In this, the limited release of the first part of the 1997 Bastard Operator from Hell, you'll notice the point/counterpoint that only an artiste (albeit a piss-artiste) like Travaglia can provide. Notice the hint of blood-crimson at the side of the characters which could almost be mistaken for a badly aligned red-gun in your monitor. But we know better, don't we? Of course we do, we're much better than that. We're experienced (In a Jean Paul Satre way, and not a Linda Lovelace manner). We know what the artist is trying to say - the hint of personal reflection bundled in a pint sized bag of joy!
Mean much to you?
They didn't go up to the executive offices first, which means they're primed with all the information they need. Someone's upset the top brass big time, and that someone, judging by the troop of 'yes-persons' laughingly referred to as my 'co-workers', can only be me. Or possibly the pimply-faced-youth...
I remember electronically signing up the entire board of directors to the mailing list of a seedy video parlour, but I hardly think that would qualify for all this attention.
The auditors are a 'good cop, bad cop' team who'd make a VAT inspector look like Mother Teresa.
I've got about a minute before they pay us a visit. So I dial up head office's router and start a packet sniff operation, and then configure some extra phone lines onto the voice recorder.
I've just finished when they arrive.
"This is a secure area," I call out, playing the dedicated worker to the full.
"Company auditors," bad cop sneers.
"You have some ID?" I ask, buying time until I can clear my screen.
Their pictures look rough enough, but I make a point of checking their ID photos under the magnifying lamp.
"They seem OK. Now, what can I help you with?" I ask.
"We're here to audit and inventory your equipment. You're to make yourself available until we've finished the audit."
"How long will that take?" I reply.
"As long as it takes," bad cop says.
Excellent. I write them up in the visitors' book, then swipe them through the door on my ID.
They potter around a bit calling out inventory numbers and making rude noises to themselves. I pass the time by listening to my latest voice recording on the headset. It only takes a few minutes of secretarial gossip to find out that someone noticed that one of our microwave dishes points at the middle of beancounter central instead of the sky. Mind you, it's not as if we're actually transmitting through it... Still, with the psychosomatic headaches and general illness it'll cause, I guess it's worth the hassle.
"OK," bad cop says wandering back in.
"According to our records, over the past year you have written-off as unserviceable; three televisions..."
"Ah, satellite reception monitors," I quickly interrupt, "very poor quality, yes."
"Two stereo video recorders..."
"CCTV recorders with dual audio channels, again, poor quality"
"A microwave cooker..."
"Short range microwave transmission test device."
"And 112 videos."
"CCTV recording media, yes."
"Bought from the Megastore?"
"At a good price."
"Blank media at 15 quid a piece?"
"Quality costs money..."
"Then why are the titles listed?"
"Invoicing error. Call them, I'm sure the Megastore's records say blank media. Now..."
"And you wrote them off?"
"Corporate secrecy requires us to destroy confidential media after three months..."
"Well, what about these multi-colour indicator lamps?"
"We use them all over the place..."
"Yes, well they could be anything... Hell, Christmas tree lights fit that bill."
Perceptive bastard really...
"I'm sure everything's in order," good cop says, in a manner designed to engender trust. No doubt the same form of trust that preceded the statement: "Watch my back Brutus." It can only mean one thing.
"Just one thing," bad cop asks, switching to pleasant mode. "You DO have the asset disposal forms, signed by your head of department and co-signed by the head of purchasing?"
Whoops. Things have turned a little grim for the home team.
"Because if you don't, you WOULD be liable for the loss of the assets concerned. With a current book value of about £5,000..." he says, savouring every syllable.
"Of course I do," I smile, indicating a huge pile of miscellaneous papers kept expressly for occasions like this. "In there somewhere. Sorry it's a bit of a mess."
While they wade through the pile, I look up the vehicle associated with the identification cards of our two friends, then e-mail the PFY his mission.
An hour later the auditors call it a day and wander off. The PFY and I follow suit, in time to witness another 'random' security check at the car park exit. We are both shocked and stunned to see a boot-sale-worth of 'written-off' equipment in our erstwhile auditors' vehicle, along with 30 or so 'asset disposal forms', blank but for an incriminating signature and co-signature.
"So that's where all our kit has been going!" I blurt in passing in case security has lost the plot, even after the anonymous tip-off.
Status quo returned, I offer to buy the PFY a beer to ease the cramp in his signing hand.
It's a tough life at the top - don't let people tell you otherwise...
"What the hell's happened at public relations?" he snaps. "I've had their head of department yelling at me. He says you told one of his secretaries to erase the install media and virally infect their machines!"
"You're kidding," I reply, oozing disbelief. "Hang on, I haven't spoken to anyone. Did they ring me?"
"No, they rang the helpdesk, but you picked up the call."
"I don't think so - I was working on the network all day," I reply, bearing in mind our automated network attendant makes a convenient alibi.
"What about THIS then?" he cries, brandishing my virus disk.
"It's a disk with a copy of a virus on it," I say.
"Then why did you label it 'VIRUS SCAN'?"
"It was a note to myself to check it. I found it was indeed infected, then put it in the bin, but someone has obviously and foolishly tried to recycle the disk."
"Well their whole server is infected now and they need to stop users from accessing it and reinfecting their machines until it's been sorted out."
"Of course," I say. "The PFY and I will get right onto it."
The PFY is surprised at my eagerness to aid the PR plebs, but it's just the chance I need to get into their machines and make those little changes to the end-of-year report. Very few people noticed the fangs and horns on the Head of IT in the management photo last year, so it would appear that I'll have to have a less subtle printing overlay for the final version this time.
Security has, however, been tightened after some nit-picker noticed the company figures didn't quite add up - not the sort of thing you want the shareholders to see. On the other hand, the bonus from the printing company for the extra batch of reports did put the bastard operator's benevolent fund back in the black.
"Good," the boss chirps, interrupting my reverie. "I'll oversee the operation myself - good for internal morale and all that."
Sadly, the boss is unlikely to top the morale boost he gave the department a few days ago when he slipped on a grease spot in the cafeteria and face-planted the vegetarian lasagne, however this thought is only second in my mind. My creative juices are unlikely to flow with the boss peering over my shoulder the whole time.
Some diversion strategy is called for...
"Good Lord!" I shout, kicking the power plug from the PFY's machine. "Those earth spikes are getting ridiculous."
"What earth spikes?" the boss blurts.
"You know, the spikes from the earthing strip at the side of the building. We've been waiting six weeks for a contractor to go out and look at the connector just up from the window."
"But we've got several earthing conductors," the boss replies, having no idea of the resale value of copper at the moment (or, to be more precise, six weeks ago when the PFY and I were short of cash).
"No, just one - economic downsizing by your predecessor," I ad-lib glibly.
"Oh? Well, let's have a look then."
I lead him to the window and point up at the earthing strip.
"Why do you need a contractor? You could shin up there and fix it in no time."
"I'm only responsible for the INSIDE of the..." I say.
"Oh for Pete's sake - open the bloody window!" the boss cries, obviously switched into idiot mode.
Five minutes later he's at the offending junction giving it the old once-over.
"I've never noticed how high up we were..." the PFY mentions, dreamily.
"Yeah. If you fell from this height they'd need a shovel to get you into the ambulance," I reply.
True to form the boss looks down. The gleaming whiteness of his knuckles indicates he is now locked into place and going nowhere.
After two hours in the PR department, 'fixing' the virus, the company reports look perfect. That is if you like to see a PR chief with a set of Lennon glasses and buck teeth and two of the more right-wing directors holding hands.
Of course, the company accounts don't quite add up either - for the second year running.
I pause briefly to watch the boss being led out of the building in his new and rather attractive strap-round jacket. Security must have found 'his' note about stress and so forth on the window ledge.
Looks like a morale peak on the horizon... not to mention a nice little bonus from the printers.
In fact, the last time he disturbed the peace of the BOFH sanctuary was when he discovered that the 'satellite-based data reception technology' seemed to be pointed at the local bookie's and was carrying mainly racing results.
I can sense that this time he's got something to tell me. He's looking decidedly pleased with himself. His well-fed face bears an uncanny resemblance to a wolf spying a solitary sheep. Pulling himself up to his full five-foot-four, he speaks firmly but with a noticeable hint of nervousness.
"In view of the fact that your idea of technical support is idiosyncratic to say the least, we've decided to install our own server and employ our own network manager."
He pauses as the implication of what he's saying slowly sinks in.
"Can I take it that you're not happy with the support that my assistant and I offer you?" I reply, gesturing at the PFY.
"Him?" gurgled the bean counter. "He's nothing but a psychopath."
The PFY beams at the compliment. The suit from upstairs continues.
"We're going to employ a proper networking person so we don't have to let you two maniacs anywhere near our network again. ANYONE we find is bound to be an improvement on you two."
Foolish words, but hey, I was bored anyway.
A week or so later, the memo is delivered from on-high by the Bean Counter Central office-boy (obviously our previous confrontation used up all his boss's courage). As of 9am today, Operations is no longer responsible for technical support in the financial division.
I pass the note to the PFY, and I detect menace in his eyes. "Since we're not supporting them any more, I guess that means they have their own routers," I point out, pulling a few plugs. Interestingly, the remote probe I built into their coffee machine tells me that they're still getting packets off the Internet ... hmmm ... not daft, this lot.
I bash out a quick message and drop it on the 'pager' icon. Some seconds later my really-terribly-private cellphone blasts into action. The PFY is impressed and worried; only important, powerful people know the number to that phone, and the fact that it's ringing usually means that we're in serious trouble and are calling in some big favours. He has never heard it ring before, and looks decidedly worried.
"Hello? Yes, that's right ... yes, I thought so ... no, we're not allowed to touch anything, it's entirely down to the new network manager up there. Oh, you are, are you? That's nice ... yes, okay, the Victoria in fifteen minutes."
The PFY looks puzzled, and is startled to hear the fire alarm. I point out that the fire alarm might be something to do with the smoke emanating from Bean Counter Central, and he rushes outside to see. The penny drops and he dashes back in and demands to know how I knew that something was amiss upstairs, given that you can't see the smoke or the alarm panel from where I'm sitting.
"Well, okay. You remember Martin?"
"What, that guy you introduced me to once?"
"I've introduced you to so many people..."
"Okay, the one with the pony tail and the alcohol fixation whose temperament and attitude to users makes both of us look like St Francis of Assisi?"
"Yes, that's him."
"The one who you told me last week was out of a job?"
"Hmmm ... more like the one whose name by some chance found its way to the top of the Bean Counter recruitment list," I point out.
It suddenly dawns on him. Now he knows why I spent so much time on the personnel database last week - and why I was so keen in calling in a few favours to that friendly recruitment consultant.
A thought struck me. "Heh, heh ... wait until you see the router they've got upstairs. It's one of these cobbled-together things that you don't see very often. I predict they're going to have a lot of trouble with that in the future.
"In fact there are only two people in the world with the code, and they're the guys who wrote it. And you're looking at one of them."
"And the other?"
"... knows the number of my private cellphone and is now on his way round the corner to the pub. Come on, my expense account has some beer to buy."
"Why's he doing it?" the PFY asks.
"Because he rests under the mistaken belief that it will have some bearing on the number of phones that are 'liberated' each year and end up in the homes of our employees."
"You mean they TAKE the phones?!" the PFY asks, naively believing that larceny stops just outside our door.
"Of course," I cry. "Good grief, it's an office perk, always has been. In return for our shiny new phone we get their lifelong guilt and another crusty old monster from the year 200 BT, which in turn justifies all the room we have allocated in the basement ..."
"And this goes on a lot?"
"Ahem. Dial a number, any number, any number at all!"
The PFY types a number on hands free.
"Hello, drawing office."
"Hello, networks here. We seem to have an inventory anomaly regarding your desktop phone, serial number 138728."
My monologue is interrupted by the slamming of the receiver.
"What happened?" the PFY asks.
"I dare say they are at this very moment rushing down the stairwell to retrieve the item from their home. Remember to make up a serial number so that they don't just steal one from somewhere else. Great for getting people out of the office..."
The PFY and I watch as an employee bursts from the main entrance and hurtles across the road to the tube station. I then ring the number again...
"Hello," a gruff drawing-office-boss-like voice answers.
"Pete," I gush. "Glad I caught you before you sneaked out. Say hi to Sheryl from me when you see her, you smooth bastard."
"WHO IS THIS?"
I hang up quickly.
"Well, I'm sure HIS absence won't be noted ... now, let's get upstairs and steal his desk phone. He'll be too scared to take his work one back home tonight and will be incommunicado till payday."
"You really are a bastard," the PFY admits grudgingly.
"Of course. Now, let's get to the boss's office ..."
"... And how do you think this will prevent theft?" I ask the boss, after hearing his phone proposal argument.
"Because they're a special model - slimline with a digital display that are ONLY going to be made for THIS company with the company logo on the front."
"Well, you're way off," the PFY quite rightly points out. "If you want a phone no-one will steal, just make it weigh 20 pounds and sound like crap."
The boss is a little flustered at this because he knows that for such a move he's got to present the proposal to the board for approval. And he doesn't want the PFY and I making his master plan sound similar to what comes out of an unstealable phone ...
I decide to let him temporarily off the hook.
"Well, can't hang around here all day, networks to fix and all that."
We wander off to his relief.
"I don't think the board will go for it," the PFY surmises as we wander back to our room.
"Don't you believe it," I reply. "Whack a company logo on something original and you'll have them drooling - especially if the competition hasn't done it before ..."
I leave the PFY to worry while I duck up to the boardroom to 'tune-up' the boss's presentation. At the appointed time, the PFY and I are hanging out at network central when the boss calls.
"What's wrong with the test line in the boardroom?" he growls, according to plan.
"Don't know," I say, "We'll be up in a second to check it."
"There's no nee..."
Quick as a flash the PFY and I are in the boardroom.
"Wow," the PFY cries, delivering his lines perfectly. "New phones, exactly like the ones the opposition's just got."
All heads turn as the boss reluctantly takes delivery of 'The Shaft' - he knows the board would never copy the idea of a rival ...
"There's your problem," I say, looking up from my test-set. "It's just the RAL of this phone. I'll make a note."
I pull out a personal disorganiser that I liberated from a user early last year with a company logo recently glued to the cover.
"What's that?" one of the board asks.
"Oh, just a personal organiser. I just put the company logo on it to stop people stealing it at conferences."
"I could use one of those," he says. A few murmurs of assent follow.
The boss then realises that as far as 'The Shaft' is concerned this is a two-for-one sale.
As planned, two hours later the PFY and I are downing a couple of pints on our recently transferred 'research fund' while we discuss the new 'Corporate Personal Organiser'. It'd be a challenge if it weren't so easy.
He's enforcing every single safety standard known to humankind. As well as this, he's checking our arrival and departure times and even pulling us up on the creative book keeping that produces most of our timesheets.
It's not good.
Still, you know what they say, the best defence is a good offence.
Sure enough, it's not long before the PFY and I are called into the boss's office for failing to put up warning signs after opening the cabling duct in the basement. My suspicions are confirmed when I notice the head of personnel sitting in on the meeting. He's never been a big fan of mine or the PFY's - well, not since he got a crossed line with the DP pool while talking to his doctor about a personal and very private problem. He probably would've believed it if we hadn't thanked him for not doing anything 'rash' ...
The boss winds up for the delivery. "Much as I deplore these things, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give you both a final written warning after the exposure of general staff to that dangerous drop," he says.
"The dangerous drop of three or four inches to the cable duct floor."
"A dangerous drop nonetheless," he replies, egged on by the head of personnel.
"Could I just have a word with you in private?" I ask, a picture of piety.
"I don't think that would be necessary," the boss replies.
"Uh, I wasn't actually meaning you, I meant the representative from personnel. Just as we're talking safety issues I thought the PFY and I could have a word about that cheap microwave dish."
As if by magic, the tone of conversation changes. Could it be that the boss has remembered WHO recommended and ordered (against the advice of the networking technicians) the said dish?
"Perhaps I can spare you a minute," said the tight-lipped boss.
"Well, it's mainly a safety concern you understand," I say, once we're in private. "As this is my final warning I can expect my contract not to be renewed for another year, and I'd just like to organise someone to pop up onto the roof every two or three weeks to tighten up the bolts on the cheap microwave dish you recommended we buy last year.
"Apparently it slowly tilts over till it's pointing directly at the roof. We wouldn't have found out except that one of the auditors in the office underneath rang to complain about the coffee in his mug boiling every time transmissions passed 20 per cent bandwidth..."
The boss is, as we in the trade say, up the creek without a paddle user's guide. He tries unsuccessfully to disguise his utter horror at the possible legal action that could result from this. And even more importantly, who would be taking the precipitous fall for it...
"Who was that auditor again?" he said, feigning mild interest.
"Oh you know!" I reply. "Wilson, Wilkins - something like that. You know, the guy who's always off sick with headaches and stuff."
He's now out of the stream and heading out to sea - he KNOWS we'll have kept an autographed copy of the memo (complete with our response) safely stashed in some fireproof location that he'll get access to shortly after Satan starts ordering antifreeze and winter woollens.
52 seconds later we're back in his office...
"Well I see no point in taking this any further," the boss says, to the personnel head's disgust. "It appears the signs WERE there after all, in fact I saw them myself! Now, hadn't you better pop up and do that maintenance ..."
"Running all the way," I agree. "OH! And look, there's those timesheets that you were querying before. Ah! I see why you were querying it! The PFY and I didn't put in those 10 hours work - we did, uh ... network tuning on two Sunday nights. I'll just fill that in now so you can sign it."
The head of personnel leaves with a burst of language I'm sure isn't approved by company policy while the boss signs away an amount of overtime probably equal to the GNP of a small communist state.
Victory and overtime ours, I foster goodwill in the boss by sending a back-up tape from our off-site storage contractors.
"What was that about?" the PFY asks.
"Oh just returning the boss's memo about that microwave dish he recommended."
"Are you sure that was such a good idea? He'll just destroy it."
"It's probably for the best," I respond. "After all, it's the only remaining documentation about it. And without documentation..."
"I'll get the scrap dealer on the line."
I'm not exactly sure how I got home, but I think it had something to do with a very long taxi ride and someone else's credit card...
It was inevitable after spending most of yesterday 'supplier baiting' at a computing exhibition on the other side of town, then trundling off with some slavering salespeople to all night drinkies. The first one to collapse loses - the sale, the initiative and his corporate credit card when he's not looking.
Because of my health, I'd temporarily forgotten that we'd told the boss that the PFY and I would sit in for the Helldesk while they attended a health and safety course on how to type a whole word without dying of RSI or whatever they call it these days. The boss, of course, did not come down in the last shower and is well aware I'm up to something, but lacks the mental capacity to work out what it is. No surprises there then.
Sadly, he shall be wondering about it at the RSI course along with the other mortals as the company's health and safety policy makes it mandatory for all computing staff to attend. His protestations of already having attended amount to nothing in the light of the fact that there's no record of it in the Human Resources Database (whoops), nor does he appear to possess the 'get-out-of-jail-free' RSI course completion certificate.
The PFY and I, on the other hand, have several of these certificates and corresponding database entries, yet still have no idea what the instructor looks like nor what exactly the course is about.
Knowing he's beaten, the boss goes quietly.
Meanwhile, in the Helldesk area, I'm reconnecting the smoke detectors after the freak fire that destroyed an RSI Course Completion Certificate with the boss's name on it. I blame the heating system - it's been working overtime recently.
"Hello? Is this the helpdesk?"
"Yes it is," I answer, all sweet, fluffy loveliness.
"Can you tell me the number for the modem pool?"
"I sure can!" I gush, then give the number for a fax machine on the fourth floor, which should keep them confused for a couple of weeks.
I hang up and have barely dropped off to sleep when the phone rings again.
"My laptop seems to be running quite slowly. Can you help?"
"Of course I can. Now don't tell me, you're still using the power filter unit aren't you?"
*DUMMY MODE ON*
"The power filter unit?"
"Yes, the one that filters the power coming into your machine. It should be a black box about three inches by two inches square."
"Oh... yes, I see it."
"Okay, you want to remove that and put the non-filtered cable onto it."
"The non-filtered cable?"
"Yes, it would have come in the box with the machine. It's probably still there."
"But I threw the box out!"
"Hmm. Well, I can order you one, but in the meantime do you have a spare power cable?"
"Well, just borrow one from someone else's machine - then it's their problem."
"Yeah, hee hee..."
What a plonker.
"OK, switch the filter off, then chop the cable off halfway between the filter and your machine. Then strip back the wires and poke them into the two holes in the sides of the socket of the new power cable ..."
"OK, done that."
"And plug her in."
He hangs up and I wait for lift-off. About 10 seconds later the fire alarm goes off, which I take to be an encouraging sign ...
At the end of the day the boss wanders in. He's not impressed. Apparently he'd heard about the PFY's advice to a user to change the screen saver passwords on their department machines to completely random text in the interests of safety. News of the post-lunch lockout made it across the building in minutes ...
In the face of the PFY's completely innocent and apparently naive grasp of security issues, he comes into the office and raves for a couple of minutes about time lost, production down, company money wasted, disgruntled colleagues, blah, blah, blah ...
We concur dutifully with his arguments and promise to do much better on future occasions, should they arise.
"By the way," he continues, with a worried little frown, "has anyone seen my RSI Course Completion Certificate? I'm sure I left it on that table over there ..."
He wanders off in search of it while I disconnect the smoke alarms and the PFY makes an update on the Human Resources Database ...
Looks like tomorrow's just going to be work, work, work.
The boss is in a good mood. Almost radiant, in fact. It can only bode bad tidings, especially as his phone log notes that he's been talking to one of the company lawyers.
Sadly, the text of the conversation was lost due to an oversight on the part of the PFY, who forgot to change the tapes on the voice recorder. A mistake he won't be making twice if the power stapler has anything to do with it ...
It's obvious something's up - he's scheduled a meeting with us at 10.30am, a time normally quite unknown to us.
The smug expression on his face leaves me in no doubt that he feels his position is unassailable.
"Gentlemen," he says, with an uncharacteristic show of camaraderie, "Why don't you take an hour's unpaid leave to go and get changed?"
The PFY is in like a shot.
"And why don't you take an hour's paid leave to go and get f..."
"I'M SORRY?!" I interrupt, saving the PFY from the quagmire of disciplinary action, "As you're well aware, we're permitted to wear attire applicable to the nature of our position."
"Unless", the boss says, holding up a heavily highlighted copy of a contract not unlike the ones signed when we joined the company, "your position involves interaction with ..."
He pauses for a moment, giving us time to fill in the blank whilst simultaneously savouring every millisecond ...
"... begins with C ...", he adds, "... ends with S ..."
Neither the PFY nor I are forthcoming, so the boss finishes.
"Oh," says the PFY. "That wasn't the C word I was thinking of. But I think we're talking about the same people though ..."
I cut through the PFY's bolshiness and come straight to the point.
"We don't deal with clients," I explain, as if I'm talking to a simple-minded child.
"AHEM," the Boss replies, priming the bombshell he has hidden. "As of the initiation of our ISO and Advanced Helpdesk Initiatives, the helpdesk and support staff are now officially your clients." His smug expression says it all. He's been doing his homework on this one.
"And you suggest?" I ask
"Standard client representative dress. Suit..."
The PFY gasps.
"...business shirt, tie..."
I suppress the gag reflex in my throat.
"...and of course hard-soled shoes, preferably leather."
"Well," I rally, "it's not often we agree on things, but I'd have to admit you do have a point. I'll be ready by the morning."
The PFY's widened eyes lead me to believe he doubts my sanity. But the boss is not a complete idiot. Well, actually he is, but I cut him some slack for the moment, as he can smell the rat but just can't figure where it is. We leave him to ponder...
The next day heads turn as the PFY and I stroll into work in the required apparel, and present the receipt for our new attire to the boss, who promptly has some dramatic form of seizure.
An hour later he's revived by the company nurse, but not before the PFY and I have a couple of cracks at the task with a impromptu defibrillator made from pieces of his desktop machine.
"Where am I?" the boss asks.
"In your office," I reply. "You had some sort of fit!"
"That's right. What the BLOODY HELL IS THAT?!" he asks, pointing at the receipt.
"It's the invoice for our clothes. Remember in our contract it specifically states that any specially-made safety apparel is to be provided by the company. Do you know how hard it is to get Italian-made steel-cap shoes with that professional look with only six hours notice? They had to fly them in specially!"
"You won't get away with it!" he snarls, noticing again the large collection of figures at the bottom of the page.
"Now don't you worry," I respond soothingly. "You've had a nasty turn, but we've taken care of everything. One of the nice accountants with a predilection for viewing Internet strip-shows was only too happy to supply the blank cheque to us yesterday afternoon ..."
"Then I'll have it STOPPED!" the boss says smugly, victory in sight.
So much in sight in fact, it obscures the still live remains of his PC from his vision...
I give him a good 10 minutes of heart boosting electricity before I call the nurse back again, during which time the PFY calls our clothing supplier to advise a quick clearance time ...
And they say a blue pinstripe is dressing for success ...
The boss has apparently dipped his oar into troubled waters for a quick stir by indicating that we NEVER attend these compulsory meetings; I put his attitude down to some recent electrical first aid.
Sure enough, a meeting is organised with the Head of Personnel and Head of Staff Counselling (i.e. the Huggy-Feely Dept).
"Ah, yes," the Head of Personnel begins, "apparently you saw fit not to attend your course on harassment in the workplace."
"Yes", I reply, "the truth of the matter is that in our position we are simply too busy to (a) harass people; or (b) attend a course on how not to do it."
"Well, you might think that, but I can assure you that attendance at this course is mandatory for staff and contractors alike. I don't think I need remind you that your contract requires you to attend all relevant training courses", she replies, the steel in her voice reaching the thickness of armour plating.
"I don't think so."
"I beg your pardon?!"
"I'm sure you do", I respond, "but let us suppose, merely for the sake of conjecture of course, that the PFY or I did in fact wish to harass someone. Say someone like yourself for instance. Would I, as a networking and communications engineer, go all the way to your office to make some lewd and obnoxious remark to or about you, insinuating some theme or activity you (and quite possibly I) would find distasteful, OR, would I instead find and publish some image of you in an indefensible position - say in the office of a superior, in less clothing than is normally workplace practice?"
A chill fills the room. The Head of Personnel has taken on the look of someone who would rather be elsewhere and has completely forgotten the axe he has to grind.
"I don't know what you're insinuating, bu...", Ms. Huggy begins.
"Oh nothing, I assure you! I'm sure it was just an air conditioning problem that was recorded on the securi.."
"AH! I don't really think there's any need to pursue this matter", the Head of Personnel stutters, "at least not if the original proof of this could be ..."
In other words he wants the tapes.
"Well, as I said, it was an example", I reply, "and not based in fact. Speaking of fact, is it one that there's a contract rate-round coming up soon?"
He recognises the prompt. "Ah, there has been talk of a ..."
"Excellent. The PFY and I were hoping this was the case."
Negotiations complete, the PFY and I retire to our offices to plan the extra spend. Two days later the written confirmation of the rate-rise is in our hands and we're happy workers once more. The boss, on the other hand, isn't so pleased. Thwarted again, he's embarked on a one-man rampage through the department in search of the lowest morale possible.
The phone rings. It's the helpdesk.
"Hello?" I answer.
"Is that networks?"
"You know it is"
"We have a ... problem we'd like solved."
"Hardware or Software?"
"Errrmmmm ... Bossware"
"Could be expensive ..."
"A night of free drinks and dinner for four at the Dorchester?"
"Deal. Do you require a call number?"
I love service calls. I fill the PFY in on the deal. Later that afternoon the boss storms in looking for the person who took down the mail server.
"That would be me", I point out. "You told us to move it into the Computer Room. But the electricians haven't checked the power-points yet".
"RIGHT!", he shouts. "I'll be back to deal with YOU when I'VE fired it up".
How apt. The PFY and I watch as the server's power-supply emits a burst of smoke as the power point delivers the 400 volts of badly wired 3-phase power instead of the expected 240. It's a credit to our safety systems that the doors lock immediately to prevent anyone accidentally walking into the Halon-filling room whilst the boss grabs for the oxygen mask.
"Well, he must have just cracked! He ran in laughing like a madman and destroying equipment!", I inform security later.
The boss is still appears to be crying (he obviously finds something funny) as they cart him out ...
We know it's a ploy to get us out of the building so he can search high and low for the three blank, yet countersigned, order forms we extorted out of him under threat of showing the CEO what the boardroom table and a member secretarial staff have been up to in his presence lately. Who'd have thought that adding a low-light camera to the conference recording system would pay off so quickly?
As for the site visits, a skilled bastard recognises IMMEDIATELY a chance to upgrade equipment when it presents itself. The PFY and I set to work slipping the sadly unused false bottoms back into our briefcases, then load them up with outmoded networking kit.
According to plan, by the time the Network Manager on our first site has finished showing me the full beauty of their patching racks the PFY has hot-swapped half a dozen 10/100 5 port Ethernet cards for our old straight 10s. Like taking candy from a baby. And leaving it the wrapper ...
The second site is much more secure and proves to be a slight challenge, right up until lunchtime when we roll on down to the local for seven or eight pints of the hard stuff, with Tequila slammers to follow. A pittance to pay for the latest revision router EPROMS that our support company wanted a small fortune for whilst their erstwhile network manager snores his way through the afternoon.
Being a kind-hearted sod, I'll make sure to drop them back in the mail as a "bug-fix upgrade" after only making a slight change to the switching logic.
I feel sure that the competitive advantage will lean in our favour once the "Use Heaviest Loaded Segment" code cuts in ...
We're only interrupted once when their PFY (so green he needs mowing) wanders in to see what we're doing. A quick flash of my tube pass and he thinks he's witnessing a vendor-initiated hardware service check in operation. It truly breaks my heart to see trust like that go unpunished.
The effects of the lunch are a little too filling for my PFY's limited experience in the alcoholic arts so he enquires the location of the nearest Gents from his counterpart whilst I snaffle the Computer Room cardkey so carelessly left laying around in his pocket ...
Seconds later the power goes out, which can only mean the PFY's rest stop included a visit to the cabling cupboard. Darkness, the true friend of bastards everywhere is interrupted only by a couple of EXIT signs which flicker briefly, then go out. Now that's what I call a good trainee.
Quicker than you can say "High Capacity Storage Downgrade" I'm performing an impromptu one in the Computer Room whilst adding a significant weight to my briefcase at the same time. I get out in time to see hear their PFY trip over a cabling drum I'd accidentally nudged out into the centre of the room on my way into the Computer Room.
The lights come on in time to see the PFY helping their PFY into a chair. The poor bloke seems a little woozy so I try to help out by taking a few of the phone calls that are inundating the room.
"THE BLOODY NETWORK IS DOWN!" A user screams at me in a manner that would have personnel immediately calculating sick-pay entitlement at our site, but seems par for the course here.
"Yes, it's due to the power cut from the surge-current overloading." I ad-lib "You should switch your machines to low-power mode to prevent it"
"How do I do that?" The user asks, bringing back my thoughts of trust and punishment.
"Switch all the machines in your office off, switch them to low power with the switch at the back, then turn them all on at the same time."
"Is 115 the low-power setting?" the user asks.
"Don't mention it!" I cry as the PFY and I make a break for the door.
Our exit is heralded by a storm of sharp crack! noises from the ground-floor offices, which brings a small song of joy to my heart ...
The last site on our visit is a surprise. We're apparently visiting the offices of our chief opposition, those who tried to take us over.
Looks like tuna casserole on the menu ...
My suspicions are confirmed when I notice the presence of several sub-miniature camera holes lining the corridors of the entrance, all but invisible to the layperson, raising the stakes somewhat ...
Then again, I love a challenge ...
The control room is straight out of Science-Fiction Land - a veritable security command centre and treasure trove of sophisticated equipment.
My fingers start itching almost immediately, but caution is the watchword The PFY also notices the security overkill and follows suit.
A phone rings next to me and I answer helpfully, planning to use the old FDISK problem solving utility but the telltale beep of the voice-recorder tells me that anything I say can and will be used as evidence against me. I choke out some useless but unhelpful advice, then hang up in time to see my counterpart watching me with the smug expression of one who knows exactly how bullet-proof his set-up is.
A tour of the comms room reveals state of the art equipment that I'd sell the boss for glue to obtain - which just adds to my general misery.
"Quite something isn't it?" My opposition comments. "I suppose you'll get this sort of equipment ... one day ..."
By lunchtime I've almost given up hope - It seems that the tide's completely against me. Even in the cafeteria I note the telltale black dots of a micro camera lens. Except ...
The PFY interprets my snatched glance and moves into blocking position for the fraction of a second that it requires to flick the old standby - a couple of laxative chocolates - into my counterpart's dessert. True, it's hardly sportsmanlike, but like they say, all's fair in love and networking.
According to plan, a couple of hours later my counterpart receives a priority one call from nature and the PFY and I get to work. He accidentally trips over a cable and face-plants the CCTV recording console, sacrificing a couple of bruises to the cause. With the security cameras in Alzheimer's mode, I turn on SNMP reporting on every single piece of hardware that will allow me to do so remotely.
In seconds a guy I can only assume to be the counterpart's boss bursts in ranting about horrific network response. But it can't be that bad, or those 400 odd PCs around the building wouldn't be delivering SNMP trap info every second ...
"Looks exactly like that PSIC problem we had with that new kit a couple of months ago." I comment.
"PSIC?" their boss enquires
"Yeah, Pseudo-Standard-Interface-Conflicts" I reply "A lot of the new state-of-the-art kit doesn't actually adhere to any standard, which is fine so long as it doesn't get plugged into a network with anything else. If it does, sooner or later there'll be problems ..."
"... when it gets into protocol loops with standard kit" the PFY finishes, knowing where I'm heading.
"What can we do?" asks the boss-type. "My Network Engineer tells me nothing!"
"You're joking!" I counter in horror "You mean he doesn't fill out daily reports of what he spends his time on?"
"Of course! Good lord, next you'll be telling me he doesn't have any network procedures documentation!"
"But that's a workplace priority! No wonder you're having problems with all this new kit!! Look, I don't like to speak out of turn, but I think he's been leading you on with technical mumbo jumbo ...
Tell you what I'll do - because you know my boss and all, I'll loan you some of our kit and we'll take yours to iron out the protocol problems in your stuff."
"Would you?!?!" he gushes, networking salvation on the horizon.
"Sure! Well, that is unless you think you'll be talked out of it with more mumbo-jumbo, buzzwords and geek-talk?"
"NO, I'm quite capable of making technical decisions. Tell me what we need to replace and you can take it with you when you go ..."
"Well, that Gigabit Ethernet switch did look little dodgy" I reply.
"Don't forget that handheld LAN analyser and tracker" the PFY adds.
... five minutes later ...
"And lastly, that Dual Audio Channel Enhanced Video Display"
"You mean the CEO's new 29 inch Stereo Colour TV?!?!?" he bleats.
"I bet that's half the problem all by itself" I reply
Within half an hour all their comms room is missing is a couple of tumble-weeds. I organise a shipment of networking kit so old you can watch the bytes travelling, then make plans for the negotiation round that's soon to follow.
I can't wait to see what the "vetting fee" will be for each piece of kit we "pass" as being of suitable standard ...
This experience stuff really is worth it ...
"How did that router sale go off then?" he asks, unable to disguise his smugness at managing to sell off a piece of kit that was so crap that it wouldn't even pass the self-tests needed to become a boat anchor.
"They came and got it" I reply, referring to the poor bastards who bought the kit from us and who are no doubt now in the process of trying to extinguish the fire, "but I still think it was a little on the nose selling it to them".
"Sounds to me like a case of Caveat Emptor" the boss chuckles smugly.
"Really?" I respond, "I thought it was a router! Mind you, I don't trust those foreign wines - After Chernobyl you never know if they're going to be radioactive ..."
The boss looks at me as if I've been mentally demoted to the using classes, but the PFY knows the big plan and keeps quiet.
"How DID you manage to convince them?" I ask appealing to the boss' s need to gloat.
"Oh, just told them that it was one of the original units and still as good at the day we bought it," he sniggers, mentally convincing himself that he's the brains of the outfit ...
And that's one thought that I'm not going to challenge because today is April 1st - Bastard Boss Day - and I have my eyes on a certain prize that has eluded me for many years.
This year I've decided to sell the boss on using the network as a storage medium. I casually drop a couple of remarks until the boss decides to channel his massive intelligence away from tying his shoelaces and onto the matter at hand.
"It's simplicity itself!" I cry "We've got these Gigabit Ethernet switches all around the place that we just aren't using! Instead of letting them go to waste we could be sending data continuously around them until it's needed which would actually cut down on the amount of physical disk storage we would need! And just think of the time we would save with read and write latency when the data's already on the net!"
"It would never work," the PFY counters, all according to plan. "Our networks are too short - the data would be back before it had finished leaving the machine."
"Not," I add, "if we were to make the network longer to add a short delay. Why, 10 drums of Cat-5 wired together would be sufficient".
"Hey!" the PFY smiles. "That's right - I never thought of that."
Our interplay has been enough to sell the Boss. Had I put forward the idea and the PFY agreed, the Boss would have trodden with caution, fearing the worst. With the PFY "on his side" he now knows that the idea is a sure thing.
Like lambs to the slaughter ...
"Excellent, I'm sure that the head of department will approve!"
"Would you be sure to mention that I thought of it?" I ask, placing the last two nails in the Boss's coffin. Now he's sure that it's the real thing and there is no way on earth he's going to let me take credit for it.
He toddles off to the Head of Dept while the PFY and I try to stroll nonchalantly back to the office. I fire up the CCTV recorder on the microcamera in the Big Boss's office.
This little recording is sure to earn me the Trophy I have desired for so long - the coveted "IT Idiot" Award for Least Intelligent Supervisor - at the Bastard Boss Competitions at a Central London pub later on tonight ...
We get the recorder going just in time ...
"Anyway... " the boss burbles in simulated intelligence mode, "I was just wandering through the department today and a thought struck me. What with the rising cost of disk it might be an interesting plan to use our networks as a storage medium ..."
He goes on to paraphase the food-waste-product that we fed him, while commenting that he's fired off an order for 20 drums of Cat-5.
The explosion is inevitable. The head of department, whilst in practical terms about as useful as loopback plug for an electric type-writer, did spend about six years teaching networking fundamentals to first year university students.
The PFY and I capture everything in case there's some question of 'doping' ...
Later that night as I guzzle a pint or two from my latest acquisition, I can't help but feel a twinge of remorse. Maybe I should have convinced him to use lift cables as emergency UPS power distribution wiring instead.
Ah well, there's always next year ...
To make things 'fair' the Boss arranges for the head of personnel (his friend and my mortal opponent), to attend as a witness. Although I have, on occasion, had the odd difference of opinion with him, I depend on his professionalism. I'm sure he really just wants to bury the hatchet, which is why I'll make a point of not turning my back...
"Simon," the Boss begins, "we have a formal complaint about you from one of the new system programmers. He claims that you are being unnecessarily offensive to him."
"I'm afraid I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"He claims that you told him to do something with your faeces."
"I beg your pardon?" I reply, shocked. "There must be some mistake. The last time I spoke to him I told him that I had a system crash core that I'd like him to examine. I cannot possibly be held responsible for the strange way in which he interpreted that."
"You were leaving the toilet at the time."
"Purely coincidental. I simply mentioned it when the opportunity arose."
"Mentioned? It was more of a shout wasn't it? I believe I heard it myself from in here."
"I concede that it may have been slightly more than a whisper, but that was only because of the deference that I feel for his wealth of professional knowledge..." (Well, it was worth a shot).
"The words 'sniff my dump' do not engender in MY mind a feeling of professional respect."
"Well of course I'm completely apologetic if this has caused a major department disruption - I'll go and apologise immediately!"
"You know as well as I do that he's resigned."
"Not at all. How did this come about?"
"It appears that he is a little disconcerted with the frequency of explosions of his peripheral equipment."
"Really? Perhaps there's something wrong with his UPS system again. There's been a bit of that going around recently..."
"Yes, I noticed the IT divisional accountant has resigned, siting workplace stress as a reason."
"Well, I blame the makers of the equipment," I reply. "In the old days things were much more tolerant of slight faults."
"By slight faults you mean the odd 400-volt supply spike that the electricians can find no excuse for?"
"Really? I wouldn't know. Someone has stolen my multimeter."
"You mean the multimeter set to the 10-amp scale and plugged across a mains device in the boardroom so that the circuit breaker for the floor blew every time the overhead projector was switched on?"
"Really? Who would do a thing like that?"
"Any reason why security found your fingerprints all over the machine?"
"I have to check a lot of floppies in my job."
"I see. Well, it's out of my hands now anyway. The CEO wants to speak to you personally."
Personal interviews are rare in the company, and quite often precede a 'resignation'.
The Boss and I get the nod to go in...
"What's this about all these problems downstairs?" the CEO barks.
"Would you like the technical answer or just layman's terms?" I ask, respectfully.
"Layman's terms will do for a start."
"Myself and my trainee are the only people in the company who really do know what we're doing."
The Boss shakes his head, smiling humourlessly.
"Yes, I'd heard that was the case," the CEO replies, having been primed during extended family get-togethers by the PFY. Oh, the beauty of an insider...
"Ah excuse me!" The Boss blurts anxiously. "But I believe you're overlooking something here."
"Of course I am." The CEO smiles benevolently. "We are, of course, sorry to see you go."
"What? I'm not bloody resigning, and there's no way you'll get me to sign it."
"But you already have," the CEO replies, confused, holding up a piece of paper with the Boss's freshly scrawled signature on it. "But who could possibly replace me?" the Boss burbles.
"You're looking at him," the CEO smiles.
"You're going to take over Networks?!" the Boss cries.
"Then wh..." Disbelief and horror fight a little war for supremacy on his twitching face. "You can't be serious!"
"Of course he is," I respond quickly. "Now, I hear you're looking for a job and it just so happens that there's a vacancy in our network operations section. You'll be reporting to me, of course..."
You know sometimes life can be a bastard, but when it's good, it's REALLY good.
The opportunities for channelling funds from less worthy areas (the helpdesk upgrade) to more deserving ones (the network operations upgrade) abound. And having my former boss as an employee is the icing on the cake...
Still, mustn't bear a grudge. I decide to share my recent good fortune with others. The PFY has always wanted a junket to New Orleans. I browse the Web and find a plausible conference and enrol him in it.
He's overjoyed because he's never been to New Orleans before. The ex-boss expects a similar favour and I can't bear to disappoint him. I show him where the vacuum cleaner is and point out the map of every comms room in the building...
A week later they're both back, the ex-boss looking a little peaky, possibly from spending all that time in the dark. I blame myself for not reminding him that some of the comms cupboards don't have door handles on the inside. Whoops.
Still, at least he had the presence of mind to pull the power cable to the comms rack so someone would come to investigate. Although it probably would have been better if it had occurred to him before the Bank Holiday weekend. But, like they say, it's all a learning experience. It's terrible what dehydration drives you to, though.
Once everyone's back at Network Central, I allocate the jobs. The PFY, because of experience, is placed into my old role of installation, monitoring and maintenance. The ex-boss, because of his greenness in operations, is placed on the phones. I even plug it into the wall socket for him.
It does not disappoint, ringing within the first half hour. As he's in training, the ex-boss is required to answer all calls on hands-free so that he can receive instruction from me or the PFY should it become necessary.
"Hello, Networks," the ex-boss answers.
"Hello, is that Networks?" A quick glance at the caller-ID confirms her familiar voice. The PFY flees the room in fear.
"Yes, how can I help?"
"My network's stopped going again."
"I see. When did it stop working?"
"Just now. I tried to print and it just didn't work."
"OK, I'll just look at our network monitor and see if there's anything wrong with your machine. What room are you in?"
She gives her room and he trawls through the networking database looking for port information. Unsuccessfully. Not wanting to ask for help so early in his new career, he decides to perform the old 'hands-on' approach and go and see her.
Once he's gone, the PFY returns.
"He didn't go to see her did he?"
"The poor bastard!"
Every company has at least one computer-phobic paranoid. The ones who think that computers secretly change their settings as soon as they turn their backs. The ones who always ring to complain that their passwords have been changed by someone. (Every time they leave the shift key down). The ones who haven't changed anything, yet now their networks don't work. (This happens twice a year, when they change the position of their PCs in relation to the sun and pull the network cables out...).
Except in this case it's worse. The 'network' she's talking about is an RS232 cable between her genuine XT PC and its dot matrix printer.
She's never trusted the newer technology (which doesn't work and secretly conspires against her) and prefers to remain disconnected from the real world. Except to call twice a year when she pulls the cable out of her printer.
An hour later the boss is back, a changed man. Having been subjected to an hour of conspiracy theories and general X-file type mindlessness, he now realises what is lurking out there at the other end of the phone lines.
Gone is the air of helpfulness. Gone the feelings of goodwill to the using-classes. The PFY and I exchange knowing glances - we've seen it before and we'll see it again.
He's been bastardised.
The phone soon rings.
"Networks," he snaps.
"Hello, is that Networks?" the familiar voice asks. The phone makes the slightest of sounds as it's yanked from the socket and thrown into the bin.
"So I suppose I'm fired for ripping that out then?" he asks, resigned to his fate.
"Well, impromptu de-installations are usually something we teach you later on in your training, but it appears that experience is the best teacher after all..."
I wander off and leave the PFY to show him the rest of the ropes...
And the cattle prods...
And the 'video surveillance' consoles...
Who would have thought he'd be such promising material?
I find out that I'm expected to attend around six 'planning' meetings EVERY week! My former opinion of management dropped even further...
There's only so many times someone can ask what 'those byte things are again' before you find yourself dreaming of the company improvements you could achieve with a simple axe and a heavy duty wood-chipper.
Speaking of wood-chippers, the first priority meeting had the highly important topic of, should we hire our office plants? Given that we already own office plants I felt that the issue was somewhat redundant - but obviously my mind wasn't attuned to management. I'd forgotten that this little group had requested not one, not two, not three, but FOUR department restructures (to reflect the company's hierarchy restructures) in the past 18 months.
So after only two hours of deliberation, it was decided that we'd go with the rented product because then the rental company would be responsible for making sure the plants got watered. (As if the taste of the company tea and coffee didn't ensure that already).
And after that two hours there was another half an hour deciding what to do with the plants that were already in the building and had been since the building opened - the ones in the open areas upstairs that are far too large to move anywhere. Which is where the minor brainstorm of the wood chipper comes in. The plan is to hire a chipping machine, take it up in the freight elevator and perform some on-the-spot organic recycling.
By this time I'm pining for Network Operations. Things were so simple then - a user rang with some problem that they'd caused in the first place, you tortured them for a bit, then solved their problem in the most convenient way possible. Simple. Effective. Quick. I need help, so I go to the one person who might make head or tail of it.
The ex-boss. The ex-boss is a changed man. He now treats users with the thinly disguised contempt of a networking professional who has heard one time too many the ubiquitous question why is the network is down? He's seen what we've seen, he knows what we know.
He IS a bastard! I track him down in a comms room where he's sending 240AC down the phone lines to cremate the phones of certain users. I tell him my problem and he listens sympathetically.
"There's nothing you can do," he replies. "You just have to do it. Just keep your head down or they'll tell you to restructure your department."
A thought occurs to me. "Do you want your old job back?" I ask.
"Nope!" he replies, without pausing. "Go on," I plead (being a manager, so it's not beneath me).
"It'll cost you," he says. THE BASTARD! I knew I shouldn't have hired him.
"How much?" He mentions an extortionate amount of dosh with the air of someone not open for negotiation.
Sadly, I sign a, >sob!< personal cheque >sniff< for the amount he asks. He whips off to cash it after giving me some very good advice.
The arrival of the wood-chipping machine is apparently a company photo opportunity that none of the meeting group wishes to miss - being yet another new era in company policy.
I, of course attend, and stand through a set of "okay, one with you pointing to the chip catcher. Another with all of you looking into the feed funnel" requests.
When all of the photos are finished, I sidle up to the chairperson and mention what a coup it might be if he were to appear in the photos with an actual piece of wood being processed. I tap on a plastic bag I'm carrying which gives a chopping-board-like clonk.
He smiles. We wait till everyone has gone then get the photographer to set up for the shot because once the machine starts the other managers are going to sprint for the chance to be in-shot, so he has to be quick.
He sets up and I start the machine, emptying my bag into the chipper.
To be fair, he takes the grinding to sawdust of his yachting trophy quite well, only dismissing me from my position on the spot.
A day later I get a call at home from the once-ex-now-current-boss offering me a job as a network operator with a very reasonable salary.
I accept of course. The new position is GREAT. The boss, with his experience, makes everything worthwhile. Life cannot get any better.
"YOU'D BETTER COME QUICK!" the PFY yells as he bursts into the room.
"It's the boss! He's locked himself in the management meeting! Apparently he asked the secretary to bring his axe up and now they've heard the wood-chipper starting!" Bugger.
I knew it was too good to be true...
True, it is more than overdue, given that the last time he got a rise was over six weeks ago, but personnel has recently decided to put its foot down.
The PFY emerges from the computer room with a fire extinguisher and what appears to be a major part of the cooling system from one of the Human Resources servers. As per training, he seems to be putting his best foot forward - straight into the groin of anyone in the way of his plans.
"Good lad," I think, my chest swelling with pride.
I prepare myself for the inevitable call. Moments later the phone rings and caller ID identifies my 'client' as none other than the deputy head of personnel, a person with whom I've had more than one previous 'joust'.
"What the hell's up with our server?"
"Well, I'm not sure yet, but I believe that it has suffered from thermal runaway..."
"You set our bloody machine on fire?" he shouts.
"No, of course not. It's a common fault - as machines get older the collection of dust internally can combust, caus..."
"The bloody thing's only three weeks old!"
"Hmm, it happens sometimes. You can't expect the PFY to babysit the thing given the pittance he earns," I continue.
"That's it! We're running our own system from now on," he cries before slamming the phone down.
A couple of days later my fears are realised when a new server appears in HR, complete with customised operating system and no operator access. The boss fails to grasp the enormity of the potential problem - if departments purchase their own machines there's a good chance they'll find out that there is a slight disparity in what they paid us for servers in the past and what they really cost. A slight disparity of around 200 per cent.
I leave history to run its course - after a little God-like meddling from the PFY and me. Sure enough, a day later the deputy head of personnel calls, deep in grease-mode.
"Hello," he smarms.
"We're having a little trouble with our server and wonder if you'd give us some advice."
"What's the problem?"
"Well, we need to be able to list all the files in a directory, including their creation dates," he replies.
So, he's started with a trick question, has he? He's obviously testing me to see whether I'm going to give good or bad advice, using his extremely limited knowledge as a benchmark.
"Sure," I say. "Just 'ls -l' the directory concerned. You might want to pipe the output to something."
"Oh yes," he continues, expecting the ubiquitous 'rm' response.
"Yes, the 'more' command."
"Oh." He's obviously disappointed because he didn't catch me giving duff advice. Stupidly, he decides to trust me... "There was one other thing. We've got some problem with our system having very slow response."
No surprise there, considering that the PFY cranked up the ping-polling on their server to about 30 per cent of the network bandwidth.
"I was wondering if you could recommend something to speed it up?"
"Not really, the newer machines are usually fairly well tuned. Oh! Hang on a moment - I bet you haven't applied the Memory Expansion Patch to the kernel have you?"
"Ahhh... no, no, I don't think we have," he mumbles, attempting to feign advanced knowledge.
"Ah well, you'd best do that then, hadn't you?"
"Good idea. Refresh my memory - how do we do that again?"
"You know," I respond casually. "Echo 'MEMORY-EXPANSION' > /dev/kmem - it's usually the first entry in your /etc/inittab file."
"Oh, of course it is. I think I removed it for tuning," he replies, lying through his teeth.
A quarter of an hour later and he's back on the phone, a little more excitable this time...
"The bloody server keeps crashing!" he cries, panic-stricken. "It won't even bloody start."
"Well I guess we could take a look. What's your root password?"
There's a moment of indecision before he blurts out the word "morepay". Quick as a flash the PFY and I start trolling all their other machines to see if this password is used elsewhere. Hit rate: high.
A day later the new HR server is back under our control, the deputy head of personnel is firmly back in his place and the PFY back into the well-worn saddle of 'recently promoted contractor'.
In fact he's in such a good mood he wanted to tell personnel what we've been putting in their water cooler. I persuade him to save that for another day...
I can't believe my ears. The Boss buys new kit about as regularly as Thatcher votes Labour. It was his idea to forget this Pentium nonsense and get a job lot of XTs that he could acquire very cheaply. Fortunately I'd got wind of it and managed to 'accidentally' let slip to the CEO that the vendor was in fact the Boss's second cousin and the plan was abandoned. Quite right too - I can't believe he didn't include my mark-up in the equation.
However, since his spell on the hell-desk the Boss is a new man. His mind is permanently alive to the possibility of a scam.
"There's a research lab having an open day," he said. "I think you should go along and see what's new."
Actually, he may have said "steal what's new" - it's hard to tell since his recent bastardisation.
A few days later, the PFY and I find ourselves on a train at an unearthly hour of the morning chugging through the countryside with the trusty false-bottomed suitcase at my feet.
We finally make it to the concrete research-park jungle and into the show. As luck would have it, we're given a reconnaissance mission - sorry, guided tour - before being let loose to find our own way around. The tour is boring but at least the guide is too thick to see what we're up to. Eventually we're left to our own devices (and some of theirs that haven't been bolted down).
It's interesting to see the mass of toys scattered round, but my attention is drawn to the myriad security staff lurking around the areas where the smallest and most expensive gadgets live.
The first section seems to be about teleworking, something I relate to since the Boss paid for SMDS to my living room.
"So, tell me about teleworking," I say enthusiastically to the young suit on the ISDN gizmo stand.
"Well this unit enables you to connect invisibly to the office from home. All the network protocols go down the line, looking just like you're connected to the LAN," he gushes.
"Looks like an ISDN router to me."
"Er...yes it is. But it does have a nice blue box and extra flashing lights."
I look at the box disdainfully - not even worth nicking.
"Anything else you'd like to try to convince me is new?"
"Well, we have a router on a PCMCIA card."
"So you can connect your laptop to the office network via a router rather than a dial-in server."
"So that you don't have to install a dial-in server beside your routers."
"Of course. Using an expensive router instead of a cheap dial-in server. How economical."
My musings are interrupted by a nudge from the PFY. "They've got an iris-reading authentication system like ours."
"Not quite - ours doesn't do semi-permanent damage to eye tissue and isn't linked to the sprinkler system like theirs is."
There's still so much for him to learn.
The lunch is much better than expected, mainly because we skipped the canteen and slipped into the VIP eating area instead. The card reader takes mere moments to fine-tune so that it will accept our business cards. Watching real VIPs attempt to gain access afterwards makes interesting lunchtime entertainment, while ensuring that seconds are available.
Suitably fortified by the chateaubriand and the rather decent claret we are ready to tackle the rest of the exhibition. The false bottom of the suitcase is only heavier by a bottle of excellent Cognac carelessly left locked in a liquor cabinet.
Our progress is impeded by one of the security droids. While he's telling me why we have to wait for access to the good stuff, the PFY slopes off through the shadows.
Section six suddenly opens way ahead of schedule, allowing us to see this power-free optical cell device.
"...so as you can see, there is no power cable to the base station," drones the techno-bore on the stand, obviously trying to figure the intense interest in the video stream that's going down this seemingly power-free network gizmo. "As you can see, we've put a gap here in the fibre, so if I put this piece of card in the gap it'll cut the stream off to prove that we're not cheating." He places the card in the gap and turns to the screen for the first time to smugly point at the frozen image. His expression turns into that of a man who has just encountered a water buffalo in his jacuzzi.
"Debbie Does Dallas. Nice touch," I congratulate the PFY.
Time to make ourselves scarce...
Halfway to the corner pub, all hell breaks loose. Klaxons, fire engines, people running from buildings, the whole caboodle.
The PFY's puzzlement is directly proportional to my smugness as I adopt a leaning position at the bar.
"Five quid says the chairman of the US parent company has just been required to iris-authenticate himself," I comment, noticing the water pouring out of their office doorways...
"No bet," the PFY replies. "Pint?"
Funny business, this new technology...
Naturally, I'm delighted as the opportunities for mark-up are immense. The finance director was concerned however, but then he wouldn't pass an expense form unless it was signed in blood. Of course, it was the FD who tried to block the part I play in the purchasing process, it seems he got suspicious when I junked the wreck I drove in favour of a brand new BMW.
With the boss's instructions ringing in my ears I dial our network suppliers.
"Hello, Network Express."
"My name is Farquarson. May I speak to Jon, please?"
>Click "Good morning, Mr... errrmmmm... Farquarson. Is the line secure?"
"Yes, it is. Morning Jon. I need a couple of servers."
"No problem. What kind of load are they likely to get?"
"Pretty heavy. We're going in for videomail. You know, you have a graphics tablet and a camera and it stores all your words as phonemes and stuff."
"Neat. Twin Pentium Pro 200 then?"
"Errr... it's not my cost centre."
"OK. In that case do you want eight, 10 or 12 processors?"
"12 should do it. Plenty of disk too."
"Sorry, dropped a zero there."
"OK. Half a gig of RAM should do, too:- nothing too extravagant. What's the damage?"
"Hmmm... list price is £62,995 each."
"And after our bean-counter discount?"
"L124,999 before VAT per unit. I take it you want the commission to the usual account?"
Two boxes duly arrive. The PFY has them rapidly installed and whirring away, and connected up to the couple of dozen videomail tablets we scattered among the senior executives last week.
We go back down to Ops and the PFY fires up the videomail console next to his Quake session. A quick e-mail to the admin assistant at our other office brings up the remote execs on our console and we start to see words flying around the WAN. I sit back smugly and concentrate for the moment on psychopathic murder, albeit unfortunately in a virtual world.
"They seem to have the hang of it - I think they're competing to see who can send the longest mail with the most difficult words in," comments the PFY, neatly dodging behind a wall.
"Well", I reply, "they are kiddies with new toys. Hopefully we'll have enough material soon," I muse.
"Oh, don't worry about it."
>BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM "Ha! Die, sucker."
On returning after a brief hour's lunch, I inspect the videomail system. I'm rather surprised that they've managed to fill 40 per cent of the disks on the servers in such a short space of time, but it's all for the good. I run up my trusty copy of Premiere and start picking at the filestore.
"What are you up to," inquires my pimply colleague.
"Making a movie, what's it look like?"
"A movie of what?"
"Our CEO. Loyal, huh?"
"Very. That's what worries me."
It takes a while to remember my way around the controls in the new version, but soon the phrases are coming together nicely. The PFY is wearing his look of utmost puzzlement and goes off to nuke someone's server in the hope that it will ease his mind. An hour or so later he's just sweeping the last few bits into a bin-bag and I sit back, satisfied.
The PFY sees my contented smile and wanders over. He spots my notepad beside the PC and notices the phrases scrawled there.
"Annual bonfire night supper... financial director... rumour has it... security department... audio interference... had goat's cheese as a starter... what's this all about?" he asks.
"Just wait; the phone should ring about... NOW."
He jumps as the telephone springs to life.
"Hello, operations. You want whose account removed immediately? But isn't he the FD? OK, OK, I'm not arguing, I'm just surprised. I thought he was unsackably married to the CEO's sister. Who gave the authority? What, himself? Oh, by videomail... how apt."
The PFY bids farewell to our remote-site admin assistant, who needless to say is on a percentage and is therefore totally tame, and looks suspiciously at me.
"Care to give me a private viewing of your new movie?"
I hit 'play' and the PFY is presented with an extremely convincing image of the CEO telling the rest of the execs that some of the FD's extra-curricular habits just aren't in line with the company's requirements of directorial behaviour and that he's going to have to let him go. A couple of variants contain the instructions to the admin types and security to implement the logistical side of the person-disposal and police-calling. Of course simple voicemail would never have sufficed, but with videomail you can actually see the CEO himself saying the words. And we all know that you can't forge videomail - don't we?
His work is suffering because of it - yesterday I caught him refilling the paper tray in one of the fax machines in response to a user's request. Also, password-change logs note that he's helping out users who forget their passwords by changing them to words like 'temporary' and 'changeme', instead of the usual 'goshiamaplonker' or '"imaginebeingsostupid'.
The final straw comes when he does a complete recovery of a hard disk after a user accidentally erased it.
A serious talk is required, so I corner him and the truth comes out.
It appears that the PFY's favourite piece of firmware in the DP Pool has chucked him in favour of a newly contracted Internet Policy Consultant who's so smooth he's ready for varnishing. I'd seen the signs of course, but thought the PFY was more than up to the challenge. Looks like there are still some jobs you have to leave to the experts.
It's a sad state of affairs for the PFY, made worse by the fact that we've been directed from above to aid Mr Slimey's 'Internet Political Correctness' investigation - a thinly disguised attempt by the boss to justify the persecution of those who invest hours in company time perusing the screeds of Internet porn sites.
I try to divert the PFY's depression with a little light-heartedness...
"Perhaps you could do with a trip to Dr Bastard's Lab?" I call, unveiling my latest gadget.
"It's a mouse," the PFY responds.
"Not just any mouse," I say. "A remote controlled mouse, see?"
I twiddle with the arrow keys on my infra-red enabled personnel disorganiser. The mouse moves accordingly.
"Neat," the PFY comments, unimpressed.
"And what about that?" I ask, pointing at a recently modified office item.
"Yes, yes - but with a customised addition," I reply. "Bring it over."
He grabs it, straining under the unexpected weight, and starts to my desk.
With the press of the key on the disorganiser the latches burst open, freeing a couple of bricks which fall onto the PFY's feet. Sometimes you really do have to be cruel to be kind.
"What the hell did you do that for?" the PFY cries.
"Education," I respond. "You're suffering under the misapprehension that life is fair. It is not. Which is why empowered individuals like you and I make it so."
"I don't understand."
Wearily I explain. "Picture if you will an Internet Policy Consultant-like individual, tired out after a hard day's work of warming his office chair."
As he boards his tube train, his briefcase - full of homework on how to annoy Network Operations - suddenly springs open, emptying its contents onto the line."
"Ah, so he's taking the tube home today then?" the PFY responds.
"I don't know. I'm merely outlining options here. And speaking of options, I believe we don't have one about attending his Internet policy report this very afternoon."
The PFY, at one stage, lapses back into pseudo-depression.
Time for a reserve plan that I was hoping to save for another occasion.
A little tinker in SNMP-land later and the fire alarms go off in response to an undetermined smoke detection.
Later that afternoon we show up at the boardroom for Internet Policy suggestions from the slimemonster. The presence of the PFY's erstwhile companion does nothing to improve his spirits.
Slimey starts off on the offensive, playing the 'sensitive new age guy' role to the hilt, while simultaneously down-playing the 'caring unbiased networking type' that has been the cornerstone of my many years of service. Within minutes, he has the audience eating out of his hand as he outlines his plan for an isolated network, his laptop pumping out one intranet proposal after another.
The boss looks on smugly as things look to be going his way.
"I think you know what to do," I whisper to the PFY.
He looks blankly as I pass my disorganiser to him.
"Something on his hard disk perhaps?" I prompt.
Deep in the recesses of the PFY's psyche, meglomania awakes from its deep sleep.
Half an hour later I'm sipping a pint with the PFY as he forgives and forgets with his DP attachment.
The shock and outrage that followed the display of a few still lifes from the ladies' powder room didn't enhance the credibility of our so-PC consultant very much and his exit from the building was rather rocket-like. Still, it was probably for the best.
"Another?" the PFY asks.
"Well I can't really. I'm just off to teach the boss the dangers of stashing his house keys in the brand new briefcase that was anonymously sent to him."
Experience, as they say, is the best teacher...
The stripy shirt brigade took exception some time ago to the level of support they were getting from us, and no matter how hard we try to make them see the light, there's always some rebel faction which strives to maintain at least some separate systems.
I can't understand it myself. We've put ourselves out for them over the months, stress-testing their notebooks and all that. The anvil business was a pure accident. And we still haven't figured how transactions with the local bookie managed to get a paragraph all of their own in the annual report, but I'm certain it wasn't Ops-induced.
Yet despite these tremendous efforts, the beancounters still insist that they need their own technical department. What's worse is that they seem to be making a decent fist of it. The guy they hired to run the network does seem to have a strange attitude to users, though - he genuinely believes that is duty to help them.
What's worse is his presence means that the accountants know the real value of the all the kit we've been buying over the past few years. It took some fancy footwork to ensure that the CEO didn't receive the information that the multi-directional, electro-magnetic, mobile communications devices that we'd billed at L1,200 were in fact cordless phones that the PFY's mate was flogging off at knockdown prices down the local market.
It's imperative that we bring the bean counters back into
our domain for good. Not only are we missing our 'bonuses' that comes as part of Cap. Ex., but there are also rumblings around the building that other departments are getting bright ideas about our support efforts.
Fortunately, our boss has a vicious streak in him since his brief spell on the hell desk, so he's right behind us on this one. He's had it in for the accounts department since his own expenses claim for the 'wherever you want' hostess service was rejected as a genuine business expense.
It doesn't help that the bean counter's network manager is one of those irritating individuals who walks around with a smug smile on his face all the time. He looks like one of those alligators that you see when you're cruising in the everglades, except with a slightly worse complexion.
He guards his territory jealously, which presents something of a challenge.
"I see your network's down again," he muses in passing.
The network accidentally crashed during an upgrade that we carrying out, just before the big race was about to start. "It's amazing that people are prevented from working on the network every time there's a race meeting or big football match, isn't it?" He smiles knowingly.
"Yes, we're having a lot of trouble with bottlenecks," I find myself saying, before politely slamming the door in his face and pouring another Espresso.
A few days later I find myself 'broken down' in front of Smiley's car on my way to my parking space. He leans on the horn, but my vehicle's illness is looking terminal - or at least it is after I pocket one of the spark plugs.
"I can't see what's wrong with it," I shout from under the bonnet.
"I'll go off and get help."
I know that the car park attendant is not likely to spring into action; partly because he's about 90 and partly because I left him the tapes I happened to have of the head of personnel talking to the deputy sales manager about some new high performance techniques they wanted to try out - in the hotel down the road.
"Quick," I shouted to the PFY. "We've only got a few minutes."
We know that the board meeting is about to start soon. A few minor adjustments to the server and they're ready to roll.
Back in my own office, I switch on the audio-monitoring device - OK, bug.
We hear the CEO's dulcet tones. "Now, I'd like to give you a demonstration of our latest product. I'd like to thank the technical whizz-kid in the financial department, Anthony, for his help in this demo. I believe we have a live feed to our R&D labs.&"
Live feed, yes. R&D Labs, no. The 3.30 at Newbury, definitely. Gasps from the board cause Smiley to be quickly summoned. His protests of innocence are to no avail as security, having emerged happy (and in my debt) from the car park attendant's hut, 'discover' the receipts for the local racing service in his desk.
The CEO is soon announcing the disbanding of the finance network, completely and for good. "I think I'd better bring network support back under one roof - at least departments can't pursue their own activities that way."
Networking - there are winners and there are losers. And I always seem to get such good odds ...
"I beg your pardon?" the PFY responds, pausing only briefly to display an innocent expression.
"He's not going to show is he?" the boss asks.
"Au contraire," I reply. "I saw him just this morning. In fact the PFY was with me. He was looking a little seedy however - apparently he went late-night drinking with a couple of his soon-to-be workmates."
"You took him out drinking?"
"Well, I might have had a couple of lagers last night, purely in the interests of better understanding," I admit grudgingly.
"So where is he now?"
"Well, that's the funny thing. The last I saw of him was when he was in the lift with me and the PFY when we were trying out those tasty new one quid cigars they sell at that stand down the street. He really did look ill. Next thing I knew he was rushing out of the lift and away."
"No idea. I think it was just after the PFY offered him those bacon fat sandwiches."
"Ah no," the PFY counters. "I think it was after you showed him that jar of pickled livers."
"Really? Oh well, I'll take your word for it."
"I suspected this might happen," the boss replies smugly whilst fingering the intercom to reception. "Send in the next applicant will you please?"
Ah... the old double-up-on-the-applicants trick.
Sure enough, the new applicant ("Call me Dave") takes his place at the desk and the boss gives him the standard glossy-brochure, entirely fictional account of what we do here, then asks what Dave's relevant experience is...
"Well," he blurts. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
My hand involuntarily tightens on the seat armrest as I consider the horror of working with somebody this geeky.
"When can you start?" the boss asks, anxious to fill the position before the head of IT has another downsizing-binge.
"Well, right away - I like to think I'm dynamically configurable."
The PFY's armrest creaks dangerously in tune with mine - great minds think alike.
Later that morning our new 'representative' is ensconced in the comms room to 'get a feel of our operation'. The PFY and I enhance the tactile experience by lowering the temperature and starting up all the noisy kit that we save for special occasions.
By lunchtime he's starting to get the blue-lipped, sleepy demeanour that only exposure can give, so we slip an empty vodka bottle into the comms room rubbish bin and mention the 'sly-grogging' to the boss.
He breaks the habit of a lifetime by not being fooled. The next day our co-worker has recovered and is back on the job, getting a rough introduction to the network hardware area when the cabling tray he was crawling along had some form of unexplained earthing problem resulting in a 'potential difference anomaly' between his torso and feet. Shocking!
I'm disturbed in my work a short time later when the boss comes wandering by.
"Have you seen Dave?" he asks.
"Not for a bit," I reply. "Why?"
"Oh, someone tripped after one of the removable floor tiles was left unsecured."
"Yes," the PFY mentions. "He left one open in the comms room too - could've been a nasty accident - still, all screwed down securely now."
The boss smiles uneasily at the proof of our safety point while trying to slip a piece of paper onto the desktop unnoticed.
"Oh," I cry, snatching it up. "An official safety memo designed to alleviate employers' responsibility for workplace accidents - in the area of... oh, securing floor tiles left open? Dated yesterday? I don't remember receiving this yesterday - do you?"
"Nope," the PFY says. "Not part of the official safety policy as of this morning."
The boss puts on his 'we're all playing on the same side' face and appeals to our better nature to prevent his looking bad at the next occupational safety review.
"That'll be 20 quid each," I reply, cutting him off. A deal is struck and the boss goes off with the knowledge that the buck is not stopping with him.
"Notice," the PFY mentions. "That nowhere on this memo does it say that you should check that there is no-one underneath the said floor at the time that you secure it."
"You didn't," I cry.
"Well you didn't think that banging was the air conditioning playing up again did you?"
"But that's terrible, I can't believe you'd do such a thing!"
You can never be too careful when it comes to networking.
I skip victory and concentrate on the voices entering the radio mike in the desktop calculator on the Boss's desk. (First rule of bugs, pick something in plain sight that isn't going to get used)
"I think it's a FANTASTIC idea!!" the CEO burbles excitedly.
"It's BRILLIANT!" the Boss sucks up, "A game of bloody paintball war! It's sheer genius!"
I tune out. The fruition of months of subtle hints, endless misdirected web pages, countless spammed email messages. The gauntlet has been taken up...
"PAINTBALL WAR!" the PFY cries queasily "They wouldn't dare!"
"Oh yes they would" I respond "Us versus the Beancounters! It would appear that the CEO, *YOUR* flesh and blood however indirectly, has been got at by some slimeball in accounts and decided that it would be a wise and proper thing to end the apparent inter-divisional war between us and accounts on the paintball field of honour - no hiding behind technology or purchase approval rubber stamps!"
"You sound like you're looking forward to it!" he cries, still not at all happy about the idea.
"Well, given that it is fairly much inevitable now, 'looking forward' is perhaps a little strong, but yes, I admit I do relish the opportunity of meeting our opposition fair and square on the field of honour, harbouring no grudges (like them docking my petrol allowance simply because I sold my car and hadn't been called out to work for the past three months) in a free-for-all"
"But they'll cream us!" he bleats "They've got weekend soldiers on their side!" he sniffles, coming to the point at long last.
"And we have subcontractors! I'm sure I can rustle up one or two who know how to point a gun! Besides, it's all booked from above. The best we can hope for is to do our best, take our medicine like men, and charge double time for weekend work... Oh, and take some of them with us."
The PFY is unconvinced..
"Oh, did I mention that in the interests of morale, the boss - you know, the one who gave out your cellphone number to the helpdesk - is going to find out on the day that he's a member of the team?"
"Really?" the PFY says, doubt now a thing of the past...
A week later the fateful day arrives and we exit the bus to the smug countenances of the opposition - they having had both extensive education and practice in the past few days...
My own education in the arts is sadly lacking, having only read a couple of posts to a usenet newsgroup on the topic. Sigh.
The paintball guy issues the rounds and weapons to the troops and the game commences. Our recently ordered library book tracking system is getting a bit of testing "in the field" with detectors sewn into the lining of the opposition's combat suits.. Looks like a worthwhile investment...
A buttock presents itself to my hiding place so I fire point blank with my reserve weapon - one that has just a tad more pressure than the standard issue and happens to be loaded with frozen pellets...
The resultant scream does two things to bring a smile to my face: (a) Confirms newsgroup accuracy, and (b) alerts the rest of the team to a sitting duck..
Half an hour later we've surrounded the beancounters in their makeshift fort.
"We surrender!" they cry, coming out with weapons raised.
"Now you see" I say to the PFY "In a real war-time situation, we would now be taking prisoners. Sadly, however, the Geneva convention does not extend itself to the paintball sports.."
The resulting massacre is needlessly quick.
"Quick!" the PFY cries "They're heading back to the bus!!!"
"You mean the one currently parked at a quiet country pub 4 miles away.."
The CEO pops in to see how things are going and if grievances have been solved.
In the absence of the enemy, the boss has taken on a definite hunted expression with the team seeming to be made up exclusively of people he's annoyed in the past few weeks.
"Friendly Fire" I comment to the CEO over his protests "A documented wartime phenomenon. Purely Accidental.."
The following Monday we're back at work and, true to the CEO's expectations, interdivisional bickering is at an all-time low.
True, with most of Accounts apparently suffering from some form of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" - the aftermath of the ambush in the snug of the 'quiet country pub' apparently - there isn't really anyone to bicker with.
Accounts isn't the only one to suffer from this. We're snowed under writing proposals for equipment purchases for the boss to sign - apparently he's heard there's a rematch on in a couple of weeks and wants to curry favour with the masses.
Looks like time to order that Stereo 29inch Video monitor for my telecommuting from home....