When Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a secretive raid in 2011, the Obama Administration released a picture of the President and his top aides, watching the action unfold from the White House Situation Room. While there were plenty of instant analysis pieces that told us what the picture meant about politics, race, and gender in the 21st century, the eyes of many techies were drawn to the table in the middle of the picture, and the seemingly ordinary laptops sitting on it. Never mind that mysterious pixelated document sitting in front of Hillary Clinton; what's the make and model of the laptop it's resting on? It appears that they're specially built Hewlett-Packard machines, probably delivered as part of a contract HP has with the military. Not entirely off the shelf, but not an elaborate piece of custom hardware either.
But of course the real story is that they're there at all. One imagines the Situation Room to have walls covered with huge monitors controlled by futuristic Minority Report-style UIs. (The huge monitor part is true, anyway.) But the truth is that the White House for much of the last 20 years has been behind the times when it came to personal technology. Bill Clinton famously only sent two emails the entire time he was in office (though he did order a Christmas ham online once). George W. Bush also wasn't much for email, giving up his AOL address when he came into office. In pictures of the Situation Room on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, there are no laptops in sight. The tech-savvy Obama crowd has made some changes, though Obama himself doesn't seem to have a laptop.
We've been talking a lot about various oddly placed tech items in this article, but if you work in IT, you're probably thinking one thing: who's responsible for maintaining this stuff? Well, it's probably someone a lot like you, who just happens to have an office that's someplace a little cooler than yours.
A few years back, a user going by the name of Mradyfist took to the SomethingAwful forms and answered questions about his job at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. This is his description of a typical workday:
I'm the Sr. Computer Tech, which basically means I'm the hands-on repair guy for all the workstations (and sometimes personal laptops). Usual system is that someone would call our office and tell the help desk guy that Outlook is running slow (because Outlook is always running slow) or that their computer just wouldn't turn on this morning (because power supplies are constantly failing), he'd spin his chair around and kick the back of mine, and tell me to head down to the VMF (Vehicle Maintenance Facility) or an A3 cubicle, or the A1 offices, and I'd run down there and check up on it. So mostly workstations, an even mix of hardware and software; sometimes if it was a slow day and we weren't getting a lot of calls, help desk would just go handle something himself.
On top of that I'm also the guy who checks every laptop that comes into the station which hasn't been screened already by RPSC IT somewhere before arriving at Pole. Nothing too exciting, I just make sure that they've got the latest OS patches, they have some type of AV software with recent definitions (yes, even OS X and Linux), and then if they're staying out in the Summer Camp area I set up our super-secure corporate Wi-Fi network (so that nobody can fly down to the pole and steal our wifi).
There you have it: Even at the South Pole, Outlook always runs slow! Not sure if that makes your job seems more exciting or makes you believe that there's no real adventure in the world.
This article, "Extreme BYOD: When consumer tech goes to unexpected places," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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