One of the nice things about working in education is that sometimes unexpected things happen that make your day.
I've been asked to take part in a think-tank kinda group that looks at the security mechanisms that are being rolled out this year and assess them from the perspective of the common people (students/faculty). This group consists of some pretty high level executives and me, your humble webmaster.
Late yesterday I was plowing through some reports on the roll-out of wireless accesspoints in our institution using the 802.1X protocol
to ensure that only authorised people make use of our network facilities. I was reading about the various cards and clients that support X1.
I was not having the best of times as previously I had also been struggling with that holy grail of webdesign: finding a perfect three column layout using only XHTML
Then in walks this student who was referred to me from the helldesk.
She had a report on her laptop and was unable to get this onto a floppy to submit to her teacher for grading as her floppydrive had failed. Why send someone like this to me, you ask? Good question. What I didn't mention was that she came in with a Powerbook 1400c/166
and this being a Mac the helldesk was way out of their depth, after all it's a Mac, and Macs are hard.
After some confusion (I thought her report was on a macformatted floppy at first) I took a look at the machine. How to get this report off the harddrive and into the hands of her teacher? By golly, this machine is ancient, I thought. I put it next to my iBook G4 and lo and behold, not only was it at least twice as thick as my iBook it also had an ethernet card. We plugged in the cable from the wall and after a quick look at the TCP/IP
settings (the machine was set up perfectly and already had a DHCP
lease) fired up Netscape 4.0 to access her Yahoo! mailaccount to send the file via webmail. Everything worked flawlessly, though the bronze-age processor and browser took a while to do things.
It's amazing to see machines like this still in use and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, marvelling at the 40 megs of RAM
, the interface of Netscape 4 and the molasses-like speed of a 166 MHz
603e processor running Mac OS 8.1.
Things like this make my day. To see an ancient machine still in perfect condition (apart from the floppydrive) and doing an honest days' work.
It dawned on me that there's a fundamental flaw in our proposed system of rolling out X1 based wireless. If students still carry around such ancient machines we have to find a way to give them access. For security reasons we can't just let them plug in their machine in the wall, if they spread viri, spam or sell stolen goods online we are accountable. Our institution is working on a way to sell or lease modern laptops with wireless cards to students and this may be the way forward but of course Dutch education is scared of Macs (they're hard right?) and this means that only PC's are offered. This means that students wanting a Mac will be turned down: get a PC or nothing at all. This saddens me.
But using an old Powerbook for a few minutes made my day anyway.