It's funny how you always miss the good times ...
"There he goes ..." the Pimply-Faced-Youth mutters as the department's
latest programmer sneaks out of his room and goes off home. The poor guy's got a
persecution complex which has absolutely nothing to do with his office being
constructed from an area stolen from the comms room by the bosses.
Sadly, I didn't get to the plans before they left the drafting machine, but
the PFY did manage to 'recalibrate' the builders levels and cable detectors.
Funny how the walls seem to lean inwards and every time the air conditioner
comes on the door handle heats up.
In the spirit of re-use, the boss had trolled all the offices for unused
furniture prior to the programmer's arrival. From us he scored the drawers of
death. Previously used to hold the bean-counter back-ups, the drawers of death
look like an ordinary set of drawers, and even behave like an ordinary set of
drawers. Until they're closed.
That triggers a five second hummm. Moments later, the programmer finds all
his work for the day has been mysteriously wiped out; amazing how small you can
make a bulk eraser ...
The remote control on his gas-operated chair was the PFY's idea. The chair
plummets to the bottom of its movement at irregular intervals, and the poor guy
has since developed a bit of a limp. Probably a lumbar problem.
The boss realises something's happening - as he should, considering he
masterminded the room seizure. I'm sure he thinks of that every time he changes
the bandage on that nasty doorknob shaped burn on the palm of his hand ...
After a heart to heart session the programmer had with the boss, that the PFY
and I accidentally overheard because of the microphone pickup inadvertently
cabled onto the redundant UTP connection, the programmer asks us to stop by,
obviously believing the scandalous mistruths passed to him by a soon-to-be
"I hear you're responsible for all this", he says.
"For?" I ask innocently.
"These annoyances! And I want them stopped. I'm working on an important
project and I will not tolerate interference".
I'm not a hardline fan, and by the looks of it neither is the PFY.
"Do you know how much I get paid?" he continues.
"Not a clue", I lie, so that I don't have to pretend not to be
annoyed that he's earning more than the PFY and I put together.
"But I'll tell you what - you share your good fortune with us and we'll
see what we can do. A couple of hundred quid a week, each. Call it Comms Room
Meeting at a close, the PFY and I wander off. Two days later, following a
minor first caused by some faulty wiring on his desk lamp (I blame cheap
imports), we're invited back.
A generous donation to the Operators' Christmas fund later, we return to our
Sometime later, the programmer again asks me and the PFY to stop by his
office. He has that smug look that can only mean some form of trouble is
"I'd, ah, like my money back please", he says, striving to appear
"Sorry", I counter, just as calmly. "It's been invested in
"Well, perhaps you can uninvest it. Unless of course you wish this to
appear on the CEO's desk".
He clicks on an icon on his screen and a recording, obviously made by his
laptop's vidcam attachment, pops up on the screen. A recording of our last
encounter, sound and all.
I smile back. And nod to the PFY.
One standard issue, trip-on-the-floor-mat later, the programmer's machine
lays in ruins on the floor, with a large heel mark decorating the hard drive.
"Woopsy", the PFY gasps. "Must have low blood sugar or
"A good attempt", he sneers. "But not good enough. I have
"I see. Aren't you a little concerned that I'll get to the tapes
somehow?" I inquire, trying to sniff out their location.
"Not in the slightest. Not when they're safely locked away".
A five-second hum and chuckle later the PFY and I are heading back to our
office to resume normal life.
"Shall I crank up the voltage on the doorknob?" the PFY asks.
"All the way! Oh, and that desk lamp looks a little dim while you're at
With initiative like that, he's bound to go places ...
It's a quiet day in my office when the boss trundles in with a bundle of
official looking papers, which can only mean one thing - he's trying to get rid
of me again. A great personal tragedy is about to occur. To him.
"Simon, glad I caught you!"
Considering it's 2.30pm on pay day and a mass of expensive hardware that
would fit rather well into my briefcase has just gone missing, his surprise and
gladness are faked.
He's trying to cover up an ulterior motive.
"I've just had a directive from the top about staff appraisals. The Big,
Big Boss wants us all to go through personal interviews this year prior to any
Dangling the 'increase' carrot has been used before, and usually precedes an
attempt at a monumental shafting. However, a raise is a raise, so I just nod.
The boss takes strength from getting this far and continues.
"Yours, if it's OK, is tomorrow at 10am. Could you make that?" he
says, all sugar and spice.
"Of course I could", I reply, smiling with Bambi-like innocence.
The boss thanks me and wanders off, barely suppressing a smug grin. Yep, it's
a shafting all right ...
Next morning dawns and I'm in at 9am for a change, watching the entranceway.
Time ticks by and it gets to 9.48 when my suspicions are proved. A pale,
emaciated figure, sporting a thoughtful beard, glasses and medical issue
white-collar shirt with non-threatening tie, wanders in.
A plain-clothes psychologist if I am not very much mistaken.
I get the PFY over for a quick gander. He nods. Not a word is spoken as he
logs into the various control systems, shaking his head.
At the interview, it's the usual psych-type thing, Ink Blots, stories about
childhood, recent dreams, and so on.
I decide to go for the high score, and find lots of witches and murderesses
in the ink blots, 'remember' some disturbing incidents from my childhood, and
tell him that all my recent dreams involve axes and guns and things.
An hour later, he's appearing calm and smiling a lot, but his eyes never
leave me for a second.
I smile back.
"Coffee?" I ask.
Afraid to refuse, he nods.
Barely a minute later the PFY brings some coffee in and raises an eyebrow to
see how it's going. I keep smiling to maintain my power base.
A couple of security guys pop in mid-coffee and I realise it's the full 101
per cent shafting and they're not only trying to lose me, they're trying to have
me committed at the same time - probably to secure the PFY's loyalty in my
It looks like speech time, by the expression on psych-guy's face.
"Simon, I find you to be what we clinically refer to as a sociopath. You
have some deep-set adjustment problems that I, as a government appointed health
Government? The Bastards!
"... am duty-bound to relate to the proper authority, as I feel you may
pose a danger to yourself and to others".
He's quick isn't he?
He's also starting to look a bit uncomfortable, which is not surprising
considering the strength of the laxative that the PFY put in his drink, but
there you go.
Losing his great mental struggle to stay and see this out, he breaks for the
toilets, only, if I'm not mistaken, to find them locked.
Strange that, the only key that locks them is the building master, and that's
kept in the security's hi-tech safe (three turns to 37, two turns to 12, one
turn to 45) which no-one has the combination to.
While he's hitting the stairwell at a run, the boss comes in and grabs my
psychiatric evaluation with an evil grin. He wanders back with me to the office
to gloat, but I'm too busy watching the closed-circuit TV screen over his
shoulder to pay much attention. Psych-guy makes for the quickest source of
toileting in a building like ours - the floor below.
It too is strangely locked ....
The door on the floor below that, which doesn't have a lock, is blocked by
eight large boxes containing 28-inch boardroom-style video monitors which weigh
about a ton each and require a trolley to move ...
He knows he's not going to make it back up the stairs in time, but then he
notices a shining beacon presenting itself to him in the form of a rubbish bin
at the cafeteria freight entrance.
His relief is immense, but not shared by the cafeteria storesperson who
emerges at a bad time, nor by the boss when my moral obligation prompts me to
point out the CCTV screen to him.
"Ahem. So good to have a profile of your employees done by a fellow of
such discretion and taste", I chirp, as I nudge my profile from his hands
into the bin that it can now call home.
The boss has become a liability. Sad, but true. Still, it's all part of the
Pimply-Faced-Youth's training, so it has to be done.
He knows something is up, and is trying to ingratiate himself with me by
asking for technical advice all the time and thanking me profusely for it. In
other words, sucking up.
On the ingratiation scales, it's right up there with hitting an alligator's
snout with a stick to make it friendlier. If I'd wanted work, I'd have left the
phone on the hook in the first place.
The final snout-rap came when he brought his home stereo in for some
installation advice. I don't know why, but he seems to believe that simply
because I do some work at the nuts and bolts end of the computing spectrum, I'm
bound to know about everything from the rating of the third fuse to how to
program a Beta video to get Coronation Street in the least amount of tape.
I give it a quick once-over to see what's wrong with it, noticing almost
immediately that the tape IN and OUT leads were the wrong way round.
"So what's the problem?" I ask.
"It's the tape," he whines. "It stopped working after we moved
the stereo into the drawing room. If you turn the volume all the way up, you can
just hear the sound of the tape".
"Hmm", I murmur thoughtfully. "We'll probably need the
speakers to get the complete picture".
"I'll get them at lunchtime", he enthuses.
Three hours later we have the little beauties on the desk. I jam the overload
cutouts closed while the PFY puts the bags of isopropyl alcohol and ignition
circuits into them. Half an hour later we have a masterpiece and sneak off into
hiding, priming the halon system before we go.
Fifteen minutes after that we're playing poker in the storeroom when we hear
the first strains of a Neil Diamond number thumping. I look to the PFY.
"The loudness switch should do it", he murmurs, taking his
electrical apprenticeship quite seriously.
Scant seconds later there is a >Crump!< from the control room as Neil
fires up not only a guitar solo, but also a very expensive pair of speakers.
The PFY and I can hear the beeping of the Halon warning, which means that the
boss has to make a decision - save the speakers and be suffocated, or watch them
burn and live.
The silencing on the warning tells us that the boss has subscribed to the
motto "Choose Life".
We give him a couple of minutes of respectful silence then grab some
equipment and wander back, pausing only to knock over a huge box of thinwire
"Woopsy," the PFY mutters. "We'd better pick those up ...
By the time we locate him, the boss is sobbing into an oxygen mask in the
sick bay as he recounts the horror of it all.
"It just caught fire", he bleats, "and then those job sheets
caught light, then those folders, then the wooden door wedges stacked on top of
them like kindling, then ..."
A thought crosses his mind, watches for traffic, and seeing none, crosses
back. He stares at us both.
"You bastard!" he utters in a state of shock.
The PFY and I exchange shocked glances.
"We were in the store!" I cry, lamb-like innocence.
Tossing the mask aside, he makes a break to verify this.
And that's not the only break of the day. An arm and a clavicle follow in
short order as he rockets across the floor on terminator rollers into the poorly
loaded paper shelves, which promptly fall on him.
Nasty. We tell the officer that when he comes to investigate. (The boss's new
corporate policy requires all incidents to be reported to the police.) Fitting
that he should be a test (and basket) case. The officer sadly takes down the
details, then goes to get a statement from the boss. Two hours later he discards
the pages of notes in favour of a "Workplace Accident" verdict and
leaves with an expensive speaker-less stereo that we had no need for. On the way
out he pauses.
"You're a computing guy?" the Cop asks me.
"Yep", I reply, nodding.
"You know anything about Beta videos? My wife likes ..."
Hanging's too good for 'em ...
It's quarterly budget time again and I'm trying to convince the managers that we
should upgrade the thin wire Ethernet in one of our remote offices. An hour into
the meeting the conversation goes something like ...
Manager 1: "So basically you're saying that 10 million of these 'bit'
things EVERY SECOND isn't fast enough?"
Me: "No, not really."
Manager 2: "He's right you know, I've been to that office, the network
speed is abysmal!"
Manager 1: "It just doesn't seem possible! Hell, I can't even manage TEN
bits of stuff a second."
Me: "That doesn't surprise me."
Me: "I said the numbers really surprise me. Too, I mean..."
Manager 1: "Oh."
Me: "You see, when my predecessor put that net in, he did it on the
cheap. All the devices were connected to the same piece of net. It's like
everyone using the same road to get to work."
Manager 1: "But we paid a PREMIUM for that network!"
Me: "Four years ago. Cabling was more expensive then. And...."
Manager 1: "And?"
Me: "And the original spec was for individual segments."
Manager 1: "So?"
Me: "Well basically, everyone was supposed to have their own network
Manager 2: "What happened?"
Me: "Well, it was probably a combination of financial and distribution
Manager 2: "Meaning?"
Me: "He daisy-chained one segment through all of the offices, sold the
remaining cable off, and charged you through the nose for labour."
Manager 1: "Really?"
Me: "Yes, it happens with the less reputable network engineers."
Manager 1: "I find this all extremely hard to believe. There must be
some mistake. He assured me that it had been done."
Me: "Ah, he probably assured you that YOU had been done."
Manager 1: "No! I'm sure he wouldn't have taken advantage!"
Me: "I see. Tell me, what money was he earning back then?"
Manager 1: "Seven fifty an hour."
Me: "And the car he drove?"
Manager 1: "Mercedes convertible."
Me: "And how did he dress?"
Manager 1: "Nicely - Italian suits."
Me: "Are things becoming a little clearer?"
Manager 1: "You mean to say..."
Me: "I do."
Manager 1: "He..."
Me: "He did."
Manager 2: "How bad IS this?"
Me: "At the time it wasn't bad, but with all client server upgrades,
staff are wasting valuable time waiting for networks."
Manager 3: "What should we do then?"
Me: "Well, as you see in front of you, I'm recommending UTP to the
desktop, Cat 5 so that we can upgrade to ATM when it becomes a more widespread
and viable technology. This will save you the expense of having to recable in a
couple of years."
I pause in my delivery to let their minds recover from acronym overload.
Manager 1: "How much will it cost?"
Me: "Well, it won't be cheap. However if you look at the cost over five
years, it's fairly small, if, of course, you accept that the cabling will be
done out of hours by me and my pimply faced youthful assistant at the standard
double-time overtime rate. We could get a contractor in, but as you can see on
the paper in front of you, it would be about three times as expensive and only
slightly quicker that way. And, given that we will have laid the cable and are
likely to know more about it if problems occur in the future..."
Manager 2: "We get your point. Well, it seems that you've covered all
aspects of the problem, I for one agree. Everyone else concur?"
Two weeks later, the PFY wanders out to the site and starts the job.
"So we change the existing UTP patch cables to a new colour, drop some
Cat 5 off-cuts on the floor and kick a hole in the plasterboard every few
offices or so?" he asks.
"Yup! For a week or two."
"Won't someone find out?"
"Well, they WOULD if there was any documentation saying that there was
Cat-5 to the desktop here already, but unfortunately that information
accidentally fell in the shredder this morning," I reply.
"So we really ARE just changing the patch cables to a new colour?"
"How's that going to improve performance?"
"It's not. But switching off the traffic generator in the 2nd floor
comms cupboard which has been increasing its traffic by one per cent a week
since the beginning of the year will."
"So we're just screwing them for lots of labour."
"And those drums of premium Cat-5 which have excellent re-sale
"Hey! I was this close to charging them for new network cards too, but I
"So that stuff about your predecessor was all lies?"
"No. He did all that, just to some of the other offices..."
Something's a little fishy in the department. I recognise the signs when I reach
my floor - the air of restrained anticipation.
First stop, my internal mail slot - bombshells usually get placed there by
the boss prior to him scuttling to the relative safety of his office. Naivety
knows no bounds.
Sure enough, there's a bombshell measuring on the red-tape Richter scale.
In an effort to standardise a coherent future direction, the bosses have
decided to appoint a 'Director of Future Planning'. Couldn't be fishier if it
came with tartare sauce.
Sure enough Jeremy, the appointee, has all the initiative and forward
thinking of wheel-clamps, and was recently responsible for purchasing 10
multi-mode analogue recording devices for a bargain price of 6,000 quid. The
most expensive box of pencils in the history of the company ...
Unless I'm very much mistaken this is yet another salvo in the 'bean counters
versus techies' war. I read further and discover that all purchases have to be
approved by the DFP to ensure that they conform to the direction the company has
chosen for its future ...
I get two weeks' respite before the you-know-what hits the fan with a knock
at my door. Jeremy enters.
"Ah, Simon, just a couple of points," he says. "This wireless
LAN stuff. You realise that we're not equipped to deal with this just yet?"
"In what way?" I ask. "Not having several open-plan work areas
that are hell to cable - you know, like the WP pool, the PR offices - or not
having a single free AUI connector unless we unplug the unused terminal
"Oh. Ah. Well, no, not that exactly, it's just that according to my
He bashes a couple of figures into his personal organiser, an item that
appears to have been distributed far and wide amongst the upper echelons, a move
no-doubt designed to cover up for the stupidity of a prior purchase.
"... we would be spending almost 300 quid per multi-peater more than we
need to if we buy from our current supplier."
"Ah. Our current supplier of ... analogue recording devices?" I
He pretends to ignore me. "No, our current supplier of personal
organisers. And we have the added bonus of being able to transmit and receive
information from the organisers through them which is not available on any other
He toddles off leaving me feeling that the outcome was: "Future
Planning, 1, Simon, nil", so quick as I can, I bash out a memo about the
potential security implications of uploads and downloads taking place from these
devices. There's a rumour of a takeover flying about and the last thing we want
is sensitive data being intercepted.
My warnings fall on deaf ears, the marketing has already been done in secret
and accepted as gospel. Not good.
The kit duly arrives and I reluctantly install it. However, the manual is
most instructive on the upload and download features, and to remain an
interested party, I read it ...
A week later I'm listening to a boardroom conversation, as is my wont. It
really was an amazing coincidence that a couple of highly sensitive microphones
ended up being placed near the panel when the room was recabled recently.
"Well, quite frankly, I'm tired of it all," a manager whines.
"Why?" Jeremy asks, a little stress registering on my accompanying
voice analysis software.
"The bloody thing keeps turning itself on in the middle of the night and
ringing an alert for my wife's birthday, which was three weeks ago. I can't put
it in the lounge because it switches my TV on now it's learnt the controls like
you suggested. And, if that's not bad enough, it keeps switching the bloody
thing off just before Inspector Morse finds out who the killer is!"
"Mine does that too," another boss adds.
"Mine added one to the street numbers of all my addresses," yet
another voice announces.
"You think that's bad," another sniffles, "mine rang an alarm
and displayed 'Dinner with Trudi' with three stars by her name one night when my
wife was using it. I don't even know a Trudi!! But I've got plenty of time to
find one now!"
"These are obviously teething problems," my ex-nemesis oozes.
"I'm sure it's just some redundant information"
I tap away at my keyboard and a chime is heard from the boardroom.
"Good Lord!" a voice exclaims. "Mines just told me to ring the
doctor about the HIV results!!"
"I think we've heard enough," the CEO interrupts.
"Until further notice, we're withdrawing these devices from use. Thank
you gentlemen. Jeremy - a word."
I listen on while Jeremy is promoted to another position of responsibility -
head window cleaner. Only, we have contractors to do that ...
A pity really. Still, it doesn't pay to dwell.
I'm barely into work when the boss and CEO crash the door, looking worried.
"We're in trouble," the boss says.
"We're being taken over," the CEO interrupts, slipping past the
"Why tell me?" I enquire, innocence oozing.
"Because you have a way of 'fixing' things ..." the boss hints.
"Routers?" I respond, all innocence.
"No. You know what I mean!"
"Networks!" I cry, happily.
The CEO starts getting agitated so I put him out of our collective misery.
"OK, who is it?"
He spits out the name of our hated rival. Later, behind closed doors, the PFY
and I form a plan, then invite the boss et al back again.
"Step One: Fire the PFY!"
"How? Why?" the boss blurts.
"If that were grounds for dismissal, you would've been ..."
A stony gaze at the boss silences him and I continue.
"Step Two: I have lunch with one of their network guys and on the way
out I drop (in front of their security cameras), and then quickly hide in a
suspicious manner, a data tape with their company logo on the front.
Step Three: The PFY, invaluable in the future plans of our takeover because
of his intimate knowledge of the way we work, steps into a recently vacated
network guy position."
"Sounds good," the boss chirps.
Three days later we're set. I'm making our company look an unattractive
investment by falsifying memos about future criminal liability from defects in
the furniture production line, then leaking them to the press.
Of course, no pressman worth his salt substitute would believe the memos
without proof (being men of integrity), so I sacrifice a couple of bean-counter
limbs for the purpose of, "Stress Testing Production Line Furniture,"
("the cause") and make sure the papers are on hand to see the
ambulance being loaded.
Meantime the PFY is stepping through the entire first three chapters of the
Bastard Manual, wrecking havoc all round. The oxy-acetylene in the halon
cannister was a nice touch, and took out half a warehouse before they realised
what had happened and switched the automatic extinguishers off. A simple typo on
a refill form can make such a difference ...
His technical advice appears to be second to none judging by the continual
arrival of replacement equipment and deskside fire extinguishers.
Meantime their Fire Alarms have been used more in last three days than in the
previous two years and the route to and from the Fire Station has a 24-hour
I tried calling him but due to a wiring maintenance mix-up people are too
scared to answer the phones. Must be the stigma attached to electrical burns.
Page 73 if memory serves me correct.
I'm continuing as normal, repatching a repeater when the boss comes to see
"It's about these accidents," he says.
"What accidents?" I ask
"You know what accidents. They have to stop. Why is the equipment being
sent to the accounts department for testing anyway? We've got a perfectly
capable testing team."
"Yeah, but they're all good sorts," I reply.
"What?! Well, I don't care, it has to stop! There are only three
"No ..." looking at my watch, "... there's ..."
A thud and a muffled scream from the floor above punctuate my sentence.
"... Two. I'm guessing the wardrobe and drawer unit he was looking at
did not pass the 'heavy weight placed in an elevated position' test.
Speaking of heavy weights, you haven't seen the large box of full-height hard
drives normally in my office have you?"
He trundles off without a word to rest in his office ...
I get to my office and the phone is ringing. One of our equipment suppliers
wants a site visit with a prospective customer. What the hell, it'll kill time
till the real action starts...
The phone rings and as I'm in time-kill mode, I answer it.
"My phone's broken!"
"Then how are you calling me?" I ask.
"I'm using another phone, stupid."
"I see," I whisper, "and what was your number?"
He tells me. I look it up.
"Ah, Mr 0898"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Are you sure? I have several VERY PROGRESSIVE tapes here for you to
listen to if you'd like."
"Err ... that won't be necessary."
"Are you sure?" "Yes, forget I called."
"Well I'd like to forget you called, but the only thing that makes me
forget is a couple of bottles of single malt scotch. The good stuff, not that
cheap crap they serve up at the bar ..."
"I'll drop them off shortly."
Ten minutes later the transaction is completed and I end the day by playing
one of the tapes into his home answerphone. It was for the best, those calls
were just a cry for help ...
It's a calm morning network-wise when I arrive at the office to prepare for a
site visit and to continue defending my company's recent bad name and business
from the potential takeover.
I realise once more why I discourage site visits normally. Their only purpose
is to pretend to a customer that the stuff really does work like it says in the
brochure by finding a site that's worked out where the manual went wrong and
If it wasn't for the free lunch and the chance to blackmail a good price for
our next order, they'd never make the front door.
The visit should follow typical form: supplier lies to customer; I extort
goods to support this flagrant misinformation; a walk-around tour; a free lunch,
and promises from me to help out if they have any future difficulties.
In other words, a day that would turn Pinocchio into a kindling machine.
As 10am rolls around, I get a call from the front desk about my visitors.
A quick look at the CCTV shows me everything is as expected; our supplier
with his customer. Except for one small thing; the visitor is none other than
the head network guy of our rival company. Something smells a little rotten, and
it's not the Danish cheese in the staff cafeteria.
I slip downstairs with the boss wondering exactly what the purpose of this
visit is. Some show of strength probably, but what form this will take is
unknown. Obviously a lapse in reporting on the part of the Pimply-Faced-Youth
which I'll rectify with a cattle-prod at our next meeting.
The technical competence of my rival is identified when I notice his
rubber-soled isolator shoes. The electric doorknob was a waste of time ...
... but then again, perhaps not, as the supplier gives himself a belt he
won't remember in a hurry, along with his name and who he works for.
The opposition immediately identifies himself as a network professional by
perusing the bosses swipe card PIN number, 'accidentally' shutting the bosses
hand in a door - twice - then snaffling the access card while the boss is busy
blubbing. Smooth - 11 seconds in total.
He flexes some more muscle by popping a couple of earth leakage detectors as
he passes by some equipment. The old
His attempts at conquering the comms room in the same manner fail dismally,
though. I operate under the assumption that anyone who should be playing with
electricity knows the dangers and wouldn't need safeguards anyway...
It's the price you pay for being good. And who'd lose a whole network just to
save the mind of someone who's playing with something they shouldn't?
Getting to the point, my counterpart speaks in crypted 'NetSpeak' [See
below - Ed].
"What's that unit like?" he asks, gesturing at the supplier.
"A little 2400. No actually, this one's probably 300 synchronous. On a
"Yeah, it was transmitting nulls earlier".
"Nothing a repeated Control-Alt-Delete wouldn't solve."
The boss returns in bandages for the free lunch. And over lunch, my
counterpart and I talk turkey.
"I favour the previous configuration," my rival states.
"Yeah, a bit too much SNMP at the moment, but that's always been the
"Yeah, me too. So ... a reinstall of the original specs..."
Two weeks later the takeover threat is but a memory. I have a brand new Bean
Counter department in the sights and am raring to go. Some of the upper middle
management who favoured a protracted takeover as grounds for a pay rise took
early retirement - the 40s are such a difficult time of life, especially when
you find a photo of yourself in women's underwear (in the confines of a very
progressive Soho club) in the top drawer of your desk.
I get a call from my counterpart on the secure line.
"All clear?" he asks.
"Not a worry. Had to let your PFY go, you know how it is. A real
"Not to worry, he's back at his desk, playing with the temperature of
the fridge which is storing tomorrow's chicken lunches. I'll probably eat
The world is full of networking victories - this has been one of them.
The PFY and I are having a quick chuckle when the Boss is passing, so he stops
in - probably to see who he should send the condolence card to.
"Is there something funny?"
"No, no, not really. It's this memo. For a minute there I thought it was
a real one where you were asking for the root passwords of our machines."
"I did" he says straight-faced.
"Stop, you're killing me", I chuckle. "Why would YOU want the
"Why is irrelevant. Just do it", he snaps.
"You realise it's insecure?"
"I'll lock it in my personal document safe".
"You mean three turns clockwise to 37 ...", I say.
"... two turns back to 18 ...", the PFY chips in.
"... then back to 43", the cleaner finishes.
"Then scream in frustration and get your secretary to open it for
The boss does his impersonation of a stunned mullet then continues.
"Alright, I'll put a new safe in - and I WILL have those
passwords", he says as he storms off.
That night we do some sneaky miniature CCTV installation in his office ...
The next day the floors groan as a huge grey monster is delivered to his
offices. The boss himself supervises its placement.
"We can't see a thing", the PFY moans as the hidden camera gives us
a view of the top of the boss's head.
"Not from that camera", I reply, "but from this one ..."
>click< "... a full frontal!"
Sure enough, the boss's lamp-cam reveals all.
"So why did we put the camera in?", the PFY asks, perplexed.
"A decoy. The boss was bound to check the room after last time, so I
wanted him to find that particular camera".
"Well, if you look carefully at his room, there's only one plausible
place he could put the safe out of the camera's eye whilst maintaining the
illusion that he knows nothing".
"Doubly sneaky", I add with a hint of mystery.
Pretending to fold, we give the boss the passwords, then the next day when
he's checked they're legit, change them to something else. Raising the stakes,
we deal ourselves into the CEO's pet video-conferencing project downstairs so
the boss can't "call us urgently away" when he finds out ...
"How are things going?", the CEO asks benevolently.
"Great sir", the PFY gushes.
"We should be ready to go tomorrow", I add as I cable up the
cameras to the video multiplexing unit - the device that cost a quarter of MY
budget for the year - that the boss recommended after the salesman took him on a
two day bender ending up in his arrest at a pub in Brighton for showing some
women his rendition of Trafalgar Square's tallest monument ...
Bad thoughts aside, I run some diagnostic images through the machine and show
the CEO how the pictures will look to our overseas offices.
"The images will be displayed across the screen like this," I say,
"one for each person present. Sitting on a chair activates the
"And this will all work straight off?" the CEO asks, barely
suppressing his excitement at being on corporate TV.
"There might be a few teething problems, but I'm sure that my trainee
and I will be able to go to there and sort them out. Most should go smoothly
except perhaps for the Rome and Florida offices, which may have solar
interference during the summer".
The CEO might smell a junket, but he's not going to risk delaying his baby.
"Of course, I'll see to it that your Divisional Head is aware".
An hour later we're in the boss's office as he seethes with impotent fury.
"Oh! Did we forget to tell you about the password change? And the Video
Conferencing? Take a note of that for the future", I mention to the PFY.
The boss seethes some more.
Three hours later we're knocking back a few lagers as we draw straws for
vacations. I mean assignments.
Two hours after that, we're in the off-license purchasing two cases of gin
which we slip into the grey monster later under the cover of darkness.
"What did we do that for?", the PFY asks.
I say nothing but jump in the air, landing heavily on the floor. A creak from
the floorboards enlightens the PFY, and he joins me. Seconds later a sound not
unlike a heavy safe falling through a floor greets our ears.
The next morning as we watch the boss pack up his things the PFY muses about
the fickleness of life. "You know, he might've got away with it if the safe
hadn't landed on the video multiplexer ..."
"Yeah," I reply, "what a terrible coincidence. It was probably
the password book that broke the camel's back.
I'm doing some important network response testing with the PFY when the phone
rings. It's the PFY's line and it's never rung before, so he celebrates by
unplugging it from the wall. While his attention is otherwise engaged, I shoot
him a couple of times in the back.
Networked DOOM II is an excellent breeding ground for the Macchiavello in us
"That was the boss," I mention, easing the tension in the room
"Contract Renegotiation Time," he says and trundles off to the
boss's office. Five minutes later he's back with a not-too-happy expression on
"He doesn't believe that I've the experience to warrant an increase in
my hourly rate." This, I don't like - if it can happen to him it can happen
to me, and I have an irrational fear of anything that looks like the thin end of
I'm on the phone to personnel in a flash. "What do we have to do to
prove that my assistant deserves a raise?"
"Typically there's a meeting with the head of personnel, an independent
expert and the candidate himself. The idea is that the candidate's networking
knowledge is put to some form of test."
I arrange the test for the next day and instruct the PFY to do his
The next day dawns and at 10am everyone shows up for the main event. Except
for the independent expert, that is. However, he's unlikely to be heard of for
another couple of hours... providing the lift maintenance contractor is as slow
I offer my services as an independent expert.
"OK, a couple of questions," I say. "Shoot," the PFY
"What criteria do you use when determining whether to remove a user's
"How much sleep I had the night before?"
"Fair enough. When pushing a user's machine off a desk, what should you
"That their keyboard is below."
"Half marks. Keyboard and a valued personal possession."
"When should overtime be scheduled?"
"When circumstances make an operation hazardous during normal
"When I'm in a bad mood because I've run out of money that month."
"Correct. A colleague asks for your advice purchasing a machine for
their private business. What do you recommend, Macintosh or PC?"
"Neither. I'd recommend the Commodore 64 with twin tape drives that I
use as a doorstop - priced at 600 quid."
"And when it failed?"
"It's rigged up to catch fire when it's plugged in. I'd claim he plugged
it in wrong."
"Excellent. Phones are running hot with complaints that sessions on the
4th floor NT server are being lost randomly. What is the problem most likely to
"The problem, as I see it, is that the phone is on the hook."
Half an hour later ...
"Well I'm convinced - he has learnt a great deal."
"And I am unconvinced!" the head of personnel cries. "This
trainee was brought in to address the problems of poor service and lack of
accountability that were prevalent in your reign of terror. Instead of doing
that you've twisted him into a nastier version of yourself!"
"Yes, good isn't he?" I comment.
"NO! And if you think, even for a moment, that I'm going to OK this ..
this TRAVESTY of skills evaluation, you are sorely mistaken. He STAYS on our
trainee contracting pay-scale."
It's true, there is a tool for every job. Yet it still amazes me how many
'jobs' benefit from a little tweak with the 'blackmail' tool.
"Fair enough," I say. "You're probably right. After all, he is
a beginner at this sort of thing and as a trainee I suppose you could pay him
less as a result of the mistakes he's bound to make. You know the sort of
mistakes I mean - like e-mailing personnel's international phone logs to the CEO
instead of the head of personnel. How is your daughter Sir - still working in
the Cayman Islands?"
"Ah. Well, on second thoughts I can see how his skill set might be
"Mistakes like accidentally misconfiguring the network back-up server to
restore pictures from the directory named SMUT on a personnel machine to..
say... the directory containing the slides the CEO will be using for his next
talk to the board of directors."
In the international unit of operator success, Backpedals Per Second, the
head of personnel is dangerously near redlining. Half an hour and a sizeable
trainee-raise later, the PFY and I are sitting back in the office.
"What should I do with these phone logs?"
"Send 'em on."
"Head of personnel?"
"HELL NO! The CEO's office - you're a trainee - mistakes happen."
Needless to say, I believe my renegotiation will slip through without a
It's a quiet day in the office. Perhaps it's got something to do with me
relocating the helpdesk to the recently-vacated Boss's office and accidentally
putting an axe fifty-three times through the phone cables down that corridor.
Forget using pink noise tapes for relaxation, there's nothing quite like the
distant sound of phones being slammed frustratedly into cradles to help a BOFH
chill out. Our telecomms system is in a shocking state; must be down to all the
users taking out their anger on the handsets.
I make sure the door's closed and electrified appropriately (in case any of
the braver users get the rash urge to come round in person), and settle down
with my reading material.
Normally, this is the time to catch up on those Dutch magazines that were
inadvertently delivered to the back door a couple of months ago - and which seem
to have been delivered equally inadvertently ever since. You wouldn't believe
that the same mistake could be made again and again, would you? Someone, though,
seems to have found my private stash, since it appears to have grown legs. I
suspect it's my PFY, as he's been walking around recently with a knowing smile
on his face. He'll soon learn the perils of being nosey when I've figured out
just what do do with the electric stapler, though. Anyway, in the meantime, I'm
stuck with reading networking magazines.
Pausing only to fill in a 'please send a barmy UPS salesman to see me' form
in the name of the guy from accounts who cut me up in the car park this morning,
I start to wade through the surprisingly tall stack of unopened networking mags.
One item catches my eye, though: the Networking Professional of the Year award.
I laugh inwardly - it'll probably be won by some sad anorak who spends his
weekends up to his ears in UTP, spends his evenings retrieving lost files from
users' PCs, and who earns crap wages and no gratitude. I read on, however :
"... presented at a special ceremony at l'Hotel Ambassadeur in the south of
Ah, now, let's not be too hasty. There is, naturally, a lot to be said for
the unsung heroes of the networking world. At least that's the line I'll use
when I try to persuade the CEO to let me enter the competition.
Up in the CEO's office, the man himself stares at me glassy-eyed for about a
minute. The words finally emerge in a croak. "YOU want to put in for the
Network Professional of the Year?"
"That's right. Just think of the credit I'd bring to the company"
"I'm thinking of the bad publicity you'd bring to the company"
"That's not very nice!" I adopt my most aggrieved expression,
combined with my most innocent tone of voice. "And after all I've done for
this company, too"
"Don't you mean '_TO_ this company'?" The CEO looks at me and
starts reading from the entry form. "Helpful to his/her superiors? You've
gone through five bosses in the last year!"
"So I've had to cope with five different working methods - it's a much
more demanding part to play. I think it demonstrates great flexibility."
"But you're responsible for all of them leaving!!"
"Coincidence... they all seem to remember another job offer somewhere
else. Perhaps you ought to look at your working conditions and salaries", I
"Perhaps I ought to consider whether I need as many support staff as I
Ouch. That was a little below the belt. Oh well ...
"Perhaps the Inland Revenue might find out about the secret account that
was mysteriously set up on a computer outside the main system."
The CEO reddens and suddenly seems to find his blotter fascinating. He
recovers slightly and reads on from my form.
"And what about this," the CEO is almost shouting now. "A good
"Yes. Naturally I'd expect my pimply faced assistant to be included in
the entry. As a good team player, I'd expect members of the team to be
"But he's a psychopath!"
"So? Are you going to hold that against him? It's not very supportive of
you. I personally think the climate in the south of France will do wonders for
his temperament and the experience of going to such an event will do wonders for
his social skills."
"There'll be a diplomatic incident!"
The CEO carries on reading. "Nominations for the awards must be
accompanied by three signed endorsements by the nominee's colleagues." He
paused; "There's no-one here who would agree to sign such a statement. They
all hate you."
"So I can enter the award if I can get the form signed?"
"If you can find three of our employees who will sign it, you can enter.
But I'm only saying that because I know nobody here will sign it". He
exits, laughing silently to himself.
A miracle, eh? Nothing's impossible in the world of networking, as I never
tire of telling users whose hard disks have been miraculously wiped clean. After
all, who said getting someone's signature on a form actually needed them to
write it ...
To be continued ...
It's a glorious day in the south of France, especially since my room at L'Hotel
Ambassadeur managed to somehow get double-booked and they upgraded to me to a
suite with more rooms than I've had bosses. Getting the signatures on my entry
form for Network Professional of the Year was no problem - I knew that digi-sig
faciliy on the network fax server would be handy for something - and so here I
am to pick up my award. Okay, there are half-a-dozen other finalists, but I have
this suspicion that there are numerous skeletons due for synchronised cupboard
exodus very shortly.
Down at the awards dinner, with the sound of an alleged 'entertainer'
rambling on in the background, I get talking to a rather nice PR bimbette, who
is fascinated by the modern networking methods we use.
"So you've tuned the ATM backbone to 827Mbps?"
"Only on the test network of course, we couldn't use something that fas
... err ... early in development for the real users"
"Naturally. So how do you measure the throughput?"
"Doom II between half-a-dozen SGI Challenge boxes, of course. Comes out
"45,000 packets per second doesn't sound very quick". Hang about, a
PR woman who knows how fast a network should go ... scary thought.
"No, it's points per second. You don't get packets for killing things in
Doom, you know.
"Oh, I see. You must have a major budget each year, too, if you've got
six Challenges on your test network alone".
"Ah, well, you see, they're eventually going to the CEO's pet
videoconferencing project; we bought them with the insurance money after the
Pentium 75's from the first project met an accident"
"That's some difference in cost"
"Well, yes, but we have a friendly insurance company". And a rather
nice home video of their board at a conference in Amsterdam ...
"Nice one. So let me guess, you've had to clock-chip the Challenges and
tweak their ATM cards, thus making them 'experimental' and giving them to you
for a month or two for 'testing'".
This girl is on the ball ... I'm almost impressed.
"Well, yes, but it's a complex job so testing will take a bit more than
a couple of months ... 2004 would be a good year, I reckon".
"You're a bastard, aren't you?"
Catches on quick, this one. As we're chatting, some TV personality (a
contradiction in terms if ever there was one) is introduced and given a shiny
gold envelope to open. This he manages without needing to read the instructions,
though only just.
"And the Network Professional of the Year is ..."
Later in the "winners' enclosure" I again find myself chatting to
my PR friend; it's terrible, this animal attraction I seem to have. She appears
surprised at my victory.
"So how did you manage to pull that off? I must admit, I wasn't exactly
expecting you to get it, given your apparently unconventional outlook on network
management. Did you hack the entries computer or something?".
Hack? She must be an oldie - nobody with any self-respect would ever call
themselves a hacker these days, unless they owned a seriously bad anorak. I call
for more drinks (the expensive stuff, naturally - I already have the root
password to the hotel's systems, not to mention the room number of the old goat
from the telly who bored us so much over dinner), take a deep breath, and
"No, I didn't _hack_ ..." (it takes all my effort to say the word)
"... anything". Anyways, the shortlists and stuff were all done in
hardware and weren't possible to access over the hotel LAN.
"With a biro and a piece of paper. These judge types have trouble with
"Ah, _that_ hardware"
"Yup. Anyway, I didn't have to hack anything; all but one of my
competitors pulled out at the last moment. Well, actually some of them didn't,
if the polaroids they received in yesterday's mail are anything to go by".
"What, they were _ALL_ having a bit on the side?"
"Two of the six were - it's a side-effect of having to spend so much
time in hot countries at networking shows and conferences"
"What about the ones that weren't?
"Simple. One of them works for the company that's sponsoring the awards,
so the small print got to him before I could. Of the others, one now has a
photocopy of a vehicle registration form and the other was fired inexplicably
after an anonymous, untraceable phone call yesterday afternoon and had his
nomination withdrawn by hix now-ex-employer". I must put the PFY in for a
raise - he did that phone call business without me even asking.
"I see. What's this about a registration form?"
"Oh, just something about a vanishing company Rolls and a known
black-market car trader"
"I see. You really are a bastard, aren't you?"
"Naturally. Though it's taken me a while to perfect, of course."
"So what about the one competitor who didn't withdraw?"
"Oh, I beat him fair and square; the directors' words of recommendation
on my entry were far more flattering than those on his". At least they were
_after_ the form got switched in the chief judge's briefcase on a train to
Doncaster last week.
"So what's next?"
"Back to work, a nice pay rise as thanks for raising the company
profile, thank the temp for keeping the users on their toes while I've been
away, then the occasional after-dinner speech with a five-figure fee".
"What if someone blows the whistle?"
"Oh, I don't have to worry about that"
"Don't you?". I don't like the look in her eye, or the tone of her
voice for that matter. "What would you say if I told you I taped this
"I'd point out that the dictating gadget in your top left pocket has no
record head, so you've got a blank tape. As we're on the subject, what would you
say if I told you that the phone in your room was bugged? Now what were all
their names ...". I pat my pocket, and hear the reassuring rattle of micro-cassette-in-plastic-case.
Sense of humour failure is instant, and she turns and wanders off to sulk.
My mother was right ... you should never trust someone in PR.
The boss is being a little reticent about my rate so I decide to twist the knife
a bit by calling up some contracting agencies. My only worry being that if I
called up a good agency, I'd probably get a job - which rather defeats the
purpose of the exercise. My purpose is to make the boss wince every time there's
a contracting rate review. And to rake in more dosh of course.
Bearing in mind my job prospects, I put some feelers out with a couple of the
large but mostly dodgy agencies. The sort of agency that will 'smooth out the
wrinkles' in your CV before faxing them on to a prospective employer.
Wrinkles like, 'I done DOS once,' and 'I know how to turn my screen on,'
become 'Wrote DOS from scratch,' and 'Extensive Hardware Support Background'.
I expect the worst and get it. I meet my placement consultant at a local pub,
where he buys me a beer to prove that he's really my friend, and not someone who
wants a criminal percentage of my wages.
"So," my personally assigned, widely experienced, computing
professional placement consultant says: "You're looking for a position in
"What sort of experience do you have?"
I run through a quick synopsis of the past 10 years.
"Excellent. Now, have you had much experience of DOS?"
"Well we have an excellent position in DOS consultancy at the
"And you feel that's a networking position?" I ask, already
"Well, not exactly. Initially it would be more of a help desk
"Not interested. I'm networks, not systems, and definitely not
"Ah. Oh well, it was a thought. What about VAX/VMS?"
"DECNet? TCP/IP? Dare I say it, CI?"
"No, more in the lines of Cobol Programming. Great position there. In
"Very good pay..."
"If I'd wanted to do Cobol Programming I would have said so. But I
didn't, I said 'networking'."
"Of course, so you did. hardware engineering doesn't interest you?"
"What sort of hardware?"
"Dead terminals mainly. But when they're working they're connected to a
terminal server, which is on a network..." he calls out as I leave the pub,
drink only half finished.
The boss meanwhile has been playing my game and has faxed out to a couple of
contracting agencies himself, obviously in an effort to show me how cheaply he
can get a replacement. It's sad how people delude themselves sometimes.
My next few days are punctuated by offers of data entry, fill-in secretarial
work, tape monkeying etc. Which I decline. At long last one of the agencies
comes through with a price that would bring tears to the boss's eyes. I get the
details and am thinking about it when the boss walks in.
"I'll take it," I say, as the boss discreetly tunes into my
"Take what?" he asks.
"The job I was just offered," I reply, smiling cheesily.
He rallies under the pressure and responds: "And just in time too!"
"For what, Christmas shopping?" I say, applying pressure.
"No. Just in time for us. I've found your replacement!" he gloats,
shaking a wad of barely readable faxed paper.
"You're not serious!" I say, pointing at the paper, "you can't
even read it!"
"Don't need to," he smirks, "I rang them and verified the
"You're not going to trust THAT agency are you?" I cry. "They
can't even place an advert properly, let alone a computing professional."
"That's where you're wrong!" the boss snarls. "They HAVE found
me someone. Far more experienced than you, and only a fraction more expensive.
And he starts this afternoon. SECURITY!"
The moment the boss has been dreaming of for months has arrived.
"Escort this member of the public to the street. Don't let him touch
anything, and take his access keys off him at the door. He's to speak to no-one.
And have him removed from the contractors' register IMMEDIATELY! Have his
personal effects checked for items of the company's, then forward them on to
Job done, he swaggers back to his office, the John Wayne of networks and
I am escorted to the street and hand over my access keys. I take a quick
survey of the building that was once my workplace, then wander back in to
>Ding!< "Hello," I smile to the receptionist. "I've just
been appointed to a position as Network Administrator. Could you ring my
Can't wait to see John Wayne's face. Or my new pay cheque. Or the memo saying
that as a new entry on the contractors' register I am required to attend a paid
week's-worth of safety lectures.
Today, to fulfil the terms of my employment as a newly arrived contractor at my
old job, I'm attending the site safety course. It's the usual routine of
switching equipment off when not in use, and so on - kids' stuff.
"Does anyone know what this is?" our instructor asks, holding up a
section of mains flex with exposed wiring.
"An accident waiting to happen," I answer helpfully.
"Excellent. Completely correct," he gushes, pleased with the
audience participation so far.
"And what about this?" he asks, holding up a length of data cable
in a similar condition.
"An accident waiting to happen," I reply once more.
"Ah well, not exactly," he chuckles.
"It is if you tie it two inches from the ground on the third step from
the top of a darkened sixth floor stairwell."
Our instructor's eyes narrow for a moment as he tries to place the face ...
"You've done this course before, haven't you?"
"Well, yes I have, but I didn't get the certificate at the end. No-one
did as it turned out; not after you fell down that stairwell, broke your
clavicle and lost our evaluation papers. Lost your footing on the third step
from the top, didn't you?"
He snarls lightly as it all comes flooding back. The fall, the ambulance
ride, the chance statement beforehand that my policy of 'Plug and Pray' was not
company policy. His manner warns me that 'forgive and forget' is not company
Sure enough, slipping back early from morning tea, I notice that my chair
isn't where I left it. A quick once-over informs me that it's missing some vital
supportive parts. I slip it to the back of the room and select another.
As I'm still alone, I check out the presentation on our instructor's PC and
make a few modifications to his slides. As everyone returns, I fall back into my
new chair with a comforting 'thump'. I can't help but notice the look of
irritation on our tutor's face, an expression which gets progressively worse as
we're entertained by his most interesting display of slides. The slide about not
picking your nose and eating it in the lift seems to be a real crowd pleaser.
"Well, thanks very much for that," I say at the end of the course.
"And rest assured I will pay close attention to that slide on not eating
the local beef. Valuable advice - and such a change from the usual warnings
about checking the floors in cable ducts."
The next morning the boss wanders in looking harassed.
"Ah Simon, I have a complaint here about you."
"A complaint! About him! I can't believe it!" the PFY cries,
clutching his hand to his brow and, it must be said, overplaying the shocked
co-worker just a little.
"Yes, our safety tutor has complained that you tampered with his
"TAMPERED WITH HIS SLIDES!" the PFY continues, silenced with a dry
look from the boss.
"Well, I may have made a few grammatical corrections," I admit.
"But nothing that didn't improve the document overall. Anyway, if it was
that bad he could always recover his old presentation from the back-up
"Yes, that was the first option - until we found the missing screen
degaussing wand in the tape rack."
The PFY stifles a guilty giggle.
"The off-site back-up tapes?" I suggest helpfully.
"Yes, there seems to be some problem with that," the boss replies
suspiciously. "The tape content doesn't match the barcode index."
"Well, the barcode reader on one of the drives has been playing
up," I reply. "It's possible his archive was written to a tape with a
"And how many tapes could that be?"
"About 2,000 - they all have the same checksum unfortunately - it's a
bug in the software that I noted in a memo to you about, let's see, two months
"Ah. Well, I don't see why he can't type it in again," the boss
says, sweeping the whole thing under the carpet and wandering off.
"Was there really a memo?" the PFY asks.
"Yep. A Buck-Pass memo with lots of buzzwords at the top to scare him
off. Now he'll read it and find out the buck stopped with him."
"So what will happen?"
"Oh, the usual cover-up - an apologetic phone call in a couple of
minutes followed by the rapid and angry entrance of a safety instructor through
that doorway over there..."
Twenty five minutes later my practical demonstration to the PFY about the
dangers of tying a piece of data cable an inch from the ground in a darkened
doorway is complete. I grab a blank certificate of attendance from the pile left
on the floor by the First Aid nurse and get the PFY to fill in the blanks.
The world of networking is full of accidents waiting to happen.
quot;We might have a little problem with the UPS", the PFY calls as he
passes, indicating with a sneaky nod the comms room. I grab the laptop with the
UPS diagnostics on it and follow him.
Having no real need for the laptop I slip it onto the floor as soon as I'm
inside and "stress test" any listening devices that may have been
"accidentally" left there by the boss by inserting my pen into the
cooling fan at the rear of the UPS.
"What's the problem?" I ask, shouting over the noise of a plastic
ballpoint being buzzed away by the heftiest cooling fins in the room.
"The boss has found out about the help line" he shouts, looking
around warily, expecting capture and torture at any moment.
Oh dear. A great little money spinner that too. A reasonably simple idea in
theory - automatically divert every newly disconnected phone in the company to
an 0898 number which gives you sound computing advice.
Advice like "Your problem sounds like inadequate air cooling. The only
possible solution is to water cool your computer. Go to the water
fountain..." etc. Amazing how many calls a person receives once they leave
- at 99p a minute - and yet more amazing how many phones don't have forwarding
As quickly as possible I ring the 0898 people and reluctantly shout to them
that we wish to discontinue the service, then get the cheque sent on to my
accountant under my little-known pseudonym of "Deceased". (no first or
middle initials - Great for tax purposes). The figure they mention cheers the
PFY and me up though. Obviously more calls than I'd imagined.
"How did they find out?" I ask
"I think I might have keyed in a typo the last disconnect and got a live
one instead" the PFY confesses, with a due amount of trepidation.
Forgiveness being the key in times of crisis, I figure we bide our time
looking like we're fixing the UPS until the Boss can't take it any more.
Minutes later the boss bursts in full tilt to collect what his listening
device can't and collects my laptop with his shoe instead. His tardy reflexes
divert his shoe mid-stomp so that he catches the side of it, flipping open its
cover and sending him hurtling face first into a comms rack.
"Oooh" the PFY mutters, "I bet that hurt".
The look on the boss's face as he roughly extricates himself from the
dangling cables confirms this guess..
"What the hell are you doing in here?" he snarls, dabbing at his
grazed facials with his handkerchief
"Just checking out this noisy fan. It looks serious", I say, giving
it a hefty jab out of his sight for old times sake.
Did I say old time's sake? I meant last time's sake. The fan, having had
enough of the extra load of my pen, stops completely, emitting nothing but a
tiny >click< and shuddering to a halt.
"BLOODY HELL!" the boss shouts over the UPS alarm, which is no mean
feat considering it's made to be heard through the sound-proofed wall.
"SWITCH IT OVER T...o the other unit" he finishes as I press the
Alarm Silence button
"There's not much chance of that", the PFY calls, bringing over the
shredded remains of the laptop, the condition of which would seem to have got a
lot worse in the last few seconds.
"Sorry about that", he says, "but someone left a cable laying
on the ground ..."
We turn to the boss.
" ...which I tripped over."
"Well it's too late for that - get another one!" the boss shouts,
self-preservation at the management meeting key in his mind.
"We can't", I chip in. "The backup's got a dead hard-drive
that you wouldn't let us replace", I add, applying a recent situation to my
"Whew!" The PFY mutters, "wouldn't want to be in your shoes.
It won't look at all good that - your budget being the cause of a site outage
"A SITE OUTAGE!?!" the boss gasps.
"Well, you did say that all faulty UPS units in the comms cupboards
should replaced with a feed from the central UPS to cut costs ...", I add
The boss gets that hunted look.
"All right, what do you want?"
"I think you already know that", I smile, benevolently. Or is that
malevolently, I always get those two mixed up.
Ten minutes later I have the printed copies of his telephone enquiry as well
as the photocopies he hid in the safe just in case.
I pop back to the UPS as it's nearing its temperature cut-out point and
demonstrate how simple it is to manually reset a fan circuit breaker ...
It's funny how things work out for the best, isn't it?
It's a balmy mid-morning when the PFY slips back into the offices with this
morning's purchase following my specific instructions.
"One finely crafted plastic electric kettle, with safety cut-out to
prevent element burnout," I say, smiling at the perfection of my plan.
"But we've got a coffee and tea maker!" he cries.
Filling the jug from the water fountain I shake my head. "What happens
every summer?" I ask.
"It gets hot?" he guesses.
"Correct. And our air conditioning system does what?"
"And we have to what?" I ask.
"Sit in the comms room all day."
"Correct. Grab the variable step-down transformer and meet me in the
He does as I bid and moments later I've set the variac at five volts, plugged
the jug into it, and hidden the lot under a sub-floor ventilation grill.
"Your mission, should you choose to accept it - you don't have a choice
by the way, it's just an expression - is to keep this jug topped up while
increasing the voltage by five volts a day."
I take him over to a wall thermostat and pull the cover off.
"Step 2, turn the set screw on all the thermostats anti-clockwise by
five degrees every day, making the air-con think it's getting cooler in here.
Now - any questions?"
"Yeah, what happens when the variable transformer gets up to 200
"Twenty quid says the jug won't get past 50."
"You're on!" the PFY gasps, seeking easy money.
"And no cheating by not filling the jug!" I add, knowing his
The bet agreed, I busy myself on network load testing for a few days. When
I'm sick of networked Doom-II, I ring the boss up and tell him about the air-con
problems in the comms room. True to form, he wanders around the comms room
tapping the thermostats and sniffing the air for moisture. Exhausting his
technical repertoire, he calls in some heating professionals who inform him that
our measurements are OK.
"You'll need another unit," the technician tells the boss.
"Your current ones look to be overloaded."
"I told the boss last summer that this was going to happen," I add,
"but he did nothing about it and now look what's happening."
The slight throwing down of the gauntlet here will set his mood for the
entire event. He probably suspects something is up but can't think of what it is
and is desperate to thwart me - especially with my recent UPS fan victory.
"Yes, well, we'll have to put another unit in, but where..." he
smiles realising the prime location right in front of his eyes. "What about
there?" he asks, pointing to the wall between the comms room and the
"Not a good idea," the heating tech says, "the heat exchanger
exhaust would make the room behind there a sweatbox."
"Well it doesn't look like there are any viable alternatives," the
boss replies smugly.
"What about over there?" I ask, pointing to a gap between air
conditioners in the opposite wall.
"No can do," the boss chimes in "too many units there already
which would make the building structurally unsafe."
Something tells me he's done his homework on this one.
"So that wall it is," he smiles, gleefully indicating an area which
would be right between my desk and the PFY's.
The PFY's look of horror speaks volumes.
Two weeks later, the control room is getting a tad uncomfortable, especially
since someone authorised our windows to be riveted shut.
Visitors are at an all time low, with only the boss stopping behind the
double-glazed viewing window to gloat every day or so.
Until D-Day that is.
The PFY and I are in exceptionally early to take my plan through to
completion. Completion being removing the air-con from its mounting, turning it,
and slipping it back in.
"The boss is bound to notice!" the PFY cries.
"He doesn't come in here any more - no-one does," I reply, soothing
"But he does go through the back way to the comms room and he'll see the
back of the unit."
"Not when you swap the covers he won't."
"That won't fool him!"
"I believe it will - he only found out I swapped the covers of the fax
machine and the shredder the other day. Pity the 'shredder' autodialled the
newspapers with that expenditure blowout report of the other day. Tabloids can
be so irresponsible."
"What did the boss do when he found out?"
"What do you think? Admit he was responsible for making us a laughing
stock? Now I've got a quick job for you."
"What is it?"
"Redo your time sheets - they were his last 'fax'."
"In the flesh, on the prowl, and waiting for my 20 quid..."
I'm not happy. True, that's not such a rare occurrence, but today I'm VERY
The boss has just dropped a bombshell in that he has single-handedly
negotiated a bulk deal maintenance contract from one of our hardware suppliers
entitling us to a 50 per cent discount on the maintenance of a machine.
Now I'm as much in favour of maintenance discounts as the next Systems and
Networks Administrator who believes that most maintenance engineers should be
struck about the head with a rugby sock full of thin-wire terminators, but this
sounds a tad suspicious.
The boss, well known for having problems negotiating hallways, has somehow
managed to cheat the highly skilled, money- grabbing, shafting professionals
that make up the maintenance sales team at 'Rob-me-blind' Corp.
And while he was at it, he found his office without asking for help.
I don't think so.
So all that remains is for me to see what sort of complete pants-downer we've
"So what sort of contract is it?" I ask him, once he's back in his
"Standard contract as before, only I've got the bastards LOCKED INTO IT
for 20 years!" he cries gleefully. "IT'S AIRTIGHT! I had their lawyer
"And OUR lawyer?" I ask, expecting the inevitable.
"Overrated!" he replies. "Could have done it with my eyes
Looking over the contract, I see he probably did.
"Mmm. One small question," I say, teeing up for a long drive down
the fairway of hopelessness.
"You do realise that WE are also locked into this deal for 20
"Well, bearing that in mind, could you point me to any - ANY piece of
equipment we've had for more than five years, let alone 20?"
A penny starts the long drop.
"Uh...Ummmm...well...nothing?!?" he squeaks as his penny investment
"Not quite true," I say. "We do have the large IBM card
punching machine in the computer room. And do you know why we have it?"
"To punch cards?"
"Not when we don't have the corresponding reader..."
"Air conditioner ballast!" he blurts, just guessing.
"No. True, switching it off would relieve the necessity for a couple of
the larger aircons, but no. The reason we have it is because it was put in when
the building was first commissioned. It's not even ours. It's worth about 200
quid as scrap, only we can't collect BECAUSE IT'S TOO BIG TO GET OUT THE BLOODY
"I don't get the point," the boss confesses.
I check the document to make sure.
"Well, you have signed, a BINDING, AIRTIGHT contract which says that we
will pay them 2,000 quid a month, every month, for the next 20 years, to look
after a minicomputer that in about five years' time won't even put up a good
show against a pocket calculator. And you didn't ask to see their licence
"THEIR BLOODY LICENCE TO PRINT MONEY! YOU'VE GIVEN THEM EVERYTHING! THE
ONLY THING YOU MISSED OUT WAS AN ACCIDENT INDEMNITY CLAUSE!" I shout in a
An ice cold thought hits me. "You didn't give them complete indemnity
against damage, did you?"
"What do you mean?" our skilled arbitration professional asks.
"Complete indemnity against damage. You know, they trip on a floor tile
and drop their screwdriver down a ventilation hole and short the power supply to
the backplane and blow a machine to bits. Their responsibility ends with
"Uhhhhmmmmm... No. No, in fact I'm sure I didn't because once an
engineer snapped the lead in my propelling pencil and we made him pay!"
"Yes, well at 2,000 quid a month, I'm sure the cost of a pencil lead
will have them insuring themselves to the hilt."
Two weeks later the engineer from Rob-us-Blind-for-20-years arrives.
To make us feel like he's earning his dosh he unscrews the cover, gives the
diagnostic lights a look, writes down a couple of numbers, then smiling smugly,
puts the cover back on.
In fact he's so smug he doesn't even notice the PFY snaffling one of his
screwdrivers and wandering off.
Nor does he notice the floor tile which is sitting a little higher than the
others. Until he trips on it, tool-kit bursting on impact (as planned) followed
by an extremely loud 'BANG' as our priceless, museum piece, very first company
card punch machine explodes with his screwdriver between the power supply and
the wiring loom.
Being an old machine it catches fire as well. Or that could be the
petrol-soaked rag the PFY and I stuffed it with beforehand.
The boss and one of our lawyers gaze soundlessly from behind the viewing
screen, the lawyer contemplating damages, the boss contemplating the humungous
favour he'll owe me at contract renegotiation time...
"Hello. Is that Network Support?" the user asks over hands-free.
I remove our topological LAN Viewing equipment (VR Glasses) and disconnect
from our powerful network analysis server (VR Tank-Combat Games Machine) and
direct my attention to the caller.
Caller-Id indicates a user at beancounter central is on the line.
"Yes, this is network support," I reply.
"Oh. I have a problem with FTP-ing from an Internet ftp server in
Brussels. It keeps dropping my connection just after I've downloaded a
The PFY looks over to me with a cheesy grin and scribbles out a hasty
message: "TODAY'S LIMIT 1024K" and points at his packet filter
He's getting good.
"Ah yes," I say, flicking over the page on my excuse calendar,
"We're getting a lot of this at the moment. We believe it's due
to...Network Destabilisation from Low Voltage Fluorescent Lamp Spikes."
"Well, when a fluorescent lamp starts, it sends a spike back down the
power cable which in turn induces an interference current in network cabling
nearby. In low voltage circuits this effect is magnified."
>DUMMY MODE ON<
[From the bastard Glossary:
DUMMY MODE, n. The mode in which a user, overcome by technical terms, will
believe, and/or do, anything he or she is told.]
"DUH-HUH. So what do I do?"
[Told you so.]
"Well, today nothing, as there's obviously something generating spikes.
How big was the file you wanted?"
"About 1.6 Megs"
I scribble: "TOMORROW'S LIMIT 1.59 MEGS" and pass it to the PFY.
"Well," I respond, "are there any low-voltage fluorescent
tubes on your floor?"
"I don't know."
"Well, they'll be smallish, bar-like lights - usually inside signs or
"THE FIRE EXIT SIGNS!!" my caller shouts from the end of the garden
path he's been led down.
"Of course!" I cry, sharing his enthusiasm. "They're right
above doorways, which is where our cable is fed. Well, there's probably nothing
you can do about it now, as we can't refeed our network cabling, I'm
"What about if we moved the exit signs?"
"Oh, I'm afraid WE couldn't do that, even if we had the time."
"No, we simply do not have the time to remove the cable duct covers,
slide the exit signs along the duct for a couple of yards to get them away from
the data cables, then replace the covers in the newly vacated space for every
exit sign on your floor."
"Oh" he replies, mind ticking over almost audibly. "Never mind
then. I'll just try bringing the file across in pieces then."
I hang up then cross out the 1024K on the PFY's bit of paper and put 50K in
its place, nodding to him to action it.
"He won't do it you know..." the PFY says, so little faith in one
"10 Quid?" I ask.
"You're on," he says, thinking naive "easy money"
The next morning comes and I stash a crisp new 10 pound note in my wallet
with a smug grin. The PFY notes with disgust the repositioning of the Exit signs
halfway along the walls, well clear of the "network cabling" in the
"Never underestimate the desperation of a user," I mention,
furthering his education once more.
To take his mind off it, I get him to install the new 'Infra Red Wireless LAN
Transceivers' (infra-red cameras), in the floors mentioned and drop some cable
boxes around the place so it looks like we're going to do something.
Later that afternoon, Network Control is crammed to capacity with a dozen or
so fellow network engineers from other companies.
"You all know the rules" I state, "20 quid a player, except
for the PFY and I, who, as host, get first pick of a free player"
Nods all round as the PFY takes the bets and we switch on the gaming screens.
Once the choosing of players is complete, we're ready to go.
"Let the game commence!" I shout, flicking the switch to cut the
lights to Beancounter central and its stairwells. I then activate the fire
"The person whose player is the first to the safety of a stairwell,
takes the pool!"
Through the infrared monitor we watch the pandemonium break out, as in the
darkness, everyone runs for apparent safety.
The toll of the newly shifted exit signs is fairly high and will probably
leave an impression on the wall that only a thick coat of plaster will put
Next on the obstacle list (for the smarter contestants) are the boxes of
cable the PFY left randomly in the cubicle "corridors" earlier on.
"It's like a multi-ball game of pinball down there!" the PFY cries
watching in disbelief.
Ten minutes later I'm counting my winnings - of course I did back the mover
of the signs in the first place....
And they say there's no money in networking any more.
It's a balmy day at Network Central when I roll along to a meeting with the
bean counter types about the expense claims that I've put in over the last two
It seems the brand, spanking new, state-of-the-art, bells-and-whistles
character recognition software (to recognise expenses claims and whack them
straight into a spreadsheet to perform mystical analyses of who's spending all
the expenses money) has a slight hiccup when it comes to my claims and receipts.
Perhaps, and I'm only guessing here, it's because I don't WANT anyone
recognising what the hell my expenses really are.
If I wanted the boss to read 'beer and spirits' on my meal allowance form, I
could have printed, in bold capitals, 'BEER AND SPIRITS', and not scrawled 'Breek
and Sprorts' in a dyslexic manner.
It's a network contractor's prerogative to fork out their own money for a
couple of packets of salt and vinegar crisps, then clock up a humungous bar-tab
and get it paid for by the firm! In fact, it's a God-given right!
I mentally prepare for the interview with a couple of glasses of lager and a
plate of chips at the local. Ten minutes later I'm in legume-reckoning central,
talking to one of its many representatives.
"OK, meal allowances...what on earth does that say?" the
beancounter challenges. "Breek and sprorts. What the hell's breek and
"Let me see..." I answer, feigning contemplation. "Oh! That's
beef! I must have had the steak!"
"Sprorts. Hmm...brussels sprouts!"
"You ate ™150 worth of beef and brussels sprouts??"
"I might have. They were out of season.. Quite yummy if you serve them
right. Expensive out of season too. And it was a rather large steak..."
Half an hour of creative food visualisation later...
"What's this one?" asks the accountant. "Breek and escrot?"
"Well, the first one's obviously beef again and the second one...hmmmmm...
almost looks like ESCORT doesn't it?! HA HA HA! Imagine that - work paying for
an escort! No, I don't know what it could be - some form of delicacy that they
serve at the Amsterdam Convention Centre?
I saw it coming of course. That new handwriting analysis software could have
taken my 'breek and sprorts', my 'ligord and amno' and come up with 'beer and
spirits', 'liquor and ammo', spill the beans on where I bought them, how much it
was a shot, and what her name was!
I don't think I need to tell you that this is a bad thing.
Luckily I am a firm believer in the ideal that as technology advances, people
should regress as a form of self-defence. So I started varying my choice of
writing implement and size, filling my forms out half in crayon, half in finger
paint (all perfectly acceptable under the current expense claim directives which
dictate that claims must be filled out in the claimant's handwriting).
Perhaps it's the writing in letters that varies between 16 point and 1600
point that's throwing the software off...
I'm drawn back to consciousness by the arrival of a new bean counter to
replace my one, who by this time has worn out...
"Simon, just a couple more hiccups," my new bean counter starts.
"Mmmm?" I respond, only wanting to help.
"This one. It's a vertical line, in crayon I think?"
"Yes. That would be correct. I believe that was the first line of the V
in the word veal."
"Had a hand cramp, couldn't write any smaller. I could hardly hold the
crayon in fact. And I didn't want to forget. Surely I'm not going to be
penalised for a personal disability?" The words 'personal disability' have
him almost wetting his pants with fear. The new huggy-feely fringe in upper
management is so politically sound they echo, and even a sniff of insensitivity
would be treated with lightening quick dismissal.
"Ah. OK. But 100 quid worth of veal?" he asks nervously.
"There was a side-salad too. Had grapes in it."
"I see. And this? It looks like a paint slur?"
"Finger paint." I reply. "Steak Sandwich. Extremely rare. See,
you can see where the tail of the Y was."
"It's a smudge!"
"No, it really says that. I had to squish it up to fit it on the form
due to the resolution of my finger."
"Why didn't you use a pen?"
"What? And risk RSI?"
Ten minutes later, another broken beancounter can be added to the tally as he
gives in completely and adds up the totals.
"Oh!" I say, suddenly remembering "I've got one more."
"What's that?" he asks. "Breek and clops from today?"
"That would be...beef and chops."
"You had two meat dishes."
"Of course, got to keep my protein up!"
It's a dog's life really...
It's training time and today I'm showing the PFY through the computer room
when the phone rings. What the hey, no-one's around, so I pick it up.
"Is that the Computer Room?"
"Is that the Systems Operator?"
I look around quickly - apart from the PFY there's no witnesses.
"I think you've got a dead hard disk on the database server."
"Really? What makes you think that?"
"Well, my database updates are very slow."
"I'm capitalising the middle initial of all staff and contractors since
"How ... useful. And you expect that to rocket through in a couple of
seconds do you?"
"So it's not a disk problem?"
"No, we'd know ahead of time if our disks were faulty - they have
"Yes, and I predict that they will fail in three seconds"
"Because I'm going to switch the power off."
I hear a flurry of keystrokes, but it's far too late to have any effect ...
Some wire jiggling and a loud click later and an impromptu transaction
rollback is scheduled for disk restart time. The PFY, taking his education
seriously, notes everything.
"No witnesses," I mention as we move on to the next piece of kit,
just in time to catch sight of the boss bounding past the observation window on
his way in. Another >CLICK< and the evidence disappears.
"What happened?" the boss blurts, rushing up.
"When?" I ask, innocent and confused.
"Just then - my database session has hung!"
The PFY and I play dumb while the boss examines the system console screen for
signs of bastardisation. None are evident, so after a few seconds he wanders
off. When I'm sure he's not coming back I plug the console cable back in and
watch the disk repair messages roll by.
The Computer Room phone rings again and the PFY reaches for it. I shake my
head, mouthing the word "Set-up". The boss is so predictable he
belongs in the drive cabinet. I pick up the phone.
"Help, my spreadsheet's gone funny!" the user cries.
"In what way?" I ask
"Well, the bit where it gets the info from the database has just
"Hmm. This sounds like you have an pre-revision embedded SQL
>DUMMY MODE ON<
"Okay, go back to your spreadsheet. There's an option in the menu
somewhere to Examine Sql."
"Uuuuum... Oh, yes, there it is!"
"Okay, click on it. A window pops up saying something like SELECT
something FROM something else WHERE some other stuff."
"Yeah, it does."
"Cut out everything except the stuff between the FROM and the
"Okay, it's just HR_IDX, a comma, HR_SAL_SCALE a comma and HR_NAME."
"Right, those are the erroneous SQLs that you want to get rid of. So
before each word type 'DROP', then add a semi-colon instead of the comma. One
drop command per line. Then check the 'auto-commit' box. Lastly, use your boss's
username and password so that it fixes the bad SQL."
"But I don't know his passw ..."
"Yes, you do. It's his wife's name isn't it?"
"Her middle name. But he said not to use it because it's got rights to
"To repair SQL like you need to..."
"Oh... >clickety-click< ... That's funny. My spreadsheet has gone
"That's right, because the repairs are taking place. Now when your boss
gets him, tell him about the 'repairs' that you made."
"That's okay. It's my pleasure. Really."
I haven't even lifted my hand from the receiver when it rings again.
"Computer Room ..." I sigh.
"Hi, we're having a problem with the Human Resource Database. It's
almost as if half the tables have disappeared!"
"Yes," I mutter, "We've been doing a lot of work on that
"Oh. Well, is it working now?"
"Of course it is. And you'll be able to use it shortly ..."
"... when you get access. And the access charge today is five
"You can't do that!"
"You're right. I can't - it's my lunchtime, perhaps my assistant can
I direct them to the PFY and head up to the staff cafeteria to check out
today's contractor perk.
"Ten quid," I hear the PFY chant.
"Each. Per minute."
Fifteen minutes later he joins me in the cafeteria to outline the band of
blood-seeking users lurking outside the computer room in wait for the return of
the systems operators.
You can't pay for satisfaction like that. Unless you're a user of course.
"Well I feel it would be good for intra-departmental understanding if we
were all to work in other positions for a while", the boss says, defending
his master plan of having 'job share' once every six months "The CEO was
very impressed with my initiative!"
"But surely you must realise that we'll be leaving network operations
completely open with no staff?"
"Which is why I've put you in the helpdesk area" the boss replies
smugly. "You'll be the first to know of any problems that arise..."
All my arguments are defeated by the boss in double-quick time, which means
that a day in the helldesk is inevitable.
The PFY, bless him, smells a rat.
"So what's going on?", he asks suspiciously. "The boss
couldn't answer an operational question if he'd been up all night studying, yet
today he had solutions for everything! And you didn't even put up a fight. It's
almost as if you wanted to work on the helldesk! What's up!?!?"
Sadly it is neccessary to let someone else in on my master plan, if only to
prove that I am still in possession of a full quota of marbles.
"Cast your eyes around the department", I say. "Look at the
equipment therein! Where does the newest of that equipment reside?"
"Well, the helpdesk - they need the latest and best to test out all the
caller's software on their own machines. What's your point?"
"How much RAM has your PC got?" I ask
"WINDOW DRESSING!", I cry "Why, every single helpdesk machine
has at least 32, and a couple have 64!"
"YOU'RE GOING TO STEAL THEIR HARDWARE!", the PFY cries, shocked.
"Errrmmm ... we're going halves in it though, aren't we?"
"Ja, mein Freund!" I cry, stuffing my 'lunchbox' with tools.
The next day I turn up before start time(!) to assume my new post. The phone
rings at 5 minutes to opening, and I'm in such a good mood I answer it.
"Hello, is this the helpdesk?" a nervous voice asks.
"It most certainly is", I gush, all enthusiasm.
"I'm running short of space on the display machine and someone said that
I should 'compact' all the unused stuff with a compaction program on the system?
Which one would that be?"
"You're on a Macintosh, right?" I ask.
"Yes, the department graphics server" he answers.
"Right. Well, you'll want to use the default compactor that's stored on
the desktop. 'Trash', I believe it's called".
"Isn't that how you remove files?"
"No, that's what the ERASE key does. And you don't have one on your
computer, so you're completely safe. You just drag the file into the Trash
'folder', and then select 'Empty Trash' to invoke the file into the
"Yes, it's very efficient too, you'd be surprised how much you can fit
on your hard disk if you run it through the compactor."
I leave the poor pleb 'compacting' his entire department's work and get back
to removing all the coprocessors and extraneous memory from the machines after
replacing their ROM diags to report the missing hardware as present. Child's
play, really. To delay discovery I switch virtual memory on wherever possible.
The PFY, meantime, is busy erasing our numbers from the helpdesk phonelists
and shorting the batteries to their phone memories, to the inevitable but
somehow satisfying detriment of all those saved numbers.
The phone rings and as the PFY's machine still has its internals hanging out,
"Hello, Helpdesk?" the caller asks.
"Yes, what can we do for you?", I ask, still pleased with the
rapidly growing pile of saleable hardware in my 'lunchbox'.
"I upgraded my software and now my CD-ROM won't play music discs any
more" the user bleats.
"Well, it's probably just some dust deposited on the CD-ROM lens" I
respond, knowing full well that this is a bug documented on the first page of
the manual. But who reads manuals?
"So what do I do?"
"Well, have you got a vendor-supplied, drive-specific, CD-ROM cleaning
caddy?", I ask.
"Uh ... no", my user replies
>DUMMY MODE ON<
"OK, not to worry, you can improvise with a lightly abrasive disk."
"Great!" the user gushes "How?"
"Well, pop down to the Buildings Maintenance desk tomorrow and borrow a
80-grit orbital sanding disk from them. Slip it in your drive and let it
"How will I know when it's complete?"
"Well, you'll hear it spinning, then gradually slow down until it stops.
When it's stopped your drive is done."
"Hey, thanks", my user gushes, then rings off.
They PFY and I are almost sad to leave at the end of the day - the helldesk
has plenty of potential. I allow a faint smile cross my face while I push a
matchstick into the keyway as the helpdesk door locks shut. Late start for them
tomorrow, then ...
The PFY and I are in celebratory mode. The bosses have finally seen reason and
agreed to become a Corporate Internet Service Provider in the cities that we
have offices in, as an attempt to defray operating expenses.
A long-term attempt of course. In the short term however, it will mean long
hours of overtime in foreign cities for the PFY and I as we struggle to make our
It was a done deal from the time the CEO saw the interesting video
conferencing tools available on the Internet. The bit about recovering our
Internet operating expenses passed him by as he finally saw his very own project
achieve fruition after its many stops and starts over the past year. His eyes
watered as he thought of his image addressing all our offices simultaneously. I
didn't think it politically sound to inform him of the MUTE control that
accompanied almost every conferencing client ...
Once I had his signature, I set the wheels in motion immediately by
cancelling the contract with our current ISP. A company that still didn't know
which side of the information superhighway you were supposed to drive on, and
thought that World Wide Web had something to do with driftnets and dolphins. Not
that it didn't charge completely through the nasal cavity for its knowledge.
When we got stung with a consultancy fee for ringing to say its router was down
AGAIN, we knew the end was nigh.
The PFY puts a brave face on it as he heads off to one of our Scottish
offices for a week, forced to stay in a luxury hotel as the company's courtesy
apartment had apparently been leased to a Mr Babbage - the same person who
hadn't shown up to the Welsh courtesy apartment last week. I too, was forced to
stay at a hotel - not that I had much time to see my room with all the work I
had to do. The hours of which incidentally coincided with the hours that the
house bar opened.
Pure coincidence, as I explained to the boss, two days later when he queried
me about the astronomical bar-tab. In fact, I could quite honestly say that I
had ABSOLUTELY no recollection of ever being there.
Anyway, to placate the boss about all the spending that's been going on, I
show him the extra-special bonus advantage we obtained when a company across the
road (and only a short trip down some municipal piping away) asked to connect to
us. We were only too pleased to connect them to our LAN.
The boss notes carefully the heavy three-phase power cable going into their
tiny router, and the four thick-wire-like segments and one UTP segment that
emerged. Back at our offices he noticed even more carefully the termination of
the 'thick-wire' segments on the input of one of our UPS units. Even he can see
that three 2.4KW supplies is an investment in the power bill of the future. That
the company is also paying us for the service has him almost smiling. A
He is, however, not the only one to notice. "This Internet thing uses a
ton of power," our client's network expert ('ex' being a has-been, 'spurt'
being a little drip under pressure) complains. "Our comms room power bill
has rocketed skywards!"
"Well it would," I reply. "I mean, after all, you have to push
that data all around the world, not just to the next office. Just imagine what
your power bill would be like if you weren't connected through us!"
"Oh!" he mumbles. "I hadn't thought of it that way."
"No, and consider the traffic speed difference. What speed do you get
from home provider?"
"Oh," he mumbles. "14.4 or 28.8. Much slower than work.
Although work does pause from time to time."
"Well we could speed you up of course," I say. "But then that
would involve another set of cables and more power consumption. Then if you
wanted, we could run a redundant server over in our offices as well, on our UPS,
but you'd have to pay for the power bills for that too."
"Well, the bosses do want redundancy once we start putting up our own
I hate me, I really do. It's just like shooting a fish in a barrel. With an
To celebrate my recent successes, I ring through to our other Scottish office
to sort out my arrangements for next week's installation.
"Hello? I'd like to reserve the courtesy apartment please...Babbage.
London Office. I've already booked? Excellent."
That PFY is damn good.
It's trade show time again, and this time it's off to the east coast of the US
for a week of seeing what's new in the land of wire wiggling. Of course, I read
clippings from the computer press from time to time but it's far better to see
an ATM switch in the flesh than on the page.
Actually, it's even more essential to see the inside of a posh hotel bar than
to see an ATM switch in the flesh; one must get one's priorities right, and hey,
if I wanted to look at flashing lights I could do it in my own air-con comms
room instead of a sweaty exhibition hall.
Life is sweet as we cruise over the Atlantic. The canapes are splendid,
though the smoked salmon has perhaps been a little over-chilled. We're talking
first class, naturally - my turn-left-at-economy-and-it's-by-the-bog seat was
mysteriously exchanged for that of a Mrs E. Windsor ... well, it's a pretentious
name anyway. I think there must be someone important down the back also, as
there are lots of men in dark suits arguing with stewardesses over seats and
reservations and stuff; I must complain to the airline about the lousy
soundproofing on the first class section - it's very noisy.
"Excuse me, what processor does that have?"
My five-star-brandy-induced trance of peaceful smugness is broken.
"What processor does your laptop run? Mine's a 133 meg Pentium."
Great. Even worse than the nutter on the bus, I get the computer bore on the
plane. At least on the number 2 Routemaster you can push them off the open
platform on the Edgeware Road.
"It's a 437 meg SPARC Ultra." Only a slight exaggeration - I like
to start gently.
"Really? I didn't know Windows ran on a SPARC."
"So what are you running?"
"Hey, wow! You must be a serious user."
"Yeah. Something like that." Which makes you a serious luser.
"You running Windows 95?"
"Hey, wow. You must be a serious sad bastard."
He smiles uncertainly, trying to convince himself that I'm jesting. Time to
sort that misapprehension out for him.
"Did you know that you can speed up that model with a simple hardware
"Hey, no! Really? How do you do it?"
"Well, I shouldn't really say, as there's a slight risk involved - it
will invalidate your warranty."
"That's OK, I'm happy to try it as long as it's pretty certain to work.
What do you do?"
"Right. Have you got a paper clip? Actually, any smallish bit of metal
wire will do."
"Yes, here you are. What do I do with it?"
"You're going to crank up the speed of the SCSI bus by increasing the
power a little. Turn the machine round so the back's facing you, and connect
that pin there in the SCSI connector to the earphone plug."
He fiddles about, and manages to lodge the paper-clip appropriately. No blue
"Okay, now what?"
"Now you have a machine that you can selectively make faster when you
need to. You don't want to just crank it up permanently as that'll eat battery
life, so it's best to just speed things up when you really need to."
"So how do I speed it up when I need to?"
"Just play a music disc on the CD. That will cause the voltage in the
earphone socket to go up, and so the bus will be energised. Don't play it too
loud, though, or you could damage something; something like Dark Side of the
Moon should be OK, but watch out for the alarm clocks."
"Hmmm...I don't have any audio CDs here. Can I use the microphone
"Sure - just set it to 'play through' mode and shout in the mike when
you need the speed. Careful not to shout too loud, though."
Fifteen minutes goes by, and I'm beginning to regret what I've done. My
friend has discovered that whistling into the mike is the easiest way to make a
loudish noise, and it would seem that his particular make of laptop is far more
resilient than those I've come across before. Fortunately, help is at hand in
the shape of a flustered gentleman who advances rather angrily.
"WILL YOU PACK THAT BLOODY WHISTLING IN!" he screams. At that
moment the paper clip does its worst.
Interestingly, Boeing's air conditioning is particulalry well-attuned to the
smell of smoke - a fire alarm goes off in the distance.
"I think that's a 1,000 quid fine," I smile sweetly as the
stewardesses move to break up the fight breaking out between my geeky companion
and the flustered gentleman. Soon, the parties involved are rapidly strapped to
their seats with a burly looking steward in attendance. Once again all is calm.
"Sorry for the disturbance, sir. Can I get you another brandy?"
I'm experimenting with some infra-red remote reboot hardware when the
pimply-faced-youth wanders in.
"Who's that?" he asks, pointing at some besuited individual in the
The face seems vaguely familiar, then the ball drops ...
"Something to do with personnel," I reply. "One of those huggy-feely
types into team-building and customer expectation, if I remember rightly."
"Our customers already know what to expect!"
"Yes. That could be the problem ..."
"The boss is being a bit brown-nosey," the PFY observes, as the
boss welcomes Mr Huggy.
"Yes, and judging by the crawl-factor, I'd say he's been got at from
Two hours later the PFY sprints in.
"There's something you should know," he says.
"What? You've not been eavesdropping on the boss have you?"
"No, just checking the connectivity of his spare UTP lines. True, the
test device has good aural response."
"All right, what is it?" I interrupt.
"They're setting up a divisional retreat!" he blurts.
"A Bloody what!?" I shout, losing composure for a second.
"A divisional retreat. It's not that bad really, is it?" he asks.
"You're joking aren't you? A weekend locked away in team-building hell
with people who think that a benchmark comes from not using a doily under your
"They have client representatives there to annoy you night and day with
lame questions like, 'How do you justify your fault resolution policy?'"
"How do we justify it?"
"We don't. Accidental equipment combustion is a proven and documented
"So what are we going to do?"
"Not go. Unless, of course, you look forward to 'Trust' exercises, where
you fall backwards into the arms of a group of people who have trouble catching
a cold without written instructions."
"Apparently, it's compulsory - or at least the contracting bonus is
dependent on attendance."
"The sneaky bastards!"
"So what do we do?" the PFY asks.
"First things first - when is it?"
"Three weeks from Saturday."
We put our heads together and formulate a battle plan so sneaky it would make
Rommel weep. The next day we're the first to inform the boss that we'd be
delighted to attend. He breaks open a new roll of antacid tablets.
The PFY handles the fax-interception, reducing the 45 single-room
accommodation bookings to 10, changes the food budget to alcohol and swaps the
light jazz-band evening entertainment to a popular Soho Cabaret act ...
I borrow Mr Huggy's credit card - carelessly locked in the visiting staff
office - rewrite the personal info track with "Stolen card - Detain",
then crank the rumour mill into action by leaving empty, alcohol-based cough
syrup bottles in his rubbish bin at nights. I then swap his laptop power adaptor
for a dud.
The next day, the offensive begins ...
"There seems to be something wrong with my adaptor," Mr Huggy says
in a surly manner. Apparently, being detained at a garage for an hour by a burly
mechanic until his credit card could be verified didn't improve his sense of
The PFY gets him a heavier duty replacement and a loud >CRACK!< later,
Mr Huggy walks back in, smelling of smoke.
"Oh dear!" I cry. "The PFY didn't give you a step-UP
transformer by accident, did he? I'll tell you what, we'll sort you out with the
emergency 386 until your machine is repaired. Four meg should be OK for Windows
95, shouldn't it?"
"Oh, the one with the new infra-red mouse you mean?" the PFY asks.
The next day, the boss gets involved after he receives the query from the
bean counters about Mr Huggy's proposed alcohol bill. The rubbish rumours have
filtered through by this stage and once he finds out about the cabaret team, the
boss calls the PFY and me into his office.
"Have you had anything to do with this?" he asks.
The PFY and I shake our heads.
"Personally," I add, "I've heard the rumours and I think
perhaps he's a little too unstable to be doing team management activities."
The seeds of doubt planted, I wait for the PFY to do a bit of fertilisation
and watering ...
"Is it just me, or is it hot in the office?" the PFY asks, right on
"Yes, I'm a little hot myself," I reply.
The boss leaps to his latest favourite toy, the air conditioning remote, and
adjusts the temperature for us, thus rebooting Mr Huggy's machine for about the
third time this morning. We all watch in silence as Mr Huggy pushes his
replacement machine off the desk in a fit of madness, then starts taking his
Ten minutes later, security has carted him away and retreat plans are in the
bin where they belong.
And they say that life isn't fair.
"I believe that's another 500 quid down the toilet and another two points
for me," the pimply-faced-youth gloats, adding another tick to the
lengthening line in his favour.
True, a competition to see who can destroy the most equipment in a week was a
little childish, but it's been slow recently and experimentation is good
on-the-job training. We play for the usual stakes, a pint at the pub across
"What was it?" I asked, effecting a slight interest.
"I told a user that his problem was power leakage in getting electricity
to the sixth floor. The excuse calendar gave me the idea and I worked back from
there. Told him the voltage was much lower when it got to his room, so he should
"Switch his PC to 115 Volts," I finish tiredly.
"Was there something wrong with that?" he asks.
"Not per se. But remember our job isn't really to destroy equipment or
frighten the daylights out of our users. That's an added bonus in our selflessly
devoted lives as technical support persons. Our job is to ensure the smooth
running of our networking subsystem."
"By eliminating users on it."
"Show me an Ethernet collision and I'll show you a network that could do
with one user fewer," I reply.
"But you're always going to have collisions!"
"And I'm always going to be devoted to network performance
"Whilst making a truckload of dosh on the side," the PFY chips in.
"Not necessarily. The truckload of dosh is also an incidental bonus. I
encourage 'daily bonuses' because a happy worker is a safe worker, and a safe
worker is a good worker."
"For instance, last week when I mailed the video tape of what occurred
in the lift at 11.17pm the previous Friday to one of the parties concerned. Upon
receipt of a large envelope of unmarked bills from that person, I, as a happy
worker, then configured a router in record time. If I'd had things on my mind
that displeased me, I may not have completed the job quite so well ..."
"So why did you play the tape on the lunch room share price monitor the
"Strictly for the good of the company. You saw how much people enjoyed
it. They were cheerful and happy, and therefore more productive later that
"And the three people concerned?"
"They, being not so cheery, resigned shortly thereafter, proving once
again that this is a workplace for happy and productive persons."
"Well, you're still miles behind," he gloats again, flashing the
"So what's the score then?"
He counts feverishly and comes back with "40 to nine - to me".
"So, I'm chasing a 26 point lead."
"No, 31!" he corrects.
"Ah, no, 26," I repeat, pushing the boss's laptop off the desk onto
the floor and jumping on it.
"That's hardly fair!" he cries.
"Life's not fair," I reply. "But the root password
All this does not disguise the fact that I'm waay behind, which concerns me.
In fact, there's only 32 minutes between me and having to say the words
"Lager shandy", which the PFY doesn't normally drink, but would, just
this once, to make me look bad in front of the bar staff and regulars.
With all this at stake, I crash a router and answer the next call.
"Hello?" the voice on the phone asks nervously.
"What seems to be the problem?" I ask.
"It's our machines, they've all hung."
"Yes, it'll be Power Leakage from Heat Displaced Breaker Elements."
>DUMMY MODE ON<
"Ah-huh ... What do I do?"
"Well, you'll have to call the service electrician to replace the
service circuit breaker for the power points along your side of the
"But we've got urgent work on!"
"Well, I shouldn't really tell you this ..." I whisper.
"What?" the user asks, hooked.
"Well, you can manually reset the displaced elements."
"How?" he gushes, envisaging fame, fortune and promotion
"Just go to the powerbox by the stairwell and flick the switch with the
same number as your floor box on and off about 20 times, as quick as you
The PFY looks on loathingly. Sure enough, 10 minutes later the full
ramifications of my advice have been revealed; I'm only 2 points behind ...
which is where I remain until 5pm when the PFY accompanies me to the tube
"Some people just haven't got it," he chirps smugly.
His good humour is unbearable, but luckily only lasts until our tube train
whistles in and I nudge his laptop bag onto the rails.
"Woopsy!", I say, as I reveal the real time and my part in the
clock tampering: "One minute too ... I guess that's a beer you owe me
"You BASTARD!" he says, as the sweet smell of victory fades.
"Chalk it up to the cost of education," I say. "And I hope
you'll enjoy that lager shandy ..."
I am shocked. Mortified ... In an out-of-the-blue attack from beancounter
central - a veritable leguminous dawn-raid - our espresso machine was written
off and disposed of overnight.
"I ... I ..." the PFY mutters in disorientation.
Having worked in computing for some time now, I know the importance of
back-ups, and bring out my emergency plunger and freeze-dried grounds.
"THAT'S below the belt," the pimply-faced-youth sniffs, as life
returns to normal. "I just can't believe they'd do it!"
"Why not?" I reply. "After all, we've been pretty much engaged
in an inter-departmental war here, despite what the boss says about us all
working towards a common good."
"But the espresso machine!" he cries. "That really hurts.
What're we going to do? We have to do something!! Nicad 'RAM' upgrades all
round? Another game of blackout fire alarm beancounter pinball?"
I shake my head.
"No, that's just what they'll be expecting. And no dropping out network
connections either - they'll be logging it all as an excuse for external service
"Well, what are we going to do?"
"For now, nothing."
"... but at a later date, we hit them where it really hurts."
Two weeks later the machine is still gone and the PFY is manifesting symptoms
of plunger RSI. It's time for action.
"Right. The accounts database!" I cry.
"We can't. I tried yesterday and they've changed the password!" The
Mentally assessing the originality of our beancounters, I try a series of
possibilities, hitting paydirt at 'PROFIT'. The database reveals a pristine
payments system so well designed that a child could understand it. Which means
it's aimed at its correct target audience.
I make a few minor retroactive changes and disconnect. The PFY kills time by
leaving an anonymous tip with the company auditors.
The next day dawns and the PFY and I are in bright and early to witness a
couple of stony-faced business professionals riding the escalators.
A double click of the escalator PLU control window later, and the escalator
performs an impromptu emergency stop, scattering auditors and paraphernalia in
all directions. The bleeding nose is sure to add to the impartiality of the
impending investigation. Yet another double-click three-seconds later ensures
this as recent events are replayed.
Fearing another bank of escalators, the auditors make their second mistake of
the day and head for the lifts. Sadly for them, my new lift-control joystick is
up and running and they're taken on a G-force adventure, of the sort normally
associated with a roller coaster.
The remains of a hearty breakfast down the front of one of the auditor's
jackets leaves absolutely no doubt as to the effectiveness of my latest gaming
addition. Their mood appears to the casual CCTV viewer as 'aggressive'.
An hour later, the PFY and I wander up to beancounter central to 'fix some
"That's the bastard!" a beancounter shouts, pointing me out to the
"I'm sorry?" I ask, innocently and humbly.
"Who tampered with the lifts and escalators!"
"I'm sorry?! No-one has touched the lifts or escalators since this
department froze the buildings maintenance budget six months ago!"
"We most certainly did not!" the head beancounter cries, emerging
from the relative safety of his office.
"Ahhh ... someone did," Auditor one mentions, looking up from the
payments database. "The money is now being paid to a ... Clinton Ash."
"C. ASH," I mutter quietly. "Hmmm. Oh, that Panamanian
Company! You were just over in Panama six weeks ago weren't you?" I ask the
"Did you post the cheque or deliver it personally?"
Head beancounter is not stupid (surprisingly) and recognises an extremely
dodgy situation when he's in it. He dares not discover what else I have up my
voluminous electronic sleeves ...
"Ah, Ash and Associates," he ad-libs hurriedly. "Service and
"Of course!" I gush. "And fitters of expresso machines too,
"...Yes," head beancounter agrees, realising the direction this
dialogue is heading.
"Isn't one of their subsidiary companies due to do an installation in
our Lunch Room today sometime?"
"...Yyyyess, I'd forgotten about that. I'll check on it this
"Why wait?" I ask, passing my cellphone over. "Call now. Hell,
they might have even forgotten about the whole thing."
That afternoon the PFY and I are relaxing over a strong brew, contemplating
the turn of good fortune that upgraded our old single head espresso machine to
the new triple head, auto-grind model.
"I still have a lot to learn," the PFY admits thoughtfully.
"Try to think of it not as learning," I say, "but just as
doing your job to the best of your ability..."
I'm trying to make a deal with Raoul, a local cabling contractor, about
supplying us with some Cat 5 cable, only he's playing hard to get because he
knows he's the only one who has any in stock ... which is all according to plan,
as I've mentioned the secret code, 'the boss wants', which instantly means I'll
go halves in any excess profit.
The boss has suspected something like this for some time but has never had
hard proof, despite his request that all telephone transactions be done on
'Hands Free' so he can listen in. Deciding to plan the cabling of a set of
refurbished offices single handedly was his second foolish move.
"Well, it's a bit of a tricky one," says my supplier down the
"You see, I have the cable you want - in fact, I have about twice what
you'll need - but it's already been purchased and is going to be delivered
today. Have you tried another supplier?"
Smooth as greased silk ...
"Yeah, but unfortunately they're all out of Cat 5 too," I reply.
"You're joking!" he gasps, convincingly.
"Yep, it's as if someone has ordered up the entire cable market in one
gulp - everyone's sold out for the next couple of days. Are you sure there's
nothing you can do?"
"No, not really - about all I've got left is a stack of that untested
stuff that we got dirt cheap. It looks like Cat 5, but it's got some foreign
military spec on it which doesn't equate to any known rating."
"We'll take it! Get it here by lunchtime!" the boss shouts.
"Hang on a minute there," I say, sneakily flipping on the voice
recorder. "Wouldn't it be better to find out what the spec is - it could be
field-phone cable for all we know."
"We haven't got time, I've committed to having the new offices up and
running in three days!" the boss cries, then dashes off to confirm the
attendance of our cabling contractors.
I switch the voice recorder off.
"So, what are we getting?" I ask.
"Not really sure. It was salvaged from a sunken Romanian container - I
only bought it for the copper value."
"And will it carry signal?"
"Well, maybe - unshielded, untwisted - I'd think twice about using it
for Christmas tree lights myself, but there you go."
"So why did you say it looked like Cat 5?" I ask.
"Well, the sheathing is similar, and it comes on a drum," he
"And all ours comes on easy-flow cartons?"
"I didn't say it looked exactly like Cat 5!"
"Excellent!" I chuckle. "Talk to you later."
Later that afternoon, I'm interrupted by the boss in an agitated mood.
"That bloody cable is crap!" he cries.
"Well, I did warn you not to purchase it," I mention, indicating
the voice-recording lamp on my phone. "Which reminds me, I must get that
The boss is now trapped; he has no cable, a deadline, and four or five
cabling contractors kicking around in the lobby at a reasonably hefty hourly
rate. And he's just paid good money for crap cable.
Being a benevolent sort, I decide to help the boss out. I call Raoul.
"Raoul, what would we be paying for some Cat 5 cable?" I ask.
"I've already told you that we don't have any c..."
"Sorry, let me re-phrase that, what would we be paying for someone
else's Cat 5 cable?"
The boss's eyes light up as a solution presents itself. Raoul mentions some
disgusting figure which the boss nods at rapidly.
"But our delivery van has been stolen," Raoul adds, according to
plan. "You could pick it up from here though."
"No can do," I reply, "my car's a two seater."
"TAKE MINE!" the boss cries, mental clock ticking.
Half an hour later, the pimply-faced-youth and I are loading cartons of cable
into the back of the boss's palace on wheels. I decide to drive back now that
the PFY has admitted he's actually only had two driving lessons.
Still, I'm sure all the dents (except for the ones left by the three parking
meters) will hammer out eventually.
I bid Raoul goodbye and ask him to cancel the mass of Cat 5 orders I placed
that caused the artificial shortage of the last two days.
Back at the office, the boss is so pleased he doesn't even mention the
remains of his radiator left by the PFY's parking meter interlude. He sends the
cabling contractors over.
"Right ...," I say, "... your cable's on the drum over
"That stuff?" one of them asks. "Isn't that Romanian
writing?" Ten minutes later Raoul is making me an offer on some excess Cat
5 that I just cannot refuse...
Things aren't well in boss-land. Sadly, the managers have found out about his
poorly planned foray into network design and installation. They are NOT pleased.
How they got wind of it is anybody's guess, but I did notice that the
pimply-faced-youth has completely finished the 'to do' list I left him last
night. His attention to detail is commendable.
Fitting substandard cable wouldn't have gone so badly for the boss but for
his choice of installation technique. Although it may have been adversely
affected by a friendly discussion with the PFY and myself over a couple of
Boss: "So I'm looking at multi-pair plug looms running along the bottom
of raised floor offices, and terminated at the three outlet points I've
allocated per room ..."
Me: "Plug looms? Not like the ones we used in the offices downstairs a
couple of years ago? One nudge and the connectors went open circuit."
Boss: "But then I thought that single runs of Cat 5 direct from the
comms cupboard would be a better option."
PFY: "Along the floor? So when someone spills their coffee it'll trickle
through onto the cable, shorting out th..."
Boss (quickly): "Did I say along the floor? I meant inside the wall
Me: "Where it will sag onto the electrical cabling causing major
Boss: "Not when it's cable tied at six inch intervals."
I'm sure you can imagine the rest - like shooting a fish in a barrel.
Still, the three useless wall outlets make interesting conversation pieces.
But I could even have forgiven the boss for that, had he not tried for a save by
installing some expensive wireless LAN equipment in the outer offices, in the
mistaken belief that infra-red was some form of short distance radio
transmission medium. (I have absolutely no idea where he got that idea from,
although the PFY's nose does look a little longer in recent days). From this,
the boss has discovered the negative career potential of installing networking
that only works when your office door is open ...
"We've really got a problem here," he chirps in a hunted manner as
he paces my office.
"What's that?" I ask helpfully.
"The bloody network, it's a shambles!"
"Well I don't mean to rub salt into your wounds, but you probably
should've let us do the planning. After all, that's what we're paid for."
"And what would you have done that was so different?" he demands
"Hmm..." the PFY cuts in, "I would have run some multi-pair
plug looms of real Cat 5 (and not some cheap imitation) under the raised floors,
and terminated them at the three outlet points that I'd have allocated per
"But that's what I proposed!" he blurts, realisation hitting him.
"Well actions do speak louder than words," I sigh. "Speaking
of which, I believe there's a legal one heading your way real soon."
"What am I going to do," he wails in a voice very reminiscent of a
user at disk defragmentation time.
"Well you could have the cabling replaced," I reply.
"Yes, you're right, I'll do that."
"Only its cable-tied every six inches inside a wall, and that means
they'll have to partially demolish it to ..."
"That's no good!"
"Well then there's only plan B left."
"What is it?"
"You pay a one-time subscription to 'Bastard-Net Inc' and agree to large
overtime bills. The problem will be gone by tomorrow and just a memory by next
"What's the subscription and where do I pay?" he blurts.
"Two hundred quid; the PFY and me."
Seeing the rock and hard place at close proximity once more, the boss reaches
for his wallet.
The next day, security are combing the building for the eight office doors
mysteriously stolen during the night. Strangely, the CCTV noted nothing but a
rerun of The Beverley Hillbillies.
Network stability in the new offices is at an all-time high, except for when
the head of PR (a heavily built gentleman who looks like he was poured into his
clothes and forgot to say when) passes by. His popularity around those offices
appears to be waning fast.
One week later, the sub-floor recable is completed and the PFY and I present
our overtime sheets for approval.
"Hang on," the boss shouts. "168 hours? That's 24 hours a day
for seven days!"
"We did work extremely hard," the PFY chips in.
"You can't seriously expect me to sign this," the boss says, ever
so slightly annoyed.
"Of course not," I reply. "We'll just put the network back the
way it was then. Oh, and I wonder ..."
"Wonder what?!" the boss snarls.
"Whose fingerprints were on that pile of stolen doors that security
"Tomorrow morning ..."
One autograph later, the PFY and I take the rest of the day off to recuperate
from our stressful overtime.
I'm fine tuning the satellite WAN antenna and encryption system when my e-mail
client signals a message. I turn from the calibration screen (and US Military
movie channel that it has unfortunately become irrevocably locked on to), and
check the message.
To receive a message is strange as my normal e-mail address simply discards
messages once it's forwarded the sender's e-mail address on to several bulk
e-mail marketing lists.
Examining the message, I find it appears to have come from inside the
company. Strange, as my e-mail address is known to no-one but the
pimply-faced-youth. I know it's not from the PFY as he's organising the
distribution of the recently delivered phone directories.
Curiouser and curiouser ...
Further examination reveals that the e-mail has in fact come from the new
helpdesk (alias helldesk) software which has trolled the password file of the
mail server to build its recipient list. The message itself is anathema to me -
a helldesk request.
I hate helldesk software, always have. The thought of some piece of software
not accepting the resolution date of 'When I get around to it, if I get around
to it' annoys me intensely. Intensely.
So intensely, I log in to the helldesk server.
Twenty minutes later, one of its users calls me.
"Hi, it's the helpdesk here. We were wondering if you knew what's up
with our server?"
"No idea," I reply. "Why?"
"Well it's got very slow on updating entries."
"Really? Perhaps it's just poorly designed software with limited scalability,"
I reply, whipping a couple of convenient buzzwords out of the bag.
"Check to see if it changes over time - it could just be running some
internal journaling procedure."
"Oh, of course! Okay, thanks."
She rings off and I crank up the disk-exerciser software from 80 per cent
activity to 95 per cent and wind the seek distance from 'Minimal' to
Luckily, I have a patched version of the exerciser which doesn't enforce the
standard 15-minute time limit on destructive testing. Well - lucky for some, in
"Five quid says it won't last the night," I call to the PFY.
"No deal," the PFY replies, after checking out my 'testing'
parameters, remembering all too well the extremely high failure rate of the
disks we 'tested' for the beancounters prior to installation. Eighty-seven per
cent within the first month if I remember correctly. And the real tragedy was
that they installed an incompatible version of their desktop back-up software
Still, a lot of them probably needed the late night typing practice.
Sure enough, the next day there's a very unfortunate head crash on the
helldesk server, and everything grinds to a halt. The boss takes a personal
interest in the events, but can find no evidence of foul play. I notice that he
is personally looking after the helldesk software tape and not trusting the tape
I give the PFY the boss's new Yellow Pages to deliver. We share a knowing
The helldesk server is reinstalled and configured and its entries are
re-keyed. A repeat of yesterday's e-mail message arrives in my e-mail queue,
just as I notice one of my cron jobs on the server getting stuck in an infinite
loop and setting the clock back by five minutes. Every five minutes. But I'm
sure the helldesk resolution alarms won't be affected ...
Dedicated to the cause, I call in on the boss.
"I thought I'd just take the helpdesk software tape to the tape
library," I offer helpfully.
He hands it over and I accidentally drop it on the floor. In my enthusiasm to
pick it up it gets crushed by a chair leg. Four times.
I look up to see the boss's smiling visage. In his hand is a tape indelibly
marked 'Helpdesk Software Backup'.
"Wasn't born yesterday," he smirks, placing the tape down on the
only cleanish area of his desk - on top of a recently delivered Yellow Pages.
A brief 'hmm' later, I exit the office.
Getting back to my office, I refire up the disk exerciser at 97 per cent and
The next day, horror of horrors, the helldesk server encounters another head
crash. I go straight to the boss's office.
"I just thought I'd take the helpdesk software tape to the technicians
so that they can reinstall it," I say.
The boss smiles and shakes his head sadly.
"Oh," I respond. "Well, in that case, I'll just get back to
work. You haven't seen the portable bulk eraser have you? I'm concerned because
it's really sensitive to shocks and things. That's why I made it a protective
case out of one of our left over Yellow Pages ..."
The boss's face takes on a slightly pasty look as he glances at the phone
book on his desk.
"Ah ... that must be it," I say, and wander out of his office,
having found my missing hardware.
Play with fire, get burnt ...
It's a calm afternoon in the office when my personal phone rings. I answer it,
listen, then hang up.
"Stress Relief Session," I tell the PFY and we break to the local
I notice that my caller's in place, so I have the PFY get the drinks in.
"Afternoon George," I open, as the PFY and I join him.
"Afternoon," George replies, with a distinctly furtive look.
"You haven't met my assistant have you?" I continue. "PFY,
George; George, PFY."
The PFY is giving me a reassuring look that's usually reserved for the
mentally unstable (which he'll pay for later if the slamming of his top drawer
has anything to do with it).
"George is one of our janitors," I mention, waiting for the gears
to turn in the PFY's head.
As his expression remains unchanged I realise I am going to have to remove
the spanner from his mental works and kick-start his thought processes.
"George empties the bins of the rich and powerful..." I hint.
The flame of enlightenment splutters in the PFY's eyes as he realises an
excellent source of potentially damaging information.
"Hello," he says, holding out his hand.
George doesn't move. I sigh.
"That's not the way you greet George," I explain. "THIS is the
way you greet George."
We shake hands and George slips a crisp new 20 quid note into his pocket.
"The videoconferencing project is back," George mentions quietly.
"EXCELLENT!" I cry. "Should be good for a lot of new
"Not if the carbon of a certain hand-typed order is to be
believed..." George mumbles.
"HANDSHAKING PRACTICE!" I say to the PFY.
He ferrets around in his pockets then shakes George's hand. Another 20 quid
note disappears and a piece of litter flutters to the floor. Being a tidy type
of person, I pocket the litter to dispose of later.
"Well, can't hang round all day I suppose," I quip. "Work to
Scant minutes later the PFY and I are poring over an invoice carbon with a
lot of zeros in the bottom right hand corner. A lot. An invoice that would've
rung a lot of bells on the 'network monitor' had it been processed in an
"Smell that?" I ask the PFY.
"A rat." I reply. "A big rat, with a flat tail from being
stomped on in the recent past."
The PFY looks out to the Boss's doorway.
"A rat with a penchant for mismatched clothing?" he surmises.
Further examination of the form identifies the kit being ordered as the
latest version of the kit destroyed some months back in an incident which cost
my boss's predecessor his job, sadly.
His successor obviously believes (correctly, as it happens) that the person
who installs this equipment will have a life-long pal in the CEO.
Losing no time, I phone the supplier in a boss-like voice and ask to change
the delivery address. As I ring off, I recall that the words 'as discussed' were
on the top of the order.
I dive to the telephone exchange console and swap the boss's line with mine.
And not a moment too soon. The supplier's voice again assails my ears.
"YES!" I growl, boss-mode on.
"Hello, I was just ringing to verify a change of delivery addre..."
"WHAT?! I JUST BLOODY RANG YOU!!"
"Yes, but you expressly said..."
"Yes, yes, you're right," I admit. "I'm just anxious to get
this kit up and running."
"Well how about we send you our demo model, for a couple of days' head
start," he offers graciously.
A day later the PFY and I take delivery of some state-of-the-art
videoconferencing equipment then cruise the Internet to find the software we
require. While we're at it, we download some useful images.
A day after that we observe the boss via the CCTV as he sneaks his 'newly
delivered' equipment to an office near the CEO's.
Within a week the CEO performs his first live company-wide broadcast, timed
to reach all our overseas offices at once.
The PFY and I discuss it afterwards.
"I feel that the impact of the address was perhaps heightened by the
transposing of the CEO's head onto that naked, gyrating, female body," the
"True," I agree modestly. "However, your morphing of the CEO's
head into that of a large pork-producing animal was truly a work of art."
The boss will not be drawn into conversation. Probably because he's so busy
packing his desk before security can arrive to 'assist' him down the stairwell.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - it's a funny old game.
"Hello. Have I got through to the network guys?" the user simpers.
"You sure have. How can I help?" I gush, doing my best for PR.
"All the files on my network disk are gone!"
"Yes. Gone. I had some back-ups of some work stuff on the network
"What was your user name?" I ask.
He tells me, pointlessly, because our caller-id now lists name, room, user
name and position in the organisational hierarchy.
In this case: name: Ronald Williams; room: 2.23; user name: prsrw; and
"Oh yes," I reply, "and your work revolves around executing
the various versions of Leisure Suit Larry, Doom, and miscellaneous other games
then, does it?"
There's a quick gasp of horror down the line as he realises his fatal mistake
of being caught.
"They were there as an evaluation of ..."
"Don't," I sigh. "It's unlikely you could come up with even a
mildly convincing excuse that would prevent you being prosecuted for software
"Unless, of course, you have the original disks, which would seem
unlikely as the files were multi-part archive ..."
"Hang on, how do you know? They were encrypted!"
"With your initials as the key. Honestly, if you're not even going to
"I can't believe you'd do ..."
"Did it. Done it before. And will do it again. Bye now," I sigh,
easing the receiver back down onto the cradle.
The PFY looks confused.
"It's not like you to give a toss about piracy," he says.
"I don't. I just want some space to upload my games on to, and I can't
be bothered cheating the boss out of another disk."
The phone rings. I gaze over at the caller ID. It's 'cannon-fodder' again.
The PFY answers it.
"All the files on my hard disk have also gone!" he bleats
"Just being thorough," I whisper, leaving the PFY to adlib.
"Yes, that's right," the PFY replies. "That'll be the
>flip< >flip< He takes a quick look for the Excuse Of The Day.
"... Dynamic Transient Magnetic Re-allocation Policy of your hard disk.
You should back up your hard disk regularly."
"But I do!" the caller blurts. "It's all backed up, even my
files on the server! Can you restore them for me please?"
"Hang on," the PFY replies. "I'll just put you through to
Systems Operations to sort the problem out. Extension 8002, in case you get cut
He diverts him and hangs up.
"Two minutes, two calls," the PFY says, placing a five-quid note on
"Six minutes, 10 calls," I counter, placing my five quid on top of
We watch cannon-fodder's extension from the Exchange Console and, after five
minutes, see him hang up after not getting an answer from Systems Operations,
which isn't surprising considering the phone he's connecting to is locked behind
a panel in the basement. Seven retries later I pocket 10 quid.
The PFY isn't pleased, expecting more intelligence from the user. His naivety
is a constant source of surprise (and income) for me.
We watch on as he calls the real Systems Operations' number.
"Well, there goes your disk space," the PFY says.
"Ten quid it doesn't," I offer.
"You're on," the PFY replies, hoping for the double or nothing
I grab the scummiest tape cartridge from the floor at my feet and we wander
into the computer room and wait for one of the systems people. Sure enough, one
arrives shortly thereafter with some back-up tapes. Upon seeing me, he clutches
the tapes to himself more carefully for some reason ...
"Don't mind me," I say, holding up my tape cartridge, which obliges
my true purpose by dropping a bit of its case.
"You read that cartridge on our drive?" the systems guy asks.
"Of course I did!" I reply. "And it worked fine - only a
couple of read errors; not bad for a tape this old."
The systems guy rolls his eyes in despair and grabs the cleaning tape from
the top of the tape unit. The PFY looks on confused, not knowing what's going
His confusion disappears immediately after the cleaning tape is inserted.
"Ah ..." he says, listening carefully to the noise it makes.
"Sandpaper .... and ... is it grinding paste?"
He is good.
"Okay - and - for the 10 quid you owe me ..." I ask, nodding in the
direction of the systems guy struggling in vain with the drives' eject lever.
"Ummm ... it's not QUICK-SET EXPOXY RESIN, is it?"
"Today's winner is ... THE PFY!" I cry.
We wander off back to the control room.
"When did you ..." the PFY begins.
"'Enhance' the cleaning tape? About six weeks ago - they never use it
normally, so I knew it was the perfect remote destruction utility. You could
call in from anywhere saying you have read errors ..."
"But you're just buying yourself time."
"Not exactly," I say, removing the labels from some recently
abandoned tapes I found in the computer room into the "Scratch Tapes"
"You bastard!" he cries respectfully.
"In the flesh, on the job, and ready for a game of Network Doom."
So the Pimply-Faced Youth and I are heading through the corridors of computing
central when our progress is impeded by the departmental Dead Wood Discussion
It is a matter of concern to me and the PFY that the group appears to be
growing in size. Once a group of two or three old salts whose technical skills
consisted of the ability to fix eight-inch floppy drives, it's now the final
resting place of brown nosers and work dodgers alike.
To disguise their true purpose (work and responsibility avoidance) they
indulge in long conversations about what's new in computing, where it's heading
and why, what we should be looking at and who's up with the play.
This in itself wouldn't be so bad except (a) they either congregate in
corridors or someone else's office and (b) they sometimes infect the boss with
the forward-thinking-stupidity virus.
Today is one of those days. Encrypted TCP/IP and how it should be implemented
is the topic of the four-hours.
We pause briefly...
"What does that guy do?" the PFY asks quietly, indicating one of
the key speakers who's obviously attracted to the conversation by the
possibility of slipping one of his strategically polished boat shoes one rung
further up the corporate ladder with a display of superior knowledge.
"Besides providing a load for the deodoriser in the air
conditioning?" I ask.
"I'm not sure, they all look alike to me."
The boss meantime is enthralled, envisaging a workplace coup in pushing back
the frontiers of networking security.
This is not a good thing.
Sure enough, two hours later, the boss is wandering around the office with
some hastily prepared notes in his hand.
"Tell me," he asks. "Why aren't we using encrypted
"Network overhead," I throw out to test the waters of his
"But isn't the overhead minimal when combined with private key
encryption software or better, single-stage encryption?" he asks, so far
out of his depth that the appearance of a shark's fin wouldn't be out of place
in our conversation.
"Hey, I never thought of that!" I cry in an enlightened manner.
"Well, get right onto it," he responds, gushing enthusiasm.
The PFY is looking at me with the same thinly disguised contempt that was
present on his features in the corridor scant hours ago.
"You're not going soft are you?" he enquires.
"This will speak for me," I say, indicating a recently installed PC
in screen-save mode.
True to form, the PFY hits the return key...and the wall behind him
"It's good isn't it?" I say as he recovers his wits. "The word
'return' is in fact a carbon track, which, when the key is depressed, is
connected to a high, but mostly harmless, earth return voltage. Now what was
that about being soft?"
Doubting no more, the PFY helps me implement the Boss's request to the
The boss receives this news with a smug expression and spends the next day
composing a memo about the frontiers of networking, new era of security, blah,
blah, blah. He words the memo so as to give the impression that he
single-handedly soldered bits together with a cigarette lighter to make this
To increase the effect, he selects the following Monday as the switchover
The day arrives, and the boss bowls in with The Head of IT in tow. With
baited breath he waits for 9am to so that he can press the key to start
With a click from the clock, a clack from the keyboard, and a thud as the
boss's stunned body hits the cast iron frame of an old tape rack with lots of
nasty protruding edges that the PFY and I had only removed from the computer
room that morning, encryption begins.
Then the calls start. Hands-free allows the head of IT to eavesdrop.
"Hello, networks," I say.
"Hi, this is the help desk. We're getting lots of calls from people who
say that their machine is throwing up TCP/IP errors."
"Yes, that would be the one-step encryption."
"Well how do they decrypt?"
"You can't. I thought you knew that. If you could, it would be two steps
"ARE YOU SAYING THAT WE'VE JUST INSTALLED A SYSTEM THAT CAN'T TALK TO
ANYTHING?" the head of IT blurts anxiously.
"Not we," I say holding up a recent memo.
"I see," the head says, recognising the buttered side of bread when
Sadly the boss's attempts to switch the system off resulted in a lot of
unnecessary damage to the tape rack, but luckily the head was keen to let all
the members of the DDG have a crack at it and eventually things got back to
Status Quo reinstated - all systems go.
It's a sad day in network operations. The pimply-faced-youth has decided to move
on. Apparently, there are greener pastures out there that have a greater
attraction for the young and foolish. He's accepted a position as a networks
engineer for an oil company where the workmates are reasonable and the pay
With a small amount of sentimentality, he takes his leave after two weeks'
notice, during which time the boss gains the not unfamiliar "permanently
Apparently, a 'misprint' in the on-line phone directory has seen his 'wrong
number' count rise dramatically. Changing phone numbers didn't seem to help
either for some reason. Finding out that he'd put in for, and been granted, a
transfer to Wales led to some quite involved and desperate legal wrangles that
kept him busy for a couple of days.
The interview process for a PFY replacement begins and it seems obvious that
the calibre of applicants is not even up to prospective PFY potential.
Me: "A user complains about network speed. Would you investigate the
problem or disconnect the network port altogether?"
Me: "Thank you, we'll let you know. Next!"
Me: "It's 4.54pm on a Friday and a user calls with a TCP/IP query. What
do you do?"
They: "Answer their query?"
Me: "Trick question. You never answer the phone after 3pm on Friday!
Even IF you're still at work! ...NEXT!"
Me: "You discover that the router firmware is several revisions out of
date. Which do you do first: fill out a change-control form, arrange for storage
of the old eproms, or order the upgrade?"
They: "Order the upgrade?"
Me: "No, crash the router every three hours until the boss begs you to
upgrade as soon as possible, which will be four hours overtime at double rate.
After two days of interviewing, the boss decides that he'll pick the
applicant. Sure enough, he picks Ronald, one of the worst people imaginable, one
with blatant depth perception problems. And the users love him which is always a
warning sign. I make the most of a bad thing until I can figure out a plan.
"OK Ron, I'll just show you ar..."
"No, Ronald, not Ron."
"I see." I make a mental note to leave a few floor tiles balanced
precariously for his benefit.
I prepare him for his career in network support by getting him to dust out
all the cabling ducts.
Two days and one ducting accident later, Gerald starts as our latest PFY. A
puerile addition to the workforce, but at least he's rude to the users. Still,
he lacks the killer instinct which distinguishes a true networking professional
from the amateurs. And the technical intelligence not to wear the raincoat with
the large metal fasteners when he's directed to the roof to 'calibrate the
satellite antenna' during a thunderstorm. Whoopsy. Still, surface burns
apparently heal fairly quickly.
Gerald follows Ronald's example in taking extended sick leave, and I'm left
to hold the fort by myself. Things are very hectic as there's a limit to the
number of phone calls you can listen to whilst still leaving time to play
network Doom against the old PFY over the Internet.
Also, it seems to be getting extremely difficult to get applicants for the
PFY's position. In fact, nigh-on impossible. Apparently, word has got out to the
agencies that there is safer work juggling chainsaws full tilt on a unicycle
down Battersea Rise, and they're staying away in droves.
Because I'm so short-staffed, I don't get round to fixing a lot of the
network errors that plague the place. Like the boss's UTP port, which suddenly
appears to have gone open circuit. Luckily, I'm able to restore interim
connectivity to him by giving him a spare 2400 modem so he can dial the internal
extension of our modem banks. At 2400 baud, his file server really hums. Not to
mention the power supply of the modem which draws so much power that the lights
dim when he switches it on.
The boss is at his wit's end when I offer him a possibility. If he offered a
finder's fee and a reasonable rate, I might be able to replace the PFY.
The boss jumps at the outstretched straw and mentions two very acceptable
numbers. I give the PFY a call and make him an offer he could refuse but won't.
A day later the PFY is back in business having returned from his holiday to a
pay rise. What the boss doesn't know can't hurt him. Except for that carpet tack
I drove into the base of his chair.
A high pitched scream filters through to the control room as I shake the
I LOVE this business.