Bastard Operator from Hell, 1996 Vintage, Part Two


Congratulations Once More Reader
If you've got this far you really must have at least half a dozen or so of the neighbours pets almost to the boil by now. To test if the creature concerned is what we (in the pet torturing trade) call 'Al Dente' - from the Latin to leave marks on motor vehicles when struck at excessive speed - grab it with a pair of snap-jaw Vice-Grip Plie...

WE INTERRUPT ONCE MORE WITH AN APOLOGY REGARDING THE JAVA SCRIPT WHICH HAS AGAIN BEEN ACCIDENTALLY LOADED ONTO YOUR MACHINE AND WHICH HAS SUCH LOW REGARD FOR HOUSEHOLD PETS. WE CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH THAT STEPS HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO ENSURE THAT IT, JAVA SCRIPTS WHICH LOOK LIKE IT, AND ALL IT'S SCRIPT FRIENDS AND RELATIVES, HAVE BEEN TAKEN OUT BACK OF THE COMPUTER AND SHOT IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER

Now, back to the sunlit and snowcapped mountains of things more artistic!


Looking for new challenges, or just more dosh, the BOFH risks it all in the agency shark pool ...


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 networking?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"Why?"

"Well we have an excellent position in DOS consultancy at the moment."

"And you feel that's a networking position?" I ask, already annoyed.

"Well, not exactly. Initially it would be more of a help desk role."

"Not interested. I'm networks, not systems, and definitely not support."

"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 Milton Ke.."

"No."

"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 conversation.

"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 details."

"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 him."

Job done, he swaggers back to his office, the John Wayne of networks and systems.

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 reception.

>Ding!< "Hello," I smile to the receptionist. "I've just been appointed to a position as Network Administrator. Could you ring my supervisor please..."

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.


A pay rise in his pocket, and an admiring pimply-faced-youth looking , the BOFH plays safe ...


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 ...

Recognition strikes.

"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 policy either...

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 presentation slides."

"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 system."

"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 similar checksum."

"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 ago?"

"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.


The Bastard suffers from some temporary telephone trouble ...


"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 toll-bars.

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.

Nasty.

"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 advantage.

"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 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?


A heated exchange with the boss over air-conditioning raises temperatures all round ...


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 cutout 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?"

"Fails."

"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 comms room."

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 volts?"

"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 nature.

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 networks room.

"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 his fears.

"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'."

"You bastard!"

"In the flesh, on the prowl, and waiting for my 20 quid..."


The BOFH becomes a contract killer as he undoes some damage caused by the boss ...


I'm not happy. True, that's not such a rare occurrence, but today I'm VERY unhappy.

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.

Uh-huh.

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 got.

"So what sort of contract is it?" I ask him, once he's back in his office gloating.

"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 squirming!"

"And OUR lawyer?" I ask, expecting the inevitable. "Overrated!" he replies. "Could have done it with my eyes closed"

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.

"Yes?"

"You do realise that WE are also locked into this deal for 20 years?"

"Of course."

"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 policy matures.

"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 DOOR!"

"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 beforehand?!"

"Which 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 frenzy.

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 'SORRY'."

"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...


As the BOFH explains, dummies don't grow on trees, it takes years of training ...


"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 megabyte."

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 software.

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."

"Come again?"

"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 displays."

"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 sorry,"

"What about if we moved the exit signs?"

"Oh, I'm afraid WE couldn't do that, even if we had the time."

"Oh?"

"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 so young.

"10 Quid?" I ask.

"You're on," he says, thinking naive "easy money" thoughts.

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 doorways.

"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 alarms.

"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 right.

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.


The Bastard's writing regresses to childlike scrawls as he attempts some artistic expenses ...

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 months.

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 sprorts?

"Let me see..." I answer, feigning contemplation. "Oh! That's beef! I must have had the steak!"

"And sprorts?"

"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."

"Huh?"

"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...


The Bastard puts a price tag on user access after a particularly annoying request ...

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.

"Hello."

"Is that the Computer Room?"

"Yes..."

"Is that the Systems Operator?"

I look around quickly - apart from the PFY there's no witnesses.

"..Yes..."

"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."

"What updates?"

"I'm capitalising the middle initial of all staff and contractors since 1991."

"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 predictive failure."

"Really?"

"Yes, and I predict that they will fail in three seconds"

"Why's that?"

"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 stopped!"

"Hmm. This sounds like you have an pre-revision embedded SQL statement."

>DUMMY MODE ON<

"Huh?"

"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 WHERE."

"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 blank now!"

"That's right, because the repairs are taking place. Now when your boss gets him, tell him about the 'repairs' that you made."

"Okay. Thanks!"

"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 recently."

"Oh. Well, is it working now?"

"Of course it is. And you'll be able to use it shortly ..."

"Great!"

"... when you get access. And the access charge today is five quid."

"What?!"

"Each!"

"You're joking!"

"Per minute."

"You can't do that!"

"You're right. I can't - it's my lunchtime, perhaps my assistant can help you."

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.

"What"

"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.


The Bastard puts in a day on the helpdesk ...


"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

"16 Meg"

"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 compactor."

"Really?"

"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, I answer.

"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 run"

"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 Bastard and his pimply sidekick spread their network of misery across the land ...


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 systems foolproof.

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 frightening thought.

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 home pages..."

I hate me, I really do. It's just like shooting a fish in a barrel. With an elephant gun.

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.


Trains, planes and the dreaded laptop spotter - the BOFH brings the anoraks back to earth. ...


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.

"I'm sorry?"

"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."

"It doesn't."

"So what are you running?"

"Solaris 2.7."

"Hey, wow! You must be a serious user."

"Yeah. Something like that." Which makes you a serious luser. "You running Windows 95?"

"Yes."

"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 mod?"

"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 smoke ...yet.

"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 instead?"

"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?"


Fear of a compulsory team-building weekend spurs the BOFH into his own style of teamwork ...


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 next office.

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 above ..."

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."

"Almost microphone-like?"

"Ummm ..."

"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 coffee mug?"

"Uuuuhh ..."

"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 phenomenon."

"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 humour.

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 cue.

"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 office apart.

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.


Point scoring over network equipment blunders sees the PFY battling it out with the BOFH ...


"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 town.

"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 enhancement."

"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 next day?"

"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 day."

"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 score sheet.

"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 helps."

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 office."

"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 opportunities.

"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 can."

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 station.

"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 ..."


Battle vibes pulsate as beancounter central takes vehement action against the network lads ...


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 contracts."

"Well, what are we going to do?"

"For now, nothing."

"But ..."

"... 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 PFY replies.

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 networking problems'.

"That's the bastard!" a beancounter shouts, pointing me out to the auditors.

"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 head beancounter.

"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 Maintenance Contractors."

"Of course!" I gush. "And fitters of expresso machines too, aren't they?"

"...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 afternoon."

"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..."


As the boss gets in a twist about Cat 5 cables, the BOFH bides his time to unravel the mess ...


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 phone.

"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?"

"Oh yes"

"Really?"

"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 replies.

"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 bulb fixed."

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 there."

"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...


Rule one of setting up a network: don't let the boss use his 'initiative' and set one up himself ...


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 lagers.

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 cavities ..."

Me: "Where it will sag onto the electrical cabling causing major interference."

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 offensively.

"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 room."

"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 Wednesday."

"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 found ..."

"When?!"

"Tomorrow morning ..."

One autograph later, the PFY and I take the rest of the day off to recuperate from our stressful overtime.


Infiltration of the e-mail system provokes the BOFH to adulterate the Yellow Pages ...


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 scaleability," 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 journalling 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 'Potentially Destructive'.

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 any case.

"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 too.

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 library. Hmmm.

I give the PFY the boss's new Yellow Pages to deliver. We share a knowing glance ...

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 'Definitely Destructive'.

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 ...


Money is exchanged as the Bastard engages in some very underhand practices ...


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 pub.

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 equipment."

"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 do, etc."

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 orthodox manner.

"Smell that?" I ask the PFY.

"What?"

"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.

"Bingo!"

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 PFY offers.

"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.


Ever tempted to play computer games at work? The BOFH sets out to spoil all the fun ...


"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!"

"Gone?"

"Yes. Gone. I had some back-ups of some work stuff on the network disk."

"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 position: 'cannon-fodder'.

"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 piracy."

"Prosecuted?"

"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 try..."

"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 excitedly.

"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 off."

He diverts him and hangs up.

"Two minutes, two calls," the PFY says, placing a five-quid note on the table.

"Six minutes, 10 calls," I counter, placing my five quid on top of the PFY's.

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 approach.

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 on.

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" bin.

"You bastard!" he cries respectfully.

"In the flesh, on the job, and ready for a game of Network Doom."

"You're on!"


As encryption is forced on the Bastard, he plots to give the Boss more of a shock than ever ...


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 Group.

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 TCP/IP?"

"Network overhead," I throw out to test the waters of his preparation.

"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.

"Sure thing."

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 microseconds later.

"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 letter.

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 possible.

To increase the effect, he selects the following Monday as the switchover date.

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 encryption.

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 wouldn't it?"

"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 shown it.

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 normal.

Status Quo reinstated - all systems go.


Where do you find a new pimply-faced-youth when you want one? It's a challenge, but .>


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 compromisingly attractive.

With a small amount of sentimentality, he takes his leave after two weeks' notice, during which time the boss gains the not unfamiliar "permanently hunted" expression...

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?"

They: "Investiga..."

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. NEXT!"

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.

He doesn'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 PFY's hand.

I LOVE this business.