It's backup day today so I'm pissed off. Being the BOFH, however, does
have it's advantages. I reassign null to be the tape device - it's so much more economical
on my time as I don't have to keep getting up to change tapes every 5 minutes. And it
speeds up backups too, so it can't be all bad can it? Of course not.
A user rings.
"Do you know why the system is slow?" they ask
"It's probably something to do with..." I look up today's excuse "..
"Oh" (Not knowing what I'm talking about, they're satisfied) "Do you
know when it will be fixed?"
"Fixed? There's 275 users on your machine, and one of them is you. Don't be so
selfish - logout now and give someone else a chance!"
"But my research results are due in tomorrow and all I need is one page of Laser
"SURE YOU DO. Well; You just keep telling yourself that buddy!" I hang up.
You'd really think people would learn not to call..
The phone rings. It'll be him again, I know. That annoys me. I put on a gruff voice
"Oh, I'm sorry, I've got the wrong number"
"YEAH? Well what's your name buddy? Do you know WASTED phone calls cost money? DO
YOU? I've got a good mind to subtract your wasted time, my wasted time, and the cost of
this call from your weekly wages! IN FACT I WILL! By the time I've finished with you,
YOU'LL OWE US money! WHAT'S YOUR NAME - AND DON'T LIE, WE'VE GOT CALLER ID!!"
I hear the phone drop and the sound of running feet - he's obviously going to try and
get an alibi by being at the Dean's office. I look up his username and find his
department. I ring the Dean's secretary.
"Hello?" she answers
"Hi, SIMON, B.O.F.H HERE, LISTEN, WHEN THAT GUY COMES RUNNING INTO YOUR OFFICE IN
ABOUT 10 SECONDS, CAN YOU GIVE HIM A MESSAGE?"
"I think so..." she says
"TELL HIM `HE CAN RUN, BUT HE CAN'T HIDE'"
"AND DON'T FORGET NOW, I WOULDN'T WANT TO HAVE TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT THAT FILE IN
YOUR ACCOUNT WITH YOUR ANSWERS TO THE PURITY TEST IN IT..."
I hear her scrabbling at the terminal...
"DON'T BOTHER - I HAVE A COPY. BE A GOOD PERVY AND PASS THE MESSAGE ON.."
She sobs her assent and I hang up. And the worst thing is, I was just guessing about
the purity test thing. I grab a quick copy anyway, it might make for some good late-night
Meantime backups have finished in record time, 2.03 seconds. Modern technology is
wonderful, isn't it?
Another user rings.
"I need more space" he says
"Well, why not move to Texas?" I ask
"No, on my account, stupid."
"I'm terribly sorry" I say, in a polite manner equal to that of Jimmy Stewart
in a Weekend Family Matine Feature "I didn't quite catch that. What was it that you
I smell the fear coming down the line at me, but it's too late, he's a goner and he
"Um, I said what I wanted was more space on my account, *please*"
"Sure, hang on"
I hear him gasp his relief even though he'd covered the mouthpeice.
"There, you've got *plenty* of space now!"
"How much have I got?" he simps
Now this *REALLY* *PISSES* *ME* *OFF*! Not only do they want me to give them extra
space, they want to check it, then correct me if I don't give them enough! They should be
happy with what I give them *and that's it*!
Back into Jimmy Stewart mode.
"Well, let's see, you have 4 Meg available"
"Wow! Eight Meg in total, thanks!" he says, pleased with his bargaining power
"No" I interrupt, savouring this like a fine red at room temperature, with
steak, extra rare, to follow; "4 Meg in total.."
"Huh? I'd used 4 Meg already, How could I have 4 Meg Available?"
I say nothing. It'll come to him.
I kill me; I really do!
I'm sitting at the desk, playing x-tank, when some thoughtless bastard
rings me on the phone. I pick it up.
"Hello?" I say.
"Who is this?" they say
"It's me I think." I say, having successfully attended a telephone skills
"Is this like a knock knock joke?" I say, trying anything to save myself
having to end this game.
Too LATE! I get killed.
Now I'm pissed!
"What can I do for you?" I ask pleasantly - (one of the key warning signs)
"Um, I want to know if we have a particular software package.."
"Which package is that?" "Uh, B-A-S-I-C it's called."
>clickety clickety d-e-l b-a-s-i-c.e-x-e "Um no, we don't have that. We used to
"oh. Oh well, the other thing I wanted to know was, could the contents of my
account be copied to tape so I have a permanent copy of them to save at home in case the
"Well, like they get deleted or something..."
"DELETED! Oh, don't worry about that, we have backups!" (I'm such a *shit*)
"What was your username?"
He gives me his lusername. (What an idiot)
clickety click "But you haven't got any files in your account!" I say, mock
surprise leaping from my vocal chords.
"Yes I have, you must be looking in the wrong place!"
So first he spoils my x-tank game, and *now* he's calling me a liar...
clickety click "Oh no, I made a mistake" I say
Did he mutter "typical" under his breath??!? Oh dear, oh dear..
"I MEANT TO SAY: That USERNAME doesn't exist"
"Huh? >whimper< "It must do, I was only using it this morning!"
"Ah well, that'll be the problem, there was a virus in our system this morning,
the... uh... DA VINCI Virus, wipes out users who are logged in when it goes off."
"That can't be right, my girlfriend was logged in, and I'm in her account
"Which one was that?"
He tells me the username. Some people NEVER learn..
"Oh, yeah, her account was just after we discovered the virus."...
>clickety click "... she only lost all her files."
"But don't worry, we've got them all on tape"
"Oh, thank goodness!!!"
"Paper tape. Have you got a magnifying glass and a pencil? SEE YOU IN THE MACHINE
I'm such a prick!
So I'm working so hard I barely have time to drive into town and watch a
movie before I told people their printing will be ready. The queue's WAAAAAY too long to
have everything printed (and sorted) by the time I told them, so I kill all the small jobs
so there's only 2 left and I can sort them in no time.
Then, after the movie, (which was one of those slack Bertolucci ones that takes about 3
hours till the main character is killed off in a visionary experience) I get back and
clear the printouts.
There's about 50 people waiting outside and I've got two printouts. That's about
average for me. I thought I'd killed more tho. Anyway, I put out the printouts and walk
slooowly inside, fingering the clipboard with "ACCOUNTS TO REMOVE" in big
letters on the back. No-one says anything. As usual.
. . .
I'm sitting back in the Operations Armchair, watching the computer room closed circuit
TV, which just happens to be connected to the frame-grabber's Video player (sent off for
repair, due back sometime in 2013) when the phone rings. That must be the 2nd time today,
and it's really starting to get to me!
"Yes?" I say, pausing the picture.
"I seem to have accidentally deleted my C.V!" the voice at the other end of
the line says.
"You have? What was your username?"
He tells me. What the hell, I AM bored.
"Ah no, you didn't delete it - I did."
"I deleted it. It was full of shit! You didn't ever get more than a B- in any of
"And that crap about being a foreign exchange student, that was your girlfriend
and we both know it!"
"Your academic records. I checked them, you were lying.. Besides which, you forgot
to include your criminal record.."
"How did y.." He clicks. "It's you isn't it? THE BASTARD OPERATOR FROM
"In the flesh, on the phone and in your account.... You shouldn't have called you
know. You especially shouldn't have given me your username.." >clicketyclick<
"Neither should you have sent that mail to the System Manager telling him what you
think of him in such graphic terms..."
"I didn't send any.."
"No, you didn't did you? But who can tell these days? Not to worry though, It'll
all be over VERY soon.." >clickedy click< "...change my username
"b-b-b.." he blubs, like a stood-up date
"Goodbye now" I say pleasantly, "you've got bags to pack and a life to
I hang up.
Two seconds later the red phone goes. I pick it up, it's the boss. He mumbles the
username of the person I was just talking to, mentions something about a nasty mail
message, and utters the words "You know what to do...", with the dots and
Later, inside the Municipal Energy Authority Computer, as I'm modifying the poor pleb's
Energy Bill by several zeros, I can't help but think about what lapse of judgement - what
act of heinous stupidity - causes them to call. Then, even later, when I'm adding the poor
pleb's photo image over the top of the FBI's online "MOST Wanted Armed and Dangerous,
SHOOT ON SIGHT" offenders list, I realise I'll probably never know; but then life
A couple of hours later, as I see the SWAT vehicle roll up outside the poor pleb's
apartment I realise that for some, it just doesn't.
But tomorrow is another day.
It's a Thursday, and I'm in a good mood. It's payday. I think I'll take
some calls. I put the phone back on the hook. It rings.
"I've been trying to get you for hours!" the voice at the other end screams
"No, it can't be hours" I say, putting "Blade Runner" back into
it's cover and looking at the back, "it was more like 114 minutes. I was on a long
phone call with the big boss, trying to get you users some better facilities"
Hook; Line; and Sinker...
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"That's ok, I'm a tolerant person" I make a mental note to change his
password to something nasty in the next couple of days.
"Um, I need to know how to rename a file" he says.
Oh dear... Hang on, it's payday isn't it?! I'm in a good mood.
"Sure. You just go 'rm' and the filename"
"No worries" (Now I'm in a *REALLY* good mood. I think I just might write
that script to make saving impossible on rogue at random times like I've been thinking
The phone rings again.
"Hi there" I say
"Is this the Operators?"
"Yes it is" I say, nice as pie
"Could you get my printouts out please. I need them urgently, and I printed them
over 5 minutes ago"
"Your username?" I ask
He gives it to me, and I write it down for later. "No worries at all!" I say,
and head to the printers.
There's a HUUUUUUUGE pile of printouts there, and sure enough, his is at the top of the
pile. I pick it up, split it out of the rest and pour our ink- stained cleaning alcohol
all over it, run it over a couple of times with the loaded tape trolley then slam it in
the tape safe door some times as well.
"Here's your printout" I say "Sorry about the delay, we've got a few
He takes a look and shits himself.
"Well, can I print it again?" he asks, worried
"Sure you can" I say "But no promises, the printer's a bit stuffed
"Well can I print it on laser - is that working?"
"Yeah of course, but that'll cost you" I say, oozing compassion for the geek
"It doesn't matter about the cost, THIS IS URGENT!"
I slide-on back into the printer room and put in the toner cartridge we save for
special occasions - the one that prints thick black lines down the middle of the page and
is all faint on one side. It took me quite a while to make it like that too. The printout
shoots through and I bring it out immediately - I don't want to miss this!
"W-w-what's happened to my printout?" the geek squeals at me. Lucky I wrote
that username down - I'm really starting to develop a taste for torture.
"Well nothing. I mean sure, it's a little soiled, but that cartridge has already
done 47 thousand pages and been refilled 17 times. It's quite good compared to some we
Geek pays up and starts blubbing.
"Hey now. There's no reason to cry! Have you got a disk with your work on
He gives me a box of diskettes and I step inside and buzz them thru the bulk eraser. I
come back out again.
"Sorry, I just remembered, our machine is on the fritz, you'll have to take these
to the other side of campus to the machine there, it'll print them ok, and it had a
brand-new toner yesterday."
"No worries. Oh, and hold the disks above your head the whole way there, the
earth's magnetic field is particularly strong today."
"No arguments, just do it."
He wanders off, hand held high. Shit, I hate myself sometimes!
I'm bored senseless, so I pass the time by reading users email. I must
admit that today's lot is PARTICULARLY boring, not one good message in all of them. I was
expecting at LEAST some veiled reference to a grope in a storeroom, but nothing. So I'm
bored senseless by the usual drivel about some relative's surgery and how the weather is
over the other side of the world - that sort of crap.
To relieve the boredom, I remove a e-mail party invite from a user's mail and post it
under the senders username to to alt.singles.with.severe.social.dysfunctions on news, and
make a note in my diary to be there with my camcorder. Should be a blast!
Next in line is the online medical records database, in which the company doctors store
the current medical histories of the staff. I grep it quickly for "herpes" and
"syphilis" and send the results to the local scum newspaper. I cover my tracks
by adding an entry to one of the doctor's online electronic diaries for yesterday saying
"$500, Med Recs To Paper" I think that's all it should take.. That'll be the
last time he doesn't shift appointments to make room for me..
I move some tapes from the racks to the trolley to make it look like we really use
them, then start looking thru archie listings for a hidden x-gif site. I find one then
start a batch job running under some user's account to get them all back, charged to him.
I make sure he's got enough disk for the job by removing any files not related to the task
at hand. Like all those "Doctorate Final Report" papers that have got quite
large in the last couple of weeks.
I go back to the mail now, as something's bound to have happened. I do a grep on all
mail files for the words "pregnant" and "family way", and post them
anonymously to the local general interest newsgroup.
Then, before anything can happen, the power goes out! The next second, the phone rings.
"Hello?" I say, annoyed - the coyote was just about to kill roadrunner again!
"Has the comput.."
I hang up. This is a matter of life or death. Quick as I can I rip the computer power
cable out of the UPS and plug the TV in. Damn! Wylie missed again!
Meantime, all the alarms are going off like crazy as the disks spin down, but that's
ok, because my Mac and Terminal are hardwired to the UPS in any case; and I'm at the Beer
Factory level in Dark Castle too!
The phone rings, so I pull the PABX breaker on the UPS switchboard and it stops. Now to
look like I'm working. I break out the puck and the hockey stick and play a little
one-on-wall. From the observation window it'll look like I'm being blindingly efficient,
as per usual.
10 Minutes later, the power is back and we're two HDA's down, but what the hell, I
haven't lost a man, I'm onto the final screen, and there's more cartoons!
The phone rings, it's a luser. (What a surprise)
"Computer Room" I say, being efficient
"Hello, When will the compu..."
I hang up.
I'm doing well in the screen, all I need do is get past the wizard who throws spells at
you and I'm in!
The phone rings again. I put it on hands free
"Computer Room" I shout, still deep in the game.
"I've lost my files" a user whines over the loudspeaker
"You bet you have" I say, as my concentration lapses just long enough for me
to get zapped by the wizard.
"What was your username?" I say, all sweetness and smiles
He tells me, I look, and he's right. Shit, and I didn't even do it!
Not to be outdone, I change his login directory to the null device, set his path to
"." and redefine the command "news" to execute a script in his old
login directory to send a nasty message to the equal opportunities officer, then delete
Now that's trying!
It's Friday, so I get into work early, before lunch even. The phone rings.
I turn the page on the excuse sheet. "SOLAR FLARES" stares out at me. I'd
better read up on that. Two minutes later I'm ready to answer the phone.
"Hello?" I say.
"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, I'VE BEEN TRYING TO GET YOU ALL MORNING?!"
I hate it when they shout at me early in the morning. It always puts me in a bad mood.
You know what I mean.
"Ah, yes. Well, there's been some solar activity this morning, it always disrupts
electronics..." I say, sweet as a sugar pie.
"Huh? But I could get through to my friends?!"
"Yes, that's entirely possible, solar activity is very unpredictable in it's
effects. Why last week, we had some files just disappear from a guys account while he was
working on it!"
"Straight Up! Hey, do you want me to check your account?"
"Yes please, I've got some important stuff in there!"
"Ok, what's your username..."
He tells me. Honestly, it's like shooting a fish in a barrel. Twice. With an Elephant
Gun. At point blank range. In the head.
(Do I really need to tell you the clicky clicky bit?.. I think not)
"How many files are in your account?" I ask
"Um, well there should be about 20 in my thesis writeup, 10 or so with the data
for it, and another 20 or so in a book that I'm writing"
"Hmmm. Well, I think we caught it just in time. You've still got 2 files left...
.cshrc and .login"
He sobs into the receiver a bit - it really turns my stomach.
"What can I do?" he sniffs
"Ok, do you have any of your stuff backed up on floppy?"
"Some, but it's weeks old!"
I fire up the bulk eraser.
"Ok" I say "How about I come out and load all that data onto your
account pronto so you can get some work done?"
"That'd be great, but it's all at home" he wimpers. "I spose I'll just
load it all in myself tonight"
"Sure. But remember what I said, solar flares are bad for disks and machines.
Protect your disks from solar activity to prevent them losing their data"
"How do I do that? Wrap them in tin-foil?"
"NO! TIN FOIL'S THE WORST THING! YOU KNOW WHAT TIN FOIL DOES IN A MICROWAVE DON'T
"Then don't use it. There's only one thing that protects disks from solar
"MAGNETS! Wrap your disks up in a pillow case with lots of magnets - Solar Flares
"No worries at all..."
So I manage AT LONG LAST, to get a couple of hours off for lunch, AND,
because I can't leave my desk unattended, I get the janitor in and have him sit in my
chair. I tell him that all he has to do is make sure the receiver doesn't accidentally get
put back on the hook. He agrees and I'm off.
First stop, the bank. I change a $50 note into coins and then ask to see a balance of
my account. Then I yank the power lead out of the teller's vdu. It dies. I say I'm in a
hurry and is the manager around?
He rolls over like a man-sized twinkie and asks what the problem is. I say that all I
want is a balance of my accounts. I cross my fingers. YES! He finds the vdu lead out,
plugs it in, and logs in, TO THE MANAGER'S ACCOUNT. Now's my chance - I slip up against
the counter, slopping 200 coins across the counter. The manager ignores it, but all the
tellers dive for the money. I watch, unobserved, as the manager types in his password at
the breakneck speed of one character a minute. At that rate I should've got $100 worth....
He finishes typing. "MONEY". What a toughy! Well, that's my mortgage taken care
A user that I recognise from "D(eletion)-Day '89" approaches. I think he's
going to talk to me!! Even the bank manager is shaking his head furiously. But it's too
late, he stops.
"Um, excuse me, Could you tell me what is the best computer to buy to do my thesis
"You've heard of Commodore 64's?" I ask
"Avoid them like the plague! Not many people know this, but computers aren't made
to handle that much memory - it's over 64,000 things, more in some cases. It's a recipe
"Try something safe and proven. A ZX81 with dual cassette drive if you can get it.
The 1K ram model. Write that down. Don't buy a disk drive - You know how they're always
failing, but music cassettes last forever!"
"No worries. What was your username again?"
He tells me. Just in time for D-Day 92. You'd think they'd learn.
I get back to work and the janitor's asleep at the terminal. I ask him if he wants to
work here too, but he likes the ability to bust in on people when they're in the toilet...
I put the phone back on the hook, and straight away it rings. I hate it when it does
that, it takes me AGES to get my walkman phones in.
It's the hottest hosemonster I've ever met, and she's got a computer problem! I love it
when that happens!
"What's your username?" I ask
She tells me (as if I didn't know)
Quick as I can I read all her e-mail (mostly boring stuff), then grep everyone else's
mail files for her username. Nothing. Excellent!
"What's the problem?" I ask, all smiles and charm.
"I can't save my documents, it says something about space."
"Not a problem for long" I say, and delete everyone else on the same disk as
her. "You should be fine now.."
"Thank you so much" she gushes. I make a mental note to do something to her
account again tomorrow. "No worries."
The phone rings almost before I've got it on the hook.
"My files are all gone!" a voice whines out at me.
"When did this happen?" I ask.
"Just now..." he says, through the tears
"I see. Well, I wouldn't worry, there's three days till the end of the semester,
if you work day and night until then, you should get at least a C-"
He sobs a couple more times then hangs up. What a wimp.
THE PHONE RINGS AGAIN!
"The screen on my PC is really dim" The woman at the other end says
"Should I wind the brightness knob up?"
"NO!" I scream "Don't touch that knob! Have you any idea of the
radiation that comes out of that thing when the knob gets wound up?!!!!"
"Well I..." she says, all uncertain
"TAKE MY ADVICE!" I say "There's only ONE way to fix a dim display, and
that's by power surging the drivers"
The words "power surging" and "drivers" have got her. People hear
words like that and go into Dummy Mode and do ANYTHING you say. I could tell her to run
naked across campus with a powercord rammed up her backside and she'd probably do it...
"Have you got a spare power cord?"
"Oh well, never mind, we'll have to do the power surge idea... Ok, quick as you
can, I want you to flick the power switch of your PC on and off 30 times"
"Should I take my disks out?"
"NO! Do you want to lose all your data!?!"
"Oh! NO! Ok.."
I listen carefully.. ..
...clicky..clikcy...clikky.. .. .. ...clicky. ...cliccy.. . . BOOM!
Amazing, it probably made it to 27 - the power supply usually shits itself at 15 or
"MY COMPUTER BLEW UP!!!" she screams at me down the line
"Really? Must've been a dodgy power supply! Lucky we found out now! Is your
machine still under warranty?"
"Dear oh dear. Well, Best get it repaired then. Did you backup your files?"
"Yes, to the system, Yesterday, but all this morning's work is gone!"
"Oh dear. What was your username, I'll just check that your backups worked
She tells me....
I'm at my desk as usual, and a user calls.
"Hello Computer Room, Simon here, How can I help?" I answer
"I can't get into my account!" A user mumbles at me.
"What was your username please?" I say
They give me their username. No worries. I look in their account.
"No worries, it was just a badly made login file. I've fixed it, you should be
able to login."
"No worries. Have a nice day!"
WHAT IS THIS? you're asking yourself. Has the Bastard Operator from Hell turned over a
new leaf? Sold out?! GONE INSANE?!!! Nope. The Bastard Operator from Hell is being
LOGFILED. And if that's happening, I'm being bugged as well. So I'm being nice till I can
find the bugs. It shouldn't be long - bear with me.
Ah. One in the phone handpeice. Basic. But then the boss is a sneaky sort, so there's
probably a couple more. Ah! And another in the base of the phone and one inside my
keyboard. Time for a mad coffee-spilling frenzy. This is a big job, so I bring the whole
jug over and wait for a witness. The System Manager comes in.
"Where's that report of mine?" he asks in a surly manner - he's obviously
pissed that I haven't implicated myself yet. Antagonist Identified. As the Principal of
"BASTARD OPERATOR SCHOOL" (me) will tell you, "There's no problem so large
it can't be solved by killing the user off, deleting their files, closing their account
and reporting their REAL earnings to the IRS"
I pull his printout from under the coffee jug where I put it, and the coffee splashes
all over the phone and keyboard, which for some reason were stacked on top of each other.
"Woopsy!" I say, mock horror on my face. The System Manager's face tells me I
was right in my guess.
"Don't think you'll get away with this!" he snarls and stomps off.
I click on the Ethernet monitor and watch the traffic coming out of his PC.
Ah! A memo, authorising the termination of my contract, going to the laser in the
Director's office. I make a few alterations to the file in the spool directory and let it
go to it's destination. I run my dinky little program that deposits -512 to the PC and our
mainframe shits itself.
Later, while booting in single user, I'll remove that nasty logfile business.
Next, I wander into the comms room and plug my earphone into the spare RS232 port in
the Directors office. It's amazing how simple it is to bug an office once it's got data
lines going to it!
Director: "Are you sure about this?"
SysMgr: "OF COURSE!"
Director: "You don't want to reconsider?"
Director: "Very well, I'll fax it to staffing now.."
Two seconds later the System Manager strolls in smiling. "Well, I'll really miss
you Simon.." he says, full of himself.
"Oh?" I say, all sweetness and charm "Where are you going?"
"No Simon" he says, with glee "YOU'RE going!"
"A PROMOTION!" I say "You've finally written that letter to the head of
staffing telling him he's a bum-sucking arse bandit and that you quit?"
"Are you sure? It's much better than the one about me being fired.."
"Y.." His eyes widen slightly
It's like clubbing a seal to death with a foam cushion. He runs to stop the fax. Only,
having just resigned, >clicky clicky< his card no longer works.
The Phone rings. It's the same guy as before
"I can get into my account now, but I've run out of disk"
"Hang on, I'll see what I can do"
clicccky rm -r *
I'm driving to work and I'm stuck behind this old guy, the classic slow
driver from hell, whose car red-lines at 20 mph and can't take corners at more than 5. I
honk my horn but his hearing aid's probably turned way down to "whisper", so I'm
I make a mental note of his license plate. In fact, I did that 60 times a minute for 15
and a half minutes. Oh dear.. oh dear.... Looks like another call to the DMV Database to
register a vehicle as stolen by out of town arms dealers...
I get to work, flick the excuse page over. "ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION FROM
SATELLITE DEBRIS". Fair enough, it looks like it's going to be a good day.
I log into "FUCKYOU", (the help-desk enquiries username) and go into mail.
There's 3 new messages, the first of which is 117 lines long, so it's obviously a
storyteller. Shit, I hate that. Instead of saying "My account needs more disk
space" they tell you about how they're doing this bit of research for a lecturer and
how it's got to be in yesterday, and they almost had it but their second cousin twice
removed had a perforated herpes scab and lost a lot of blood and had to be rushed into
hospital... etc etc. I delete the message.
Second message I read, but it's one of those people who can't handle the mail interface
and send a null message, so all you get is headers. I reply to the message saying "No
worries, we can do that by next Tuesday". Hope it was important.
The last message I leave for tommorrow, because Saturday would be a dull day if I ever
had to work then.
The phone rings. I thought I'd fixed that!
I put it on hands free so I can slop some pizza into the microwave.
"Yes" I call
"Something's wrong with my Boot disk, I can't login to the server"
"Have you got your disk with you?"
I go get the disk and put it and the pizza in for 5 minutes on "ULTRA-NUKE".
Six minutes later, he rings back.
"It still doesn't work, and now my disk makes a funny noise and smells."
"OH SHIT! It's that electromagnetic radiation from satellite debris again!"
"Really? I think I heard about that!" (What a tool!)
"Yep, I'm sorry, you'll have to buy another disk"
"Oh, that's ok, I don't mind, the old one was getting worn. Thanks"
"Sure, no worries. And be sure to run it through our virus checker FDISK when you
get a lot of important data on it..."
"I will! Thanks!"
"That's Ok - it's my job!"
Xcbzone is running really slow so I kill off a whole lot of database backends that seem
to be hogging all the cpu and get back into my game. Much better.
(It isn't easy on the frontline, work work work...)
I go to the cafeteria for a quick 2 hour snack - they're so nice to me there. They
always have been, ever since that computer glitch that registered their kitchen as an
organ recipient - very messy. I grab a couple of cans of coke and some cheese things and
cruise on back to the office via the first year computer fundamentals lab. I look in the
window on the scene that unfolds itself to me - a lab full of first years with no
WELL I'LL JUST HAVE TO HELP!
I walk on in.
"Right, I'm your temporary replacement demonstrator and today we're going to put
our assignments aside for half an hour to learn about the REMARK function, or, as it's
known to the computer literate world, rm.."
I should've been a teacher you know - I've got this way with people...
I get invited to a lecture as a guest speaker in "Computing
Operations Fundamentals", so I leave the control room in the capable hands of Sam,
the janitor and cruise on down.
The lecture starts and goes ok, then there's a 10 minute period where students get to
ask a "real operator" questions that they have about operations.
I get out my pad and pen. "Before we get started" I say, "could you just
call out your username before you ask me a question, I find it easier to apply your
problem to terms you would understand better" The lecturer eats all this up - the
personal touch really gets to them. "First Question, You over there.."
"What do you think of the privacy of individuals on a shared system?"
"What was your username please?"
Scratchy scritch "Hmm, this is a toughy really. You mean stuff like reading the
email between you and your counsellor about you not wanting to come out of the
"AH! Well, he seems to have left - must have picked a bad COMPLETELY RANDOM
example. Next question. You, over there..."
"CMS1136. I was.."
"Ah yes, 1136 the only person on campus who subscribes to
"It's purely for research purposes!"
"I'm sure it is. You do a lot of story posting for a researcher don't you?"
Two minutes later, the lecture theatre's empty. That's the problem with students today,
they just don't want to learn.
I go back to control and Sam's asleep at the console again. I think he's after my job.
I make a mental note to tap into the salary database and cancel his health and accident
insurance payments. You can't be too careful..
I put the phone on the hook for the first time this afternoon and it starts ringing
almost immediately. THAT'S IT! I redirect it to 911 to catch a bit of shuteye. That'll
teach them. OOPS! Almost forgot to turn over the excuse calendar. "STATIC FROM NYLON
UNDERWEAR" Nope, too plausable - although in some cases I could do an on-site check.
Nah, can't be stuffed. I'll pick another one. "STATIC FROM PLASTIC SLIDE RULES"
Now THAT'S one with a challenge!
I un-redirect the phone and drag the rubbish bin so it rests on the printer's stacker -
another job well done. The phone rings - this could be the big one!
"Hi, Um, how do I spell-check my file?"
"Simple, just type `spell' and the filename"
I'm so bloody nice this morning. Especially as I know that my version of spell
INTRODUCES errors instead of detecting them. Things like changing friend to freind instead
of vice-versa. What the hell.
The phone rings - it's them again.
"There's something wrong with spell"
"What makes you think that?"
"Because my file is all corrupt now!"
"That doesn't sound like spell to me. Are you logged into thru PC?"
"Yes, but I can..."
"Please, leave the technical diagnosis to me... Now, is there a plastic ruler
somewhere on or in the desk?"
"Um >clunka< yes...".
"Right. You've got a static buildup on your hard-drive caused by the changing
electrostatic field generated by the ruler - the same thing that makes bits of paper stick
to it when you rub it up and down your arm..."
DUMMY MODE ON
"Oh. What do I do?"
"You know how you get paper off a ruler by hitting it on a table lots of times?
Well do that with your PC. Say 20 times - lift it about a foot off the desk & drop
crash crash crash "Um, the screen went dark"
"That's ok, it's supposed to do that - keep going. And when you're finished, do
the screen as well, that static may have gone up the wires to it."
crash crash crash I hang up. I get up and go out to the public area to put honey in the
floppy drives when a guy who looked like Lee Harvey Oswald runs up to me and shoots me,
only the sound comes from the machine room, and I can hear the ex System Manager's
Later, in the ambulance, I realise. I forgot to get the guys username...
Then everything goes dark...
The darkness cleared as we got out of the tunnel and it occurred to me
that I couldn't be all that injured. Then again, maybe I was. Someone was going to p..
Of course, a true BOFH considers this not really as dying, but more of going home for
Five seconds later, I'm getting the upside of 15Kv across the nipples. (These ambulance
guys sure know how to party).
Bastard Operator from Hell LIVES!
Three weeks later I'm back on my backside and feeling rested and relaxed behind the
console again. The rest has done me good, I feel *great!*. I catch up on everyone's email
then let the students know I'm back by performing an impromptu preventative maintenance in
the middle of lab time by kicking the restart switch (They love it really)
I flip today's excuse card, "GLOBAL WARMING" YES YES YES! What a welcome
It's the end of the month so all those automatic email reminder programs will be
sending messages all over the place. I set the system clock back 7 days to buy some peace
and quiet and swap the printer ribbon for the three year old one with holes in it.
I sort through my snail mail and crack open the BOFH Monthly Newsletter, "kill
-9" and check out the articles therein. There's a nice piece on making OS/2 slow,
boring and painful, but it looks exactly like the OS/2 installation instructions to me...
Ah, who knows. I head straight to the BOFH Wizard section to see if any of my articles
were published. All of them!!! Even the one about the C compiler that randomly removes one
line from the source code it's compiling!
The phone rings.
"The Screen on my PC is blank!!!"
"It's the power cord" I say
"No, I checked that. When I switch it on, it does nothing!"
"It's the power cord" I say
"No, I checked and it's all plugged in properly. There's no lights on the keyboard
"It's the power cord" I say
"Oh Hey! I just noticed, the cord's not plugged in properly!"
"The power cord?" I ask
"No worries at all" I say "Is it all working well now?"
"Yes, I think so. I'm sorry, you WERE right all along"
"Yes, we're getting a lot of this, it's due to the current Global Warming problem.
It causes random thermal expansion and contraction resulting in temperature induced
movement of friction based holding mechanisms.."
I listen carefully. Nothing. In other words, ...
DUMMY MODE ON
"You can fix it permanently tho'" I say
"Well it's all to do with lowering salt deposits on the metal contacts"
"Oh!" (Dummy mode irrevocably engaged)
"All you need to do is just take the power plug out and deposit some dilute
mineral salts on it. Do you have some dilute mineral salts on you?"
"Ok, no worries, just stick it in your mouth drool into it. But make sure you wipe
the plug first to get rid of any germs, and TURN THE SWITCH OFF ON THE MONITOR before you
do - we don't want a nasty accident!
Fzzztclunk! I hang up as the receiver hits the floor. Disk space is too good for them.
I get to work and I'm a bit tired so I plug a thick hunk of copper across
the three phase supply and throw the switch. The room is plunged into darkness as the
circuit breakers trip and for once the machine room is silent.
I like it!
I pop the phone off the hook and close the curtains on the observation window. Now it's
*really* dark in there. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had a nasty accident in here..
I lift a couple of floor tiles up in the darkness and call our maintenance contractors
saying the mini popped the breaker again, then replace the fuses in it with a couple of
nails and short the power supply to ground. You can't just hope for this sort of thing,
you've got to MAKE it happen.
15 minutes later the engineer arives and falls down the hole. I pop the floor tiles
back on just as the System Manager (a new and very thorough individual) comes in, telling
me to watch out, someone could really hurt themselves in the dark...
I nod & tell him that we can't really afford all the downtime, and should I just
throw the breaker and hope that there was no major fault. After thinking about the
negative publicity we're getting already, he makes the last decision of his short career
and tells me to go ahead.
Later, when the smoke clears I examine the smoking remains of the mini. Not a pretty
"Strange that the breaker jammed shut, isn't it?" I say to our manager as he
packs up the personal things in his office. "One in a million chance. A pity that
someone saw what you did and posted the whole story to comp.misc. You'll be lucky to get a
job managing a car computer after all that publicity..."
I go back to the machine room and throw the rest of the breakers to liven everything
up, then login and start deleting users' email. I spot an interesting off-the-record
sexual proposition from our male consultant to a member of the men's swim team which will
make a good motd, so I copy it there, modify root's owner name to be "Winker"
and password to be "ljkadlkajflkj" (then call the big boss to report a suspected
intrusion). Should be at least a couple of hours of login time before we can sort that
out. In the meantime, people are just going to have to read that message... I realise the
message has been read when I hear the gunshot from behind the consultant's closed door.
I edit the online helpdesk information and change the phone number to the System
Manager's - he'll probably appreciate the extra calls at such a sad time...
I hear another shot and realise he won't be answering any calls today.
I put the phone back on the hook and flip today's excuse card. "Poor power
conditioning". Too plausible. "STATIC BUILDUP". Still a bit too plausible
for my liking, but I don't want to run out of cards before the end of the year, so I
decide to run with it.
The phone rings almost as soon as I've got "Top Gun" in the video machine so
I pause the video and put the phone on hands-free.
"I think I've bought a bad floppy disk"
"Yes?" I wonder if I've suddenly become the consumer watchdog?
"Well, I've got this disk and it won't format. All the others in the box did so I
thought I must have a bad disk"
"Why are you calling me about this?" I ask
"Well, the disk says guaranteed; where do I go to get a replacement?"
Ah! Of course.
"Well, let's see. Are you sure it's the disk, and not just some problem with
"Static Buildup, you know, static electricity that's passed from you to the
"But I'm wearing a wrist strap!"
Around about now I realise I'm deep in dweeb country. Wrist straps aren't fashion
accessories in *my* part of town...
"Of course you are, but your average wrist strap has a 1 meg resistor in series
with it, a *really* poor earth. What you need is a direct earth connection. Hang onto the
frame of something that's earthed properly."
"What, you mean like our stainless steel work bench?"
"Excellent. Now, have you got a paper clip to discharge the static with?"
"Hang on. Yeah"
"Ok, with your other hand, poke the clip thru the ventilation holes at the back of
the unit, and just touch the contact at the end of the thick red wire."
"The one going to the power supply?"
"Yep, that's it"
"....Hey, isn't that the li... kzzzzt!clunk.
Another call solved by the helpdesk from hell...
I'm busy with my new shell replacement login script, and it's almost
foolproof. Let's just say it pops up with:
"Yes means No and No means Yes. Delete all files
upon login. I'm really starting to worry about the number of account breakins we've
been having recently.... The manager isn't though. His main concern appears to be the
number of computer-related fatalities on campus. Funny world, isn't it?
I flip the excuse card. "DOPPLER EFFECT" Sounds implausible enough that it's
plausible - with a little work of course.
The phone, the bane of my existence, rings.
"Hello, Computer Room" I say, being helpful
"Is this the Technicians?" The caller asks.
Amazing the number of deaf people that use these things. What the hell, I'm bored..
"Yes it is" I lie (Nixon would've been proud)
"I've got a problem with my floppy drive, it doesn't seem to be reading all the
"Hmmm. How old is the drive?"
"About a year.."
"And it sometimes fails and sometimes works, but it's starting to fail more and
"Yeah, it's the Doppler effect of magnetism.."
"I thought that only happened with light and sound?"
>Bullshit mode ON< "Yes, well it's been found that on a spinning surface,
like a disk, the particle's magnetic alignment changes, especially when the head is
stationary and slightly magnetised in respect to it."
"Duh. Oh" DUMMY MODE ON "So, what you need to do is to demagnetise the
head. Have you got a disk head demagnetising loop?"
"OK, we'll have to do it the hard way. Have you got your original diskettes for
"Right, chuck them in the drive, one by one, and format them."
"Don't worry, it won't work - remember the drive is failing. All that happens is
that the virgin magnetic field of the disks realigns the magnetic field of the head,
because they weren't written by a doppler effected drive."
"So, when it gives you a write error and asks if you want to continue, you say
yes. Do it with all your original diskettes, then, to complete the demagnetising process,
run a head cleaning diskette through the drive as well, which will pick up the stray
magenetic particles clinging to the head."
"Oh. Ok. Thanks"
"Don't thank me - IT'S MY JOB!" I say, hearty in manner.
I put the phone down, it rings again. It's the big boss.
"Simon, could you come to my office please?"
ALERT! Quick as I can, I press the panic button on our LAN-Analyser, or to be more
precise, the "Generate 90% random traffic" button
"Sure, would you like me to come now, or..
The other phone rings. I chuck it on hands free
"Hello, Computer Room, Simon Here, How can I help?"
"THE NETWORK IS DOWN, ALL OUR PCS HAVE SHIT THEMSELVES!" the voice on hands
-free screams into the mouthpeice of the other phone
"I see" I say calmly "Yes, our Monitor shows it up, it looks to be a bad
segment of thinwire - please hold the line while I unplug it"
I press the "I just got a raise" button (AKA "Stop Traffic
Generation") on the LAN Analyser, and almost immediately the user shouts back
"Excellent, it's working now, thanks"
"That's ok, don't mention it. Have a nice day"
The big-boss has been listening to all this, so I reckon that the trip to his office
won't be so bad after all. I tell him I'll be right down as soon as I secure the net and
hang up. On the way down, I invent a new buzzword which always keep management happy.
Complete Transient Lockout. Sounds much better than pulling the plug. Like Master-Reset
sounds better than off-switch.
I get to his office and the staffing officer is there too. Uh-oh.
"Simon - How would you like to be our System Manager?"
"Well... I don't know, I like that hands on.."
"Extra 10 grand a year, Varsity Car.."