In praise of cattle

The 16-year-old, who wants a career somewhere in IT, introduced me a while back to the distinction between pets and cattle. When something goes wrong with your pet, you nurse it back to health. When something goes wrong with one of your herd, you segregate it from the rest, hand the problem off to someone else (maybe future you) and get back to your work.

In the past few years, the tiny school I work at has gotten a couple of substantial donations from offices that were ditching their old desktop PCs. When all those machines came in, I wondered briefly whether there were more than we really needed. Then came the pandemic, with assigned desks (no moving between classrooms) assigned computers for each student (sanitized between uses), and ethernet drops to every seat. Suddenly too many machines was just barely enough.

This year, things are a bit better (we even finally got fiber to replace our DSL), and I’ve been concentrating on rational management of all our computers using FOG to put identical images on every PC — with accounts for every student, since any kid or teach might use any machine at any given time. Having “too many” machines has saved me repeatedly.

One of the little lunchbox units told me all its settings were gone — a sign that its little coin cell had finally died — and I didn’t have to spend an hour disassembling the damn thing (the manual says to take off the processor fan ducting and heat sink to make room for access to the battery holder, but if you’re in a hurry, you can reach underneath with a flat-bladed screwdriver to pop the battery out and then turn the machine upsidedown and shake it. Then winkle the replacement battery in with insulated tweezers). I just put it aside with another couple units that need new batteries and swapped in a working machine.

Same thing when a couple other boxes developed finicky network controllers — they performed fine once booted, but wouldn’t download a new boot image because the controller insisted there was no ethernet cable plugged in. Not interested in diagnosing that one, just swapped them out for other boxes of exactly the same model and vintage that worked. (And maybe we can pass the prima donnas on to someone who doesn’t have a dozen-odd identical machines to manage.)

Meanwhile the weekend before I spent a couple hours disassembling my personal laptop and going after the fan and heat exchanger with Q tips and forced air. It’s a pet.

And yet another note of thanks to National Life and The Vermont Family Network.

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