the sadistic type
Wednesday, March 25 2009
I drove out to the prison in Woodbourne today, and, I don't know if this means we're closer to a Greater Depression or not, but along the way I picked up and released two entirely unrelated hitchhikers. The first was a Chilean guy with limited English skills five or six miles north of (but going to) Ellenville. He said he was growing weary of winter in New York and Chile and that sometimes he experiences both in a year and misses out on summer entirely. Eventually he hopes to settle in Miami. The next hitchhiker was an older man with a plastic bag and a walking stick who was headed from Ellenville a few miles west to Greenfield Park. Since I quickly identified myself as the computer guy for a prison computer lab, we mostly talked about college programs for prisoners.
When I got to the prison, I was accosted by the bureaucrats and made to fill out a bunch of forms, get fingerprints, and have an ID photo taken. It seems that once you've passed a certain threshold number of visits, you have to go legit. As I was doing these things, I overheard a couple of the correctional officers bantering back and forth. On of them was a surprisingly attractive woman with a surly face and the other was your typical guard, a white guy in his late-20s with the physique of a snowman. The surprisingly attractive woman was eating some sort of beef-rich lunch while talking about how she was thinking about shooting the neighbor's dog, a pit bull that occasionally ventured onto her property. She was especially mad because the dog had the nerve to bark at her. Eventually the subject moved on to pleasures of shooting various forms of wildlife. It struck me that I have almost no occasion in my normal day to day life to overhear such narrowminded, backwards banter. Prisons really are a concentration of the worst of our society, though not necessarily in the way you might think.
The actual work in Woodbourne's computer lab was, as always, richer in bewildering realizations than in actual accomplishments. For the first time ever, I attempted a backup using a seemingly vintage tape technology (vintage, since the 20 gigabyte tapes cost $80/each, 25 times the price of hard disk storage). Though I've personally seen tape backups fail in my few encounters with them, they remain popular in computer labs. After today's interaction with a tape drive, this mystifies me more than ever. The attempted backup, which was anticipated to take eight hours, died spectacularly after ten minutes. A second attempt had an identical result. As did a third. Eventually I gave up. Why, exactly, are we backing up to tape instead of another hard drive?
Then I learned from one of the more computer-savvy inmate-students that our file server (a regular Windows XP Pro machine) only supported ten simultaneous connections, a limit that was breaking the lab in the course of its normal operation, when 20 inmate-students might be using computers at once.
And then there was the problem of several of the computers having had their administrator accounts taken over. It seems that the guys who set up these computers hadn't set the administrator password, and now I couldn't do anything with them. I couldn't even overwrite the OS, since the CD drives had been disconnected and the cases locked up. The only good news at Woodbourne was that one of the guys in charge of the school area, a paranoid gentleman given to close talking and hovering, had left the facility. But not before wreaking an unnecessary amount of damage. He'd had the habit of deleting files (some of them essential) from various workstations and had even been heard to state the opinion that "when the winds blow a certain way, the inmates can get the internet on their computers." (A physical impossibility for a whole list of reasons.) Reportedly one of the last thing he'd done before leaving the facility was maliciously delete work he'd been "saving" for some of the inmates. One of the main reasons prison is a punishment is because when you're a prisoner you're subject to people like this. Prisons attract the sadistic type as employees.
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