"He's back, and this time he's got a portable bulk-eraser!!!"
The Bastard Operator from Britain!
"...I'd like to escalate this call please.."
"I'm sorry?" I can't help but be a little surprised at this guy's tone.
"I'd like to escalate the severity of this call. Surely a person in your situation
is aware of the new International Standard regarding fault logging and tracking..."
He's obviously insane. There's no other reason why he'd call me this early on a
afternoon, as soon as I've got to work...
"What was your username?"
He tells me, and some all-too-familiar key clicking noises follow. I notice his account
has the pervert flag set, and yet he has no gif files in his directory - which can only
mean one thing....
"Now, this escalation business, you want me to increase the priority with which
I'll handle this call?"
"Tell you what, I'll double it" I say, in gentle, soothing tones
"Good" he mutters
"...Now, twice nothing is nothing, and because it's an ESCALATED priority call, it
goes into the RED rubbish bin instead of the brown one."
"WHAT!" he screams "DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO?!?!"
"Well, I could look up your username and find out, but we deal with so many people
here. Your name wouldn't mean anything. Not unless we'd seen you doing something *really*
depraved on one of our hidden security cameras - you know the sort that were destined to
be put in the computing labs to stop piracy, but actually got put in toilet cubicles after
the installation order got corrupted somewhere between the purchasing office and the
maintenance department. A freak electrical storm maybe... Anyway, unless you'd done
something really disgusting that got caught on film...
(I look him up in the blackmail book)
.. like dressing up in women's underthings and dancing what looked (to the untrained
observer) like the lead from "Mary Poppins", I'm afraid that your name wouldn't
mean anything to us...."
I've heard the sharp intake of breath - he knows I've heard it, for him it's all over.
"Of course, if you were one of THOSE people, well, I'd remember you immediately,
especially when reminiscing to the promotions board, all of whom are squarer than a
Rubik's Cube. But I'm in a forgetful mood at the moment. I hope you don't mind if I forget
that you called..."
"Yes, of course" he says, the last vestiges of self-respect vanishing.
"Goodbye now!" I cry cheerfully "But before you go, if you could be so
kind as to send some money to the Operators Benevolent fund, I'd be so grateful - in fact
my gratitude might make me careless with the bulk eraser, if you see what I mean.. .. ..
He makes some wild promise of a large amount, and I keep my side of the deal by being
careless with the bulk eraser. His account backups are a mere memory... Then I look thru
the exabyte rack for the video tape in question, (Labelled Archive-26/5/90) and throw it
in the "Post awaiting cheque clearance" bag, addressed to his boss..
It's for the best really, he was under a *lot* of pressure.
The next call of the day is from the User-Union, a pressure group that sprung up
because some users thought they were getting a rough deal.
There's no pleasing some people!
Anyway, to get them off my back, I invite them in to see just how hectic an operator's
life really is, and have prepared lots of flashing lights and alert sounds to keep the
mindless cretins fooled...
They all file into the control room, about 10 of them in all, the dweebish types who
hang out in groups like this as a social event. Things are going well, I'm answering calls
and resetting "alarms" when some sour-faced old lard jockey ruins everything.
"These bells and lights don't fool me you know. I was an engineer on these babies
when they first came out. This alarm sequence is invalid. There's no such alarm as
00-10-03-15-E. That just can't happen. You've probably just programmed the status display
to say that! This is all a sham!!"
Trust there to be some re-education loser in the audience to totally stuff up my day.
That just leaves plan B, although it's risky...
"Yes, it's true" I admit, cowering like Joan Crawford on a bender "It's
all fake. I just didn't want you seeing what's in the computer room..."
They can't resist the bait. As soon as it looks like I'm hiding something they're in
for the kill like Piranha.
"WHAT'S IN THE COMPUTER ROOM?!!??" they demand, chomping at the bit
"Well," I say in my best 'this-is-it' voice, "you'd best see for
... ... ... ... ...
Later that day, I help the police try and piece the shocking scenario together...
"It's shocking!" I say, voice oozing with the horror of it all, "just
"Yes yes" the officer mumbles, irritated "Let's just go over this one
more time. You left them in the computer room to go and change some paper and they
inadvertently triggered the Halon fire extinguishers..."
"Yes, yes, it's awful isn't it officer?!"
"..and even though there's a 30 second warning, they didn't manage to make it out
"Yes, it's such a tragedy"
"..even though two of the people who are supposed to have been smoking and set off
the extinguishers in the room are dedicated non-smokers..
"Yes, what an unfortunate time to take up the habit!"
"..and even though it looks, judging by the scratch marks that the door was in
some way locked or jammed..."
"..probably jammed officer, It's a matter of public record that I voiced some
concern over this very topic although no-one could find any problem with the lock in
"And even though someone outside at the viewing window could have sworn that they
saw you pressing the manual release button on the Halon panel.."
"YES, to try and reset the system and save those poor, innocent people.."
"After ALL that, you still expect me to believe it was an accident?"
"...Well officer, I don't really know what I expect you to do, but your face looks
vaguely familiar. You haven't used the toilets around here in the past have you?"
"Well, I may have once or twice - we get a lot of calls over here since you've
been here - suicides mainly..."
"Yes yes officer, well how about we go into the control room and look at a copy of
a video I have, with someone who looks awfully like you, and what they do to a loaf of
Things are looking up!
He's back from the beer fest, and he's hung over and annoyed. It's....
The Bastard Operator from Britain!
"Ah Simon, thank you for coming, please sit down"
The promotions committee is strangely quiet today. Normally they're far more boisterous
and sure of themselves. This has to be good news.
"Now Simon, as you know there's a vacancy for a Senior Operator in the Computer
Centre following the tragic accident in the staff showers."
"Yes" I utter, "tragic"
"How the hell a toaster got in there in the first place is beyond the scope of
this committee, as our main interest is to find a replacement as soon as possible.
Ordinarily, we would appoint such a senior position externally, but following that awful
business with the lift controller failure and the short listed candidates.."
"Awful" I sigh, my heart pity at the tragedy of three Senior Operator
applicants plunging down a lift shaft to their deaths... Completely accidental you
"..It still seems very strange; apparently the accident inspector stated that the
lift appeared to be accelerating *faster* than the speed of gravity when it fell. But I
guess we'll never know now that the lift control room had that big electrical
I could be oversensitive on this issue, but I'm feeling a little bit of dissent in the
room around me. Some members of the promotions committee appear to be having problems
making the decision of whether they should support the University's interests by
appointing me senior operator or becoming involved in the next fatal campus accident. I
decide to cut through the red tape and get to the point.
"So essentially, all supposition aside, you wish me to take over the role of
"Ah..." the chairman utters, looking around the room for backup,
"Ok, fine. I'll need a couple of K extra for the increased responsibility, say
another K for relocation.."
"BUT YOU'RE ONLY TWO OFFICES AWAY!!"
"Good point - another *TWO* K for relocation, and new office furniture. Leather
Armchairs would be good. Oh, and an espresso machine."
I get up.
"Well, that should be all I think, so I'll just get off back to work"
While they mutter amongst themselves, I make my exit back to the control room. As it's
getting towards the end of my working day (3pm) I write protect the user disk and start a
shutdown for 1 minute. The phone rings.
"I can't save my work" a voice sobs from the phone
"You really should try.."
"But the system won't let me" he whimpers, "can you halt the
"Well, I'd like to, but it's irrevocably committed to shutdown - there's no
telling what might happen - we could lose all your work, there's no telling...."
"Um..." - You can almost hear the wheels turning - "...Uh.."
I hang up - they're obviously not committed.
The shutdown completes and I reboot, then decide to introduce a little fun to the
network by pulling out random staff terminal lines and repatching them to the student
areas and vice versa. Just like the big break-in of '91.
Next I choose a letter at random from the complaints box to use as this week's
"External Penetration" victim, then delete all their files.
I decide to get into something new. I break out the telephone serviceman's handset and
wander into the comms room and start eavesdropping on people's conversations.
Most of it is crap, but it gives me an idea. Pipe it all through voice recognition and
look for words including my name (for security purposes), a sexual encounter, or live
chickens. Definite possibilities...
A user rings.
"Oh, Hi - can you tell me what my password is please?" they ask
"I'm sorry" I say for the 1 billionth time "passwords are encrypted on
the system, and it's far easier for me to change your password than to find out what it
is." (Which is crap; I know what it is, the password changing routine does have a
slight in-house modification which the implementers probably weren't counting on.)
"Oh, ok - could you change it to 'desert' please - that was my old password"
"I'm sorry, but we can't change user's passwords to ones that they supply - that
would compromise site security"
"Oh, then could you just give me a new password?"
"Sure. What about desert?"
"Huh? .. .. Oh, Ok, that would be fine"
I hang up, they hang up. 10 minutes later they call back.
"Have you changed that password yet?" they ask
"CHANGED the password?" I say "You just asked me to give you a new
password, you said nothing about changing it"
"But... Oh. Well, could you change it to desert for me please?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that, because of the security compromise, as I told you
before. If I knew your password, I could possibly log into your account without you
knowing, couldn't I?"
"And if that happened, your data would be compromised, wouldn't it?"
"Uhh, yes, I suppose it would"
"So in other words, if two people have the password to an account, the security of
it is at least halved, isn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose you're right"
"Of course I am, I'm the *OPERATOR*. I'm not only right, I'm wrong if I want to be
He doesn't know whether to agree or not. Wimp.
"Now," I say, breaking the tension "I'll change your password for
"No worries. Bye now"
"B. >click They ring back
"You didn't tell me my password!"
"Of course I didn't. We already agreed that two people knowing the password is
less secure than one, didn't we?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"No buts, security is security, off you go..."
That's the problem with this job, it doesn't come naturally - you have to *WORK* on it.