing shells, and tape guns.

Once at a school, we first had to bring in all of the empty boxes and shells. The company had sent us enough stuff to pack up all of these broken monitors so they could be shipped back. We had to take this stuff into the schools and then box up all of the monitors. This meant finding a "top" piece, a "bottom" piece, then building a box and stuffing it in there. Then we taped it up, stacked 'em 3-high, and wheeled them out on a hand truck.

While this was going on, other people were wheeling in the replacements. We'd keep track of how many were pulled and how many were replaced to make sure we didn't short them on their equipment.

Back at the warehouse, then we had to take these freshly crated monitors and "palletize" them for shipping. There were a whole bunch of those wooden pallets from when the new monitors had arrived, and we had to stack these boxes on those things. I think we'd get 4 on a level, and then either three or four boxes tall. Finally, it ended with someone grabbing a huge roll of clingy plastic and walking around and around to wrap it. I think (and hope...) there were also straps involved, but I don't remember for sure.

This was a huge job, and it was too big for just those of us in the department to do, so we brought on a bunch of student helpers. These were kids who were in one of our high schools and were out on summer break. This was a relatively tough side of town, and the kids knew more about certain sides of life than others, to put it nicely.

That's where the "jail" part of my memory comes in. One of our elementary schools was less than a year old when all of this happened. It looked really clean and new inside and out. It had been built to be not just an elementary school, but also a community center for this new neighborhood which had been built up around it at the same time. The whole thing just looked "institutional"... maybe even more than a school does normally.

When we arrived out there with our student helpers, one of them took one look at the place (since it didn't exist when they were kids) and said to the others "lockdown...", and at that point I got it. It really did look like some kind of jail from the outside. It didn't have the barbed wire and tall fences, but the actual exterior design of that place was cold and imposing.

My experience with the "last chance" school came a couple of years later, and then I really understood what they were talking about.

What I'm trying to figure out is how a bunch of 16 year olds would come to have a reference point for that sort of thing. Maybe they'd been through juvenile hall already? Who knows.

I don't have any pictures of that place, so I'm going to borrow one from Street View in the name of fair use. Here's a view of the back corner of the building where we parked on that day so many years ago, and this is what the kids were reacting to.

Lockdown...

Not exactly friendly, is it?