I get back from Britain and return to my old stomping grounds to take up a
post as an Analyst/Programmer... As an A/P I'm expected to work weird hours so I start
putting in some 9 to 5 shifts to see what it's like.
It's weird all right. I don't like it.
I go to the computer room to check out my machine, only I'm not the Operator any more,
so I've got no access. I call the Operator. He answers.
"Can I get access to the Computer Room?" I ask, respectfully
"Well..." he pauses ".. what do you want to do?"
Indecisive. It gets worse! He should've come straight out and said that the day a user
gets access to HIS computer room is the day he'll be crated up and freighted to the big
Computer Room in the sky to meet the Chief Operator!
"Just look at my machines" I say..
"Um, well, we're not supposed to let programmers in here unless it's an
emergency" he blubs.
Dear oh dear. It's almost as if he's apologising! I can't take any more of it so I just
wander off. He calls after me in apology and it turns my stomach. Watching something
you've carefully built up with neglect and mindless acts of violence just crumble away in
front of your eyes!
I can't let it end this way! There must be something I can do...
I go back to my room and open the sealed envelope that I was saving for my retirement
I shuffle through the signed bits of paper, photographs and dictaphone tapes till I
find what I want. The photo's a bit faded and blurred, but the people in the picture can
still be made out. I get on the phone.
"HELLO?". The Big Boss himself answers
"Hi there, Simon from the Computer Centre. I think I found something of
"A photo. One in a series of 24"
"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT! I'M A BUSY MAN - DON'T WASTE MY TIME!"
"Well, it's a photo of you, a couple of female friends, and something that looks
like it has some agricultural purpose"
"oh..." ... ___ ... "...yes, I was wondering where that got to. If you
could just drop in in an envelope and send it to me personally..."
"*I* *think* *not*..."
"Well, it's obviously a fake. Where would you get such a thing?"
"Your office. You left the door open one night"
"That's ridiculous, my door's electronically locked every night"
"Oh! .... What do you want?"
"The New Operators"
"Ok, I'll have them fired.."
"NO! Then you'll get some more and they'll be just as bad!"
"Then what do you want?"
"TO TRAIN THEM!"
. . . . . . . .
. . . . .
A couple of days later the training session begins. Unfortunately, I only get one
operator to train as the other one resigned when he heard I wanted to talk to him. Still
one's better than none.
We start from the very beginning..
"Ok, let's just go into this. How do you feel about users?"
"They're ok, I suppose" he answers
"Well, they can be a pain at times"
"Well, a lot of the time?"
"OK, ALL THE TIME! I HATE THEM, I HATE THEM! ALWAYS RINGING ME UP WANTING TO GET
MORE DISK OR CONNECT TIME, WHINING AT ME IN THEIR PATHETIC VOICES, COMPLAINING ABOUT
RESPONSE TIME. I HATE THEM!"
"Right. There. You see, you did know the answer after all. Second question, What
do we do for users?"
"What they want?"
"What we think they want?"
"What WE want?"
"I DON'T KNOW!"
"I see. Well, the answer is, we do nothing *FOR* users. We do things *TO* users.
It's a fine distinction, but an important one all the same. Now, what do we do TO
"What we want?"
"Exactly. And WHY do we do it?"
"Because they deserve it?"
"To convince users not to call?"
"No again. We do what we do because we ENJOY it. And because we can get away with
"Oh! I suppose you're right"
"I KNOW I'm right. And if I'm not, I'm STILL right, because I'm the *OPERATOR*.
It's that simple! If you remember that phrase, there's nothing you can't do. Now the last
question. What exactly do we do to users?"
"Delete their files, scrap their backups, invade their privacy..."
"No no Agent Starling. That is a mere bagatelle. That is simply the method. We
want to know the result. What we do is BREAK them. What's the point of deleting their
files if they never use them? What's the point in reading someone's private correspondence
if you're not going to let the user know you did it, then tell their friends or parents?
Why scrap someone's backups unless they need them? You have to break the user's will so
that they realise that they're the simple-minded sheep we know they are!"
"Of course. I'll be off now, don't ever let me catch me in the Computer Room
"Thank you sir"
"Oh. Get out of my Computer Room!"
"That's more like it!"
The mantle is passed.
"Oh" my new operator calls as I leave, "I can't remember what your
backup tape looked like. Is this it here on the Bulk Eraser?"
It's a stinking hot day in my non-air conditioned office and I'm annoyed.
The sort of annoyed that's described, mistakenly, as red hot. The correct colour choice,
is, of course white.
I login to my account and there's three helpdesk mail requests, all ticking away to
expiration, then escalation, then further escalation, then follow-up mail message, then
even further escalation, then 2nd follow-up mail message and casual phone call, then still
further escalation, then non-casual phone call, then threats, then, ultimately, and sadly,
violence. But not so sadly that I won't resort to it. And they know I will too...
Because I used to be...
T H E B A S T A R D O P E R A T O R F R O
M H E L L ! ! !
...and sometimes, late at night I get these twitches. Like dead people get. (Or, as I
prefer to call them, perfect computer users)
In the mornings I get them too. Like when the phone rings. And when I get email. And
when people talk to me. AND when people are hogging the espresso machine to make fluffy
milk. But apart from that I'm cured. A new man.
I smile at the thought and look, in reminiscence, at some reminders of my past. A
couple of backup 8mm tapes with cartoons on them. The thank-you cards for my attendance at
23 separate funerals of computer centre staff. The mains plug with the thinwire ethernet
plug at the end. I didn't ever get round to trying that one either, so I don't even know
what it would've done.
That's it alright. I am *absolutely*, *stinking*, *UNCONTROLLABLY* bored. I get up and
slip a fingerprint free magnet on top of the reed switch that the Boss had installed in my
display cabinet while I was on holiday, then pry the glass door open with a screwdriver.
As far as I can figure, the switch is supposed to ring an alarm if the door is opened.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - "Inexpensive means
I open the door to the clamour of... silence. Well, silence and John Lee Hooker's
"Mr Lucky" from my CD. I grab my aforementioned etherkiller and wander down the
hallway to the switchboard, applying another magnet and opening that to silence as well.
That's what's missing in society today - trust.
I pull the 15 amp breaker for the meeting room, then wander on round and plug the
etherkiller into a cheap 24hour timer set to 5 minutes from now. On the way back to the
the switchboard I hear the first few murmurs about excessive collisions. I plug in my
unpatented nail "fuse" (estimated fault current 200-300 amps) with a set of
heavily insulated pliers and wander off to the tea-room to start my espresso brew. Halfway
through the make, the machine stops. Now *THAT'S* what I call a collision.
I look around in a bewildered manner as panic erupts on all sides, half-made
in my hand. I step out into the hallway and behold pandemonium. Two programmers are
fighting over a CO2 fire extinguisher in an effort to put their terminals out. I wander
down to my room just as my X terminal, the unreliable piece of excreta it is, flames it's
last and lapses into a dull smoulder.
"My cabinet!" I cry in 'horror' and hear the extinguisher struggle end
abruptly. In a flash the two programmers concerned are behind me staring into my room.
Shortly thereafter the boss runs up as well.
"What's this magnet for?" I ask, picking it up and hearing a bell start
chiming in the distance.
"You bastard!" one of the programmers utters
"I'm sorry?" I ask, turning.
"YOU did it didn't you?"
"What? Break into my own cabinet? But I've got a key.."
That's the terrible burden of proof really - in this day and age, you need some to make
The late-breaking news comes in that one of the consultants had a set of head- phones
plugged into a CDROM drive hanging off their networked PC. But not anymore. Now there's an
unexpected vacancy in the department. I blame the Ethernet Isolation specs. 3KV my
Quicker than you can say "Help us with our enquiries" I'm "helping the
police with their enquiries".
"What is this, can you tell me?" a burly officer asks, right up in my face.
He holds up a magnet.
"It's a magnet. There was one on my cabinet!" I cry
"Yes. And where did you get them?" he asks, seizing control..
..and losing it. "On my cabinet! I just said!"
"No not this one. The others. Where did you get them?"
"Others? What others? You mean there were more on my cabinet! Why?!?" (I can
play the "stupid game" forever, having had years of education at the hands of
computer lusers.) He tries a different tack.
"What would you say this was off?" he asks
"My cabinet! It was on my cabinet, I told you! I pulled it off... and I think I
heard a bell ringing"...
.... .. .
A couple of hours later I'm back at my desk with Mr Lucky, no charges pressed. I close
my cabinet, satisfaction mine for the first time in a long while.
Then the phone rings...
Programming is dull at the moment since the only "bug" in my software is now
repaired. (The swipe-card door-access machine had some logic "glitch" that
unfortunately no-one knew about until a particularly annoying Sales Consultant got
accidentally locked in the secure area over the holiday weekend. The poor guy was a
drooling wreck when they found him - apparently the sirens and sprinklers were playing up
in there too, every 10 minutes. It all goes to show that you can't be too careful when
stealing an ex-operators car park).
I decide to kill some time by dropping into a Computer Trade show to "sense the
new direction of the market and Investigate emerging trends", i.e. I'll spend a
shitload of the company's cash on food and drink and give a couple of salespeople a hard
time they won't forget.
Well, that's how the normal bastard would do it, but not me. I really get remembered.
All I need now is an acronym.... Hmmm...
I get there and two stalls promptly close when they see me coming, (poor losers), but
there's 4 or 5 newbies that look like easy meat. I centre on a vendor that's trying to push
their Unix compliance with every ISO standard except hygiene and start talking 7-figure
site upgrades. Ignoring his panting, I continue to talk, harping on about our requirement
for complance with currently emerging standards till he takes the ball and runs with it.
"Ah well, you see, we're THE foremost company in compliant systems" (turd)
"In fact, our projected market share is.... blah blah blah.."
I let him dig his hole nice and deep. He's sure that 2 years at University has prepared
him for the hardball arena of BIG $ales.
"Yes" I cut in "But all this is irrelevant without a Dynamically
Allocated Heap and some Transient Intuitive Hardware System. Are you D.A.E.H.T.I.H.S
"Dynamic Allocation of Extra Heap and the Transient Intuitive Hardware Standard,
D.A.E.H.T.I.H.S. It's THE most important thing to come out of ISO this DECADE! I guess you
don't have an implementation path yet then?"
"Tell you what" he says, smelling a deal "The Regional Manager is on the
Showroom floor somewhere. I'll track him down and get an answer for you?"
"Well, that would be great!" I say, trying to enthuse him and keep him from
staring at the acronym for too long. "But I'm a bit pressed for time, I've got a
He runs off. The Regional Manager is no dummy. They're trained to recognise
"SHITHEAD" spelt backwards. And upside down. And reverse. And lipread.
One stall down, 4 to go. I troll up to the next..
"Hi there, what form of hardware solution are you looking for?" Mr Smiles
says (In other words, how can I tuck you for an extra grand)
"Well I don't really know. I need a fast and expandable machine that's top of the
line but also capable of talking to my old luggable laptop."
Mr Smiles likes the words "Fast", "Top of the Line" and
"Expandable". He runs over to a machine surrounded in glitter and advertising
and gestures at it. "This is probably what you want then. The latest thing. There's
only two in the country and luckily we have one here today"
"Yes yes, but will it talk to my laptop?"
"THIS baby will talk to ANYTHING. What's the interface, ethernet?"
"No, a SCSI-1 Interface. My machine pretends to be a disk, ID 3. But lots of
machines kill my machine's powersupply with inductive transience backflow due to a
non-standard SCSI interface...
DUMMY MODE ON: He practically BEGS me to try the new machine out. Which I've been
waiting for. I drag out my luggable, which is, admittedly, a bit of a beast.
"Wow! That IS old!! And >ungh! I mumble about legacy data, only use it at home,
sentimental value and irreplaceable software while he plugs it in and starts the host
"Okay, let's see what we can see" he says, and presses the power-on switch on
my "portable" The 31 hefty nicad batteries that make up almost the entire inside
of my "laptop" pour grunt into a tripling inverter which in turn supplies RICH,
CHUNKY VOLTS to alternate pins on the "SCSI" bus, whilst emitting a dull
"My Laptop!" I cry, reaching for it, just as smoke starts pouring out the
back of the display machine. Mr Smiles dives for the demo machine weeping, while I exit,
...resetting the circuit breaker in my machine as I go...
..to the next stall...
"Hi there, you look like someone who needs an upgrade!" the salesman chirps
"Well I don't really know. Is any of your stuff capable of talking to my luggable
One born every minute.
It's a warm afternoon as I roll into work after a heavy night at an my favourite bar.
I'm in such a run-down mood I almost don't notice the smell of deodorant in the air.
Deodorant can only mean one thing - an outsider. No-one here cares if their smell offends
anyone. The smell is pretty thick which means the bearer must have been here a while.
As these thoughts steam sluggishly through my brain, I trundle through to the
machine and fill my tankard with the syrupy dark roast Italian.
Barely have I time to turn off logins than I meet today's visitor.
"Simon?" the boss chirps from the doorway "Ah.. I'd like to meet John
Stern, he's the speaker from "MOTIVATION 2000" that we mentioned in the
departmental newsgroup last week..."
"HI!" John gushes, power dressed to the max.
"Oh, Do we have a departmental newsgroup?" I ask the boss, toying with him.
"..and sent you email about.."
"Well, you know I don't read my email, it's just a load of mealy mouthed whining
from malcontents" I counter
"But I send you mail all the time.."
"Like I said, it's just a load..."
"AH SIMON, John's here to talk to us about improving our department's morale"
"Morale? What's wrong with our Morale? Hell, I laughed THREE times yesterday"
"Yes, I heard the ambulance... Simon, this is a compulsory meeting. All the
department will be there..." the boss urges, fingers crossed
"Ah yes, how is the flock?" I ask, disinterestedly.
"I'm sorry? Simon, the whole department is going. It would be good.."
"Yes. Well, I don't think it would be *good* `morally' for me to attend"
"Simon >PREGNANT PAUSE< I'm not *asking* you to attend.."
Now THIS is a turn-up for the books! The boss, against all popular rumours, appears to
have a spine. True, he's sweating profusely and has picked up a tremor, but he does appear
to be holding his ground. I re-evaluate the potential threat of John, and decide to
"Oh. Oh, Ok then" I mutter in a defeated manner
The relief on the boss's face is phenomenal. He immediately ceases radiating nervous
heat and his bowels get a new lease on life. He smiles nervously and starts his exit to a
new world of respect and authority...
We all have our dreams...
"GLAD TO HAVE YOU ON THE TEAM SIMON! YOU WERE MAYBE A LITTLE HESITANT TO START OUT
WITH, BUT I'M SURE WE'LL GET TO BE GREAT FRIENDS!!!" John blurts
"Yes" I say, concentrating on remembering where I put my coffee
"YES. NOW COME ON, BUCK UP!!!"
"I'm sorry?" I whisper, instantly in attack mode - the boss freezes in terror
"BUCK UP!, YOU KNOW, MOTIVATION!!"
"Oh, `BUCK' up.." I relax
The boss giggles nervously and resumes his exit waddle.
"YOU KNOW SIMON WHENEVER I HAVE MOTIVATION PROBLEMS I SAY TO MYSELF `IT'S A DAY TO
CELEBRATE, 'CAUSE TO DAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF MY LIFE!'"
"I see. So it'll be a double celebration for you today then?"
"I'M SORRY, I DON'T GET..."
The boss `GET's allright, and hurriedly drags him from the room. I decide its time to
get some real work done, and call an ex-operator trainee of mine who works at the National
Security Information Centre. A good trainee too, passed with flying colours. You can tell,
he's still alive.
"HELLO!" he shouts "WADDAYA WANT!"
Old habits do die hard
"SIMON HERE" I shout back
I compliment myself on a job well done.
"I want some information on a John Stern"
"Stern. Isn't he that Motivation guy?"
"The very same."
"Yeah, I don't have to look him up, but I will anyway. He came here three weeks
ago for a motivation retreat. I got a non-specific disease those days"
"Tragic. But what did I tell you about problems? CONFRONT THEM HEAD ON! DON'T
AVOID THEM!! It's bad for your rep."
"Yeah, you're right. He's coming back in a couple of weeks for a refresher and I
can't back out those days because we're updating vetting info on some national politicians
and I'll want a copy for... backup purposes"
"I'm sure you do. Well, what can you tell me?"
"Well, I'm afraid I can't tell you anything Simon. As you know all our information
is carefully monitored for compliance with the Data Security and Privacy Laws, and there's
no way to extract information without it being monitored"
We laugh, and he emails everything to me. I look through the data and find that Stern
is cleaner than the Watergate filing cabinet. A great shame.
Motivation O'Clock arrives and I wander to the seminar room. John's setting up some
display on his laptop, no doubt with lots of cartoon characters depicting co-operation and
unity. Nothing turns my stomach more...
"SIMON! GOOD TO SEE YOU!!" John spurts. He slips his hand into mine with a
non-threatening orientation. I grab it in such a manner that his ends up on top of mine in
the classic repressive Body-Language manner. He immediately notes this, loosens his grip
and starts to remove his hand, all according to plan. A squeeze and twist later and John's
morale is a little less than 100% with two dislocated fingers.
"Oh! I'm sorry!" I gush, helping John back to the nearest available seat..
..which unfortunately has his laptop with it's fragile liquid crystal display.
>Whumph!< The room is plunged into darkness, the cause of which I can only guess
at. Today's guess is the campus climate control computer started every heater and fan at
the same time instead of one by one, resulting in a massive load on the campus power
supply, popping all breakers. Just a guess of course.
"Nobody Move!" I call "It's dark and we don't want any accidents!!"
Everyone in the department freezes, knowing what this means. The god of computing wants
a sacrifice, and volunteers are being called for.
"HOLD ON EVERYONE, I HAVE A TORCH IN MY BRIEFCASE!" John calls
If John were telekinetic, he would be reeling back from the mental shouts of
"DON'T DO IT!". However, he obviously, and sadly, is not.
>WHOP< >WHOP< >WHOP<
Or should I say, WAS not.
Two minutes later the lights come on and the tragedy is revealed. The police are
"...apparently, fell forwards, head first into his briefcase, the spring-loaded
lid of which slammed down upon his neck three times, snapping it like a twig"
I nod. The boss nods. The flock nods. One big happy family once more.
It's a slow day on the systems front following a network outage that's chopped the site
in half. No-one seems to know exactly what's happened to the backbone except that it's
In fact the whole day has been rather slow. So slow I passed some time earlier in the
morning helping one of our buildings people hang the annual executives portrait photo in a
place designed to inspire confidence and team spirit in the workers. Sure, using a nailgun
just to hang a photo was a little excessive, but the was some obstruction in the wall
which was difficult to nail through. An obstruction which was concidentally thickwire
ethernet shaped. Anyway I hope they find that outage soon..
Meantime I kill a little time by trolling the offices of the Network Team for Xmas
pressies. You know the sort of thing, "Thank You" bottles of Wine, Xmas Food
Parcels, etc, from grateful suppliers. It's not like they'll report them missing, for to
do so would be tantamount to admitting that you hadn't handed them over to the boss for
him to "reapportion" as he see fit.
So I'm in the department Brown-Nose's office when the phone rings. What the hell, Xmas
Spirit and all that, time to bury the hatchet.
"Hi, how long will the network be down"
"Should only be a couple of days"
"But I have to get these invoices rectified by the end of tomorrow!!'
"No Chance. I'm sorry, you should have thought about that before now. Honestly, we
can't be expected to make allowances for your personal shortcomings"
"No Buts, Maybes or What-ifs. It's your own fault."
"Do you know who you're talking to?"
"Well, my Caller-Id tells me that you're Charleston, Head of Accounts - and I
would have to admit that you do have that whiney, bean counter telephone voice that denotes
a white collar worker desperately in need of a good ten minutes alone with me and a
"Oh, you're a DEAF whiney bean counter?!?"
"I. I.." he splutters
Hatchet FIRMLY buried, I hang up. I'm about to leave when I notice that he's left a
privileged session open to the router. A quick >clickety click< later and the router
reboot he'd forgotten he'd scheduled takes place. A quick >scrawly scrawly< later
and a note appears in his handwriting in his desk diary mentioning this was going to
Five minutes later I'm back in the computer room, stashing my spoils inside the covers
of some old-style 12" removable disk packs. Leaving the disks laying around would
only draw undue attention and suspicion, so I dump them in the bin where they should've
been put years ago, except that they have valuable corporate data on them.
I hear the Operator's phone ringing and feel obligated by the past to answer it.
Besides, the operators had heard a rumour that there was a 48 disk software install
happening in the basement and had rushed off with the portable bulk eraser. If I taught
them well (and I think I did) they'll only buzz floppy number 47 under the pretence of
analysing it for magnetic anomalies...
"Is this the operator?" I hear
"Yes" (A little white lie that won't do much harm.)
"I'm in a little bit of a bind. My supervisor has gone away he's still running
some licensed software on his machine, so I'm locked out of it."
"Well, is there anything you can do?"
"What sort of machine is it?"
"Well, a lot of that licensing is network based.."
"So if I disconnect it from the net mine will work?"
"That would cause Defunct License Child Reflection on the net. You don't want that
>Dummy Mode On<
"Duh. No, I guess not"
"Right. What you need to do is to go into your supervisor's office, drag the
documents they're working on into the trash can, which will relinquish the license they're
working on. Then quit the application. Then EMPTY TRASH from the menu to force the license
to be removed, then start the application up again"
"But won't that.."
"Delete the files? Of course not. Do files get deleted when you drag a floppy into
the trash? No!"
"Oh. Ok, thanks"
"Hang on. Remember to leave a note on your supervisors desk to tell them what you
did in case they have licensing problems too"
Mission Accomplished, I go to the smoko room and check out the Xmas tree. Sure enough,
the lights are the cheap, in series AC kind. I drop a bit of coffee and some water in the
bottom of the boss's mug then fill the sink up with hot soapy water.
Bare minutes later the boss rolls in to get a coffee. Noticing the dirty mug, he
proceeds to the sink of hot soapy water. Seconds later the Xmas tree, precariously
balanced on it's fibreboard base, lurches sideways into the bench area, dropping a few of
the colourful bulbs into the water.
A promotion to a vacant position looks imminent...