"All right, which of you bastards told the consultant in the Welsh office that you can't recover a hot database back-up from a cold tape?"
"I beg your pardon?" I ask in all innocence, knowing full well that my conscience is clear. (In other words, it was the Pimply-faced Youth.)
"Which of you told the Welsh IT consultant he'd have to heat the 8mm tapes up in a toaster before he could recover their billing database from it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" I cry, furthering my claim of innocence without implicating the PFY in any way.
"Don't give me that crap! You almost set the office on fire last night after you told him to put a ream of printer paper on top and tape the toaster lever down!"
"I did no such thing!" I shout, mentally toasting the PFY's ingenuity.
Ten minutes later and the PFY and I are left to our own devices.
"Well done," I tell the PFY, once I'm sure we're not being observed.
"What do you mean? I was just about to congratulate YOU!" the PFY burbles.
"So you're saying it wasn't you?"
"No!" the PFY blurts.
"Then who the hell was it?" I wonder out loud.
"There's no way to tell?"
"Don't be silly. Grab the voice recorder tapes from yesterday while I crank up the phone logs."
"What phone logs? I thought we only recorded the trading lines."
"As far as anyone else is concerned, we don't keep phone logs - it's not possible."
"And as far as we're concerned?"
"Every call, duration, and destination plus its position in the voice recorder tapes. And as for the tapes - liberal use of the muting functions makes it appear that we're only recording the traders."
"And in actual fact?"
"All but one line is potentially recorded..."
"All but one?"
"The one in the comms cupboard labelled "Faxmodem" that we use for our international personal calls."
A mere quarter hour later we've tracked the offending incoming call from Wales. A quick earful of the conversation identifies the offender as the latest recruit to the helpdesk - one who, apparently, had all the hallmarks of a servile practitioner of computing aid at her interview.
I place a call through to the helpdesk operator concerned, introduce myself and play back the recording to her.
A non-committal silence greets my revelations while the PFY scans the access-card database to put a face to the name.
"Ah, I'll take this one if you like," he blurts, tilting the screen away from me so I can't see the results of his look-up.
This would have worked had I not installed PC-Anywhere with a permanent window to his screen. A glance is more than enough to determine the source of the PFY's new-found liaison-based altruism.
"I s'pose I can go and fix Carole's screen while you're doing it,"I respond.
"There's nothing wrong with Carole's screen!" the PFY cries, well aware that my exposure to Carole, his long-term love interest, at this juncture, could prove extremely painful to him. Especially if I were to drop the phrase "debriefing the new helpdesk stunner" in response to her enquiries on his whereabouts...
"No, but better safe than sorry. Off you go, I'll handle it."
"You bastard," he mutters in defeat.
"In the flesh, in your home directory, and rifling through your e-mail!" I cry, starting my victory walk to the helpdesk area.
A quick interview with the woman concerned reveals a kindred spirit - a config geek, who only took the helpdesk role because it paid the bills...
"So you're not too pleased with the users?"
"Just the Welsh ones. They've got no tech support and all their equipment still has luggage labels from the ark."
"Yeah, it's the filter-down approach. All our old stuff goes to the Scotland office, all their old stuff goes to Wales."
"It's a pain in the arse and having a consultant who can't tell one end of a power cable from the other is too."
"But there is a way forward." I respond, outlining a plan that's forming in my head...
Two days later the PFY is browsing the boss's outgoing e-mail when...
"Bloody hell!" he blurts."That helpdesk woman's been transferred to tech support Wales! They must have found out about the phone calls. That's cruel."
"No," I respond. "She wanted to go. She's worked out that once she gets the place shipshape and puts some new kit in, she can telecommute from London..."
Our conversation is interrupted by the entry of the boss.
"Just thought I'd come in and apologise. It seems I was a bit hasty the other day in accusing you of sabotaging the Welsh office."
"Oh yes?" I respond.
"Yes, it appears that the technical consultant in Wales was a pyromaniac - security caught him last night spraying lighter fluid in the back of their apps server. His excuse was that someone from the helpdesk had called and said the CPU heatsink was getting too cold."
"I know. Anyway, just thought I'd fill you in," he sighs, leaving the room...
"Onward VBGN!" I cry.
"Virtual Bastard Global Network. My Master Plan!"
There's a stuffy half-time wine and nibbles event to ensure a cheery mood and that the shareholders' views match those of current management.
"Mmm, an '89 Cab. Sav. if I'm not much mistaken," a distinguished gent to my left burbles to a fellow member of the Old School Tie classes.
"I think you'll find it's actually a '90 Cab. Sav.," his counterpart chuckles knowingly.
"Really?" the Pimply-faced Youth blurts. "I thought it was an '88 Ford Grenada - the Ghia version with the leather seats and the wood panelling!"
You have to forgive him - he always gets a little boisterous after being locked in a meeting for over an hour. I'm a little fidgety myself...
I drag him away from civilised company while simultaneously tampering with the airconditioning (courtesy of an RF transmitter hanging out of the back of my personnel disorganiser). Within 10 minutes the place is heating up and dehumidifying nicely and all attempts at resetting the airconditioning meet with failure. (Which is the price you pay for leaving the unit's remote PIN number at the factory default.) After some whispered conversation with the catering staff, the CEO okays anything that'll stop the parched shareholders getting nasty.
And wouldn't you know it - there's 12 cases of lager packed in the boardroom's catering chiller, awaiting the company yacht club's victory celebration...
Twelve cases of ice-cold beer later, the meeting is coming along nicely. Feeling magnanimous, the shareholders have demanded that management approve an across-the-board pay rise for all salary, wage and contract workers - effective immediately. Striking while the iron is hot, I get them to get management sign-off on 100 "urgent desktop upgrades" of machines with "all the fruit". The boss, who would normally head this off at the pass - also known for his lack of tolerance to even mild amounts of alcohol, is circulating hot-off-the-press photocopies of his backside - still thankfully encased in boxer shorts.
Security moves in gently about halfway through the "long jump" event (an occupied wheelie chair pushed full tilt up a ramp made by breaking the legs off one end of the boardroom table).
Apparently a participant 'abandoned chair' before lift-off resulting in two broken windows - one in the boardroom, and one in a black cab parked below.
The next day rumours are rife - the word has got around the building about who's to thank for a projected pay increase.
Feeling like the modern equivalents of Robin Hood, the PFY and I accept thanks humbly. Lao Tsu would be proud of us.
Our fame is to be shortlived, however, as there's an emergency shareholder meeting to put right the excesses of the previous night.
It's bad. The annulments are coming in fast, and we arrive just in time to hear our upgrade plan sink beneath the waters of a corporate cover-up.
"Ah," I interject, as the motion is put, "would this be a bad time to mention that I've already ordered the approved equipment last night?"
"Well un-order it then!" a voice advises.
"Then we'd have to pay a restocking penalty of 10 per cent..."
Ten per cent being a better loss than 100 per cent, the motion is passed and the PFY and I take off to cancel the order.
"But you didn't put in an order!" the PFY blurts, knowing that the only real work I did last night was negotiate the revolving door to get to a cab.
"No, no, but when I order 10 machines, to be charged to us as 'Restocking Fee', delivered to the Welsh office..."
"Oh!" The PFY cries. "The Virtual Bastard Global Network is one step nearer!"
"What Virtual Bastard Global Network?" the boss asks, stepping into the office.
"Virtual Bastard Global Network?" I ask innocently.
"Yes...what you were talking about just then."
"Oh, you mean the Virtual Bartercard Global Network?" I ask, clutching at the first straw "For...electronic transactions?"
"No, I think I got it right the first time. You engineered all this for new machines for some Global Network of your own design. I think the shareholders might like to hear this."
I'm shocked. The boss, who normally couldn't put two and two together and get a number less than 22, has hit the nail on the head. He knows too much.
While I'm twiddling with my personnel disorganiser, the boss tells the PFY to extract himself from the security console and join him and me in the boardroom.
Pleading claustrophobia in lifts, I take the stairs.
Ten minutes and three floors later, the boss wheezes to a halt outside the boardroom, having lost his asthma inhaler down the stairwell when the PFY accidentally bumped into him. We open the door and enter.
"Thank God you got the door open!" someone gasps as the wave of heat hits us. "The door's locked from the inside and the aircon's on the blink again. Don't close it!"
Twelve replacement cases of beer later, we're still locked in, surveying the hole in the window that the boss left when winning the "long jump" event. True, it might have looked as if he didn't want to be strapped into the chair, but I can assure you that he was excited enough to be whispering "Wheeeee" the whole time...
And he got a cab ride home out of it too...
I am rapid-dialling my mobile phone before I'm halfway across the foyer.
"Hello, Nigerian Embassy," the PFY answers, using this week's wrong-number diversion scheme.
"You'll never guess what they're doing on the ground floor!" I chuckle.
"Painting the walls radiation orange?"he asks.
"Oh. Of course, you've got CCTV, what was I thinking?"
"Yes, and not just that!"
"Well, do you want the good news or the bad news?" the PFY asks, in a playful manner.
"The good news..." I respond, taking the lift for a change.
"The good news is that there's only one bit of bad news."
"I see, and the bad news is?"
"The painters started on the fourth floor last night."
"How bad is it?" I ask as the lift doors open, answering my question.
I am now staring at an office that looks like the inside of a heat lamp.
The boss strolls over, smiling benevolently - or is that malevolently?
"Awful, isn't it?" he asks pastily.
Ah! What I'd mistaken for a smile of benevolence was in fact a wince of distress. Easy mistake to make with the boss only recently back from sick leave.
"Who did it?" I ask.
"The building owners," the boss responds. "Apparently in response to the request of senior management. But that's not the worst. Stores just rang to say our purple carpet's arrived."
I choke down my gag reflex and manage to utter, "Why?"
"Because this study," the PFY cries, holding up a management rag, "says that certain colours are more conducive to an energetic workplace."
"I thought that was pale blues and pinks?"
"No," the PFY responds, recalling from memory sections of the article. "Pale blues and pinks are conducive to a calm atmosphere - which, incidentally, are the colours of our office."
"You're bloody joking!"
"No. Oh, and I lied about there only being one bit of bad news."
I rip down to my office to investigate.
"Yes, yes, I see what you mean," I say, relaxing into my chair. "It is a little calmer than the harsh metallic white of before. It's almost soothing in a way."
"It's not good to stay in here," the PFY comments. "It's dangerous - remember the negative ion generators...?"
How could I forget a former management plan to pump negative ions into our building in an attempt to make the PFY and I consider customer relations more.
"The computer room!" I cry.
The PFY, the boss and I head to the clinical safety of the computer room's harsh greyish walls.
Through the viewing window in the fire escape door I see the IT workers going through their routines, unaware of the harmful effects of the wall colour.
"Poor bastards!" the PFY cries.
"It's too late for them! We've got to think of ourselves!" the boss blurts, echoing my exact thoughts.
(Which is a worry. Come to think of it, the boss's room has always been a bluish pinky colour...)
"What to do..." I murmur, looking to see the boss's level of commitment, "what to do..."
This goes on for another couple of minutes until the grey affects the boss's mind and an idea pops out.
"A fire!" he cries, as I make a mental note to give future bosses an hour a week of computer room therapy..."No! It'd never work - the extinguishers would cut in immediately."
"True!" I respond, "and all that water on the semi-cured paint..."
"It'd never wash it all off!" the PFY blurts.
"It doesn't have to wash it off! It just has to make it patchy!"
"...requiring a repaint!" the PFY finishes.
While the PFY and the boss complete their Laurel and Hardy act, I set to work removing a panel from high on the wall.
"What are you doing?" the boss asks in confusion.
"A small fire, while bloody dangerous, is not the answer, nor..." I add, silencing the PFY's next sentence, "is a big fire. We need a small fire, in the right place."
"And where's that?"
"In..." I cry, ripping off the plate to reveal a blocked-off galvanised iron duct, "the air-conditioning system."
"It'll blow the smoke all over the building!" The PFY cries, enlightened once more.
"Friends, countrymen," I cry, "lend me your jackets and shoes!"
"Will we get them back?" The boss asks, stupidly.
I pry open the ducting, stuff in the jackets, shoes, some tape listings, some tapes, a gallon of tape head cleaner and, what the hell, the boss's wallet (old habits die hard).
"Halon!" I cry.
The PFY dashes over and switches the fire alarm on.
"What the hell are you doing?!" the boss cries in terror.
"There's a wiring 'fault'," the PFY says. "The fire alarm switch holds off the Halon, while the Halon-hold-off switch turns it on."
"One of yours?" the boss asks.
"You're too kind," I smirk, chucking the lit matches into the ducting and closing the panel.
Quicker than you can say "Is that the fire alarm?" the fire sensor board is lighting up like a Christmas tree and the sound of alarms echo from all corners.
"To the new colour scheme!" I cry, lifting one of the raised-floor tiles and pulling out three lagers chilled to a crisp 17 degrees...
"Cheers!" the boss and PFY cry in unison.
And they say that orange inspires teamwork...
A cynic might suggest this is because I patched the helpdesk calls through to the marketing manager who cut up rough last week when we were slow to upgrade his PC. He just didn't seem to understand that Doom does normally take precedence over RAM upgrades, although 71 callers all claiming that the network was running slow might have forced some wisdom into his brain.
Even though we've put them back on-line, the users are still restless and somewhat puzzled at the 'teething troubles' with the new coffee machines. You see, as part of the rather sudden refit the offices have undergone (if somewhat abortive, in colour terms), the powers that be decided to replace the tired old coffee machines with snazzy new ones.
This choice came as a pleasant surprise down here in Networks & Systems. When the previous drinks machines were installed, the PFY and I tried the usual procedure of reprogramming the 'tea' button to deliver vegetable soup, and the 'vegetable soup' button to deliver boiled Hoover-bag contents. Sadly, this approach made the end product rather more attractive than the real thing, so we admitted defeat and put everything back to its default settings.
Now we have these new machines, however, the users can actually tell that what they're getting isn't what they were asking for, thus making the whole reprogramming concept worthwhile. And the hedgehog broth is receiving some favourable reviews, not to mention a degree of mirth from those who are convinced the labels are only a bit of fun, and it's really just beef soup.
The phone rings and I answer it. This is partly because we're bored and partly because the the PFY has clocked the CLI and decided that the caller is good-looking enough to warrant attention - I only wait until the 18th ring.
"I need e-mail installed on my notebook," the monitor speaker of the call recorder proclaims, rather too confidently if you ask me.
The PFY checks the asset register and confirms that the user is as chained to the desk as they come, and hence has only the regulation issue 8MB 386 desktop running NT Workstation. "What notebook might that be?"
"The one I'm using to write my dissertation."
"Yes, I'm doing a psychology course on day-release."
"So it's not exactly a company machine, then?"
"Well, no, it's my boyfriend's, but the dissertation is relevant to my job, and the company's paying my college fees."
"Sorry, but if it's not a company machine, we can't connect it to the network."
"That's okay, I connected it to the network already. It just needs the e-mail package installed."
"Oh, how kind of you to save us the trouble."
The PFY realises why I have been pointing for some time to a previously unidentified blob on the management console, which I have identified via SNMP as a top-end, not-released-till-December pre-Alpha beast of a notebook. Rumour has it there are only a dozen in the country so she must have been doing some serious extra-curricular work to blag it. Tentatively, I start to explore the machine over the LAN.
"Hey," the PFY exclaims in mock excitement into the mouthpiece, "you're the one I've heard about - there are only 11 of those in the country, aren't there?"
"Well, yes, 12 in fact."
A muffled bang from the speaker indicates that it is indeed the model that is reputed to suffer from a rather explosive Desktop Management Interface (DMI) - otherwise known as the Detonate Machine Interrupt-problem.
"Nope. Definitely 11," chuckles the PFY as he replaces the receiver basking in the warm glow of a job well done.
At this point, the boss casually strolls in (we've obviously been too friendly, as he's lost that cautious look, the nervous tic and the tendency to look under his car before opening the doors - though he still wears rubber gloves when handling doorknobs). He's looking for the telecomms manager, who has apparently gone AWOL.
"It's very sad that he's gone missing, I'm sure," I assure the boss, "but what with all this voice-data convergence and stuff, does it really matter?"
"That's not the point!" fumes the boss, in his this-is-really-important-honest voice. "He hasn't been seen for some time and his wife is complaining the grass is getting long!"
I flick open the Yellow Pages at 'Psychiatric Clinics' and hand it to the boss.
He looks quizzically at me.
"It's amazing isn't it?" I start thinking aloud. "There are some strange people who think that PBXs will always be so difficult as to warrant an in-house expert all of their own. Who think that phones on desks are a right, not a privilege. Who think network operators are the scum of the earth because they have scheduled downtimes. Who don't realise that you can deliver 30,000 volts to the voice-comms frame without even dropping a cell on the fibre LAN running past it."
By now, the boss knows not to waste his breath on expressions like "I knew you were up to something last week!" or "Is he all right?", concentrating intently instead for several seconds on the volume in his hand. He snaps it shut, drops it back in the drawer, and smiles decisively.
"So he won't be needing his lawnmower back for a bit, then?"
Well, when I say early, I mean 9:15am - just when everyone's established their connections to the database and applications server.
My console beeps to indicate that the required 200 interactive sessions have been reached and I start my programme to ensure the reinstatement of overtime rates...
I echo "Axeme" to /dev/kmem and the system goes down faster than a Clinton intern.
As expected, the boss hurtles out of his office like a beige tornado, only to be repelled with a resounding 'thud' by the wedge I'd kicked under the door earlier, in response to the new "Fire and Safety" policy of electronically unlocking certain swipe-card controlled doors during working hours "for ease of access". Unfortunately this means that every half-wit from PR thinks it's an open invitation to come up and talk about someone "hacking their username".
Talk of the devil; a PR geek slips in.
"Told you we should have got a bigger wedge," the PFY murmurs.
"Hi," the PR bod cries. "I think my username has been hacked!"
"No it hasn't," I respond without looking up.
"It has! It's been happening all through our department for a couple of weeks now!"
"Ever since you got that ID camera that takes digitised photos which you're printing on self-adhesive photo labels?"
"I suppose so, but I don't see what that's got to do with it?!"
"So you're saying you don't have a photo of your wife, pet, car or sly love interest stuck on your keyboard in that wasted space where the "Caps Lock" light was?"
"Uh..." he mutters, failing to think quickly.
"Take my advice - cut out the eyeholes on the picture and hit the Caps Lock key every time your wife or pet looks possessed..."
Our visitor backs out of the office in an embarrassed silence as the PFY looks up.
"Self adhesive photos?"
"Yeah," I respond "for this year's renewal of photo-id cards."
"I thought security did those?"
"They did, but the head of PR is the CEO's new blue-eyed boy, and you know what goes with blue eyes..."
"Correct. So the head of PR is snaffling a lot of jobs that fall into the grey area of demarcation."
"More jobs, more workers. More responsibility..."
"Correct again. A thinly disguised plan to grab more quiddage."
"I hardly think that's true!" the boss comments, entering the room now his sense of balance is restored. "It just cuts down on photographic double-handling."
"How's that?" the PFY asks.
"Because the PR department keeps an electronic archive of photographs of staff members which they give to the press."
"Yes," I comment, "like when one of the beancounters wins Profit-and-Loss Adjuster of the Year Award..."
"I..." the boss starts,"...anyway, that's not why I'm in here. Why's the Apps server down?"
"Apps Server..." I mutter looking at the maintenance whiteboard."Yes, it's got routine maintenance scheduled - see,"
I point to the lettering thereon.
"You're supposed to schedule that sort of thing out of hours!"
"Well, I'd like to, but you asked us to watch the overtime."
"Yes, but I didn't mean for maintenance on crucial machines!"
"You did!" I cry, reminding him of events recently past. "You started this after a weekend's overtime on maintenance of a crucial server!"
"The bloody espresso machine is not a crucial server!"
"Speak for yourself," the PFY quips, baying for blood.
"It's not! Now get that server up!"
"But..." I start.
"No buts, get it up!"
Pseudo-reluctantly, I remote-boot the server.
Which only leaves the problem of the recent influx of PR types.
A quick scan of the PR network finds the right PC and, thanks to lax group administrator security and default passwords, within a minute I'm browsing the profile of the attached photo-label printer.
And back me up on read-protected media if the printer doesn't have several uploadable photo overlays to choose from, including the words "security", "contractor", "cleaner", "board member" etc.
The next day a resounding thud announces the boss's arrival. After a minute, a second thud confirms the PFY's theory that a larger wedge has done the trick...
On release from the sick bay with mild bruising, the boss returns and knocks patiently on the door. The PFY lets him in.
"What's behind this?" he asks.
"It's a photo-id of an accountant," I respond.
"Why is the word Beancounter printed over his photo?"
"Because it's his job?" I ask.
"If that's the case, how many Wankers are employed in the building?"
"I wouldn't like to speculate on that one..."
"Seventy three apparently. Twenty-seven Beancounters, 35 Tossers and one Bumbag. Which I resent! Oh, and two Good Bastards - but you know that..."
"Someone's hacked a PR username!" the PFY comments.
"Yeah, but I can't believe that PR didn't check the photos before they sent them to security for printing!" I reply. "I suppose they'll have to be reprinted."
"They can't!" the boss cries "Security has run out of blanks and can't get new stock for a fortnight..."
The next day there's some upset when security gives the new cards to the great unwashed. Funny. Even with an updated photo they're still not happy...
Something startles me and I wake to find myself in the middle of an IT discussion group meeting - one of the boss's great ideas to bring the minds of the department together.
Sadly, there's no IQ barrier, the entrance criterion being the ability to find your way to the meeting.
I comfort myself with the thought that if we go overtime I'll be able to hear what the cleaning staff have to say, which is bound to bring a bit of sanity to the conversation.
"Ah, I don't think full-height drives is a good option in the new low-profile ca...aagh!" the PFY comments, as he gets cut short by an under-table blow.
It's too late, of course, now that opposition has been raised to an idea. By Incompetent Meeting Law, there now has to be a discussion of the relative merits of the idea being opposed. It's a discussion that is bound to bring us half an hour closer to the end of the day, but half an hour further away from a technical resolution.
We break for a mid-morning coffee, at which time I corner the PFY and ask him, as politely as possible, what the hell he was trying to do in there.
"But he was recommending full-height drives for all desktop machines!
"Some of our machines don't even stand that high!" he blurts.
"That's irrelevant. You know they're only taunting you so that you argue and string the meeting out, and then they don't have to do any work today."
"But it's our job to offer sound advice, isn't it?"
"Don't be ridiculous! It's our job to interpret what they decide and use it to our advantage."
"So the full-height drives would be...?"
"Hmm...half-height 7200 RPM 18 gig jobbies."
"But desktops don't need that sort of space!"
"No, but if we get enough of them out there we can use it as a wide area multiple mirrored RAID-5 system!" "Huh?"
"OK, your average user's desktop machine has what on it?"
"Their operating system?"
"Yes, yes, but the rest."
Sigh. After all this time he's still an amateur at heart.
"Their e-mail folders, personal work, the pirated copy of Leisure Suit Larry - the smutty pictures in the windows directory hidden under the name YENROH1.DLL etc."
"Well, all that, what does it take up? A Gig, max. Which means there's 17 Gig free on them for really deserving projects!"
"Our personal work, games, and all those smutty pictures we have on the tapes 'System Snapshot' 1 thru 200."
"So we use their hard drives?"
"Sort of. But you know what users are like - couldn't find the space bar if their stomach didn't roll into it. So we need mirrored copies."
"But why RAID-5 it as well?"
"Just in case one of the workers goes postal and brings a bomb into the building. Wouldn't want to interrupt the smutty picture slideshow just because Bean-counter Central's halfway across the high street."
"You're kidding, aren't you?"
"Almost. But bear in mind what sheep departments are - all stopping for lunch together and powering down their machines."
"No. I don't think you're telling me the full story."
"All right, so I've contracted half a terabyte out to a couple of companies as on-line HSM disk."
"Hierarchical storage management?"
"Yeah. Our users don't use the stuff, so I use them as a network archival device."
"You're selling the company's desktop space!?"
"Yeah, to a couple of oil companies that want off-site back-ups."
"I can't believe it!" the PFY cries, shocked to the core.
"What, the Machiavellian megalomania of it all?" I ask.
"No, that you didn't cut me in!"
"Well, it's funny you should mention that. The next time Dave suggests full-height drives, I'd like you to keep your gob shut. The same goes for when he suggests monochrome monitors to cut down on sick time because of eye strain. We've got a buyer who wants a job lot of SVGAs."
"But that's just ridic...Dave's working for you, isn't he?" the PFY cries, the penny finally dropping.
"Not for - with."
"But he's completely thick!"
"Oh, that's just a cover story. He pumps out stupid suggestions at top speed to prevent other managers from getting their own in there."
There's a knock at the door.
"Speak of the devil."
"Uh, I think I've forgotten my password," Dave mumbles.
"It's OK, he knows," I respond.
"Oh. Right. Well, I've just heard rumours that your boss is going to propose that all management get a laptop conversion kit for their cars - complete with 12 volt LCD monitor, cellphone hook-up etc."
"Bloody hell," the PFY gasps. "That'll be our whole equipment budget for a couple of quarters! What are we going to do?"
"Well," Dave comments, "for a start I'd cut the monitor deal, bring in Dvorak keyboards to prevent repetitive strain injury, RS232 networking to reduce Ethernet collisions, and, when that fails, dial-up networking between floors."
Unfortunately, two days later the flaw in the plan becomes apparent when 18 ultra high-speed modems arrive in the office - courtesy of the boss who was so swayed by the inter-floor dial-up networking argument that he cashed in our budget on them.
So it is true then: you can't win 'em all...
It's his fault. He recently took on a secretary who suffers from XXXX disease, i.e. the inability to do anything she doesn't want to on medical grounds. If it isn't RSI it's some version of the 'flu hitherto unknown to medical science.
Finally I've had a gutful, so I corner the boss to see what he's going to do about it. The assistant head of personnel is there, purely coincidentally of course.
"Well, I'd like to do something about it," he responds, "but the company has fairly strict guidelines on dismissing employees due to medical conditions..."
"So she's here to stay?"
"Unless there's some disciplinary issue that you'd like to raise?" personnel replies.
"Other than she's crap?"
"She is not crap. She has simply discovered some medical conditions that are exacerbated by her work here. So we're going to lighten her workload accordingly to allow her a chance to recover."
"Lighten her workload?! She doesn't do anything!"
"She's made a good job of organising my meetings," the boss chimes.
"That's because her hands hurt too much to take down the details! You haven't met anyone since she's been here."
"I'm meeting you aren't I?" the boss counters smugly.
Then it becomes clear to me. It's the boss's sneaky plan to insulate himself from the workers by having an obstructive secretary...
Sure enough, as I leave the office I notice a similar self-contented expression on the part of the employee in question.
"Two can play at that game!"
I blurt as I re-enter the office, gesture the PFY aside and force a reboot of every switch and router in the building.
The boss storms in seconds later, with his personnel partner-in-grime in tow.
"What's going on?"
"Routers have all gone down. I typed 'all reboot' instead of 'all status'. I must be typing dyslexic!"
"Well get them up!" the boss blurts, concentrating his attention on the lynching that will occur at the next systems liaison meeting...
"Well I'd like to, but I'm also suffering from attention defici... Oh! Look, a green cellphone! Is that new?"
The boss goes straight to the PFY and demands that he restart the equipment.
As the great unwashed beat a path to the door of mission control and the networking equipment finishes its booting, the PFY accedes to the boss's demands at full speed, with a cry of "Bastards!" and queues a 60- minute UPS disconnect test for five minutes from now - 60 being 23 more minutes than the rated capacity of our system.
"Oh no!" I cry. "Keyboard rage!"
"What are you talking about?!" the boss shouts.
"Keyboard rage! It's like road rage, only worse! It's not his fault, it's a psychological condition he's been getting counselling for! He was diagnosed by the same doctor who diagnosed my attent...Wow! This gas operated chair's really got a smooth descent! Look at this!"
"I want that UPS test stopped!" the boss shouts.
"Please don't shout," I sniffle. "My dyslexia gets worse under pressure. Bugger, I've just set the fire alarm test off by accident!"
The PFY, meantime, is beating his keyboard senseless in a very convincing manner while our two visitors make for the door.
"Be careful!" I cry, "I can't remember whether I locked out the lift system or not, and if I did - Ooooh, is that an Armani suit?!"
The next day the PFY and I meet with the head of personnel, the boss, and the head of dept.
A calm knock on the door announces the arrival of our personal psychiatric advisor.
"I don't believe you've met our psychiatric advisor, Doctor Brian Analpeeper - Phd in Abnormal Psychology from the Bognor Regis Polytechnic."
"Good morning gentlemen," Brian starts. "I have here the diagnoses of my patients' conditions which, I must say, appear to have been aggravated by the inability of their superegos to express their thoughts about current management decisions..."
Brian goes on to explain that yesterday's unfortunate power and systems outage etc. is all a result of our inability to get to the boss because of the new secretary.
"They're just a couple of freeloading layabouts who are milking the company dry," the boss snaps angrily.
"I feel at this juncture I must ask for some time alone with my clients to discern any mental harm that your comments have caused them."
"What the hell?!"
"My clients are sensitive people. Who knows what your comments may have done to their delicate psyches. This meeting may accelerate a whole new set of problems, uncovering repressed memories of employee abuse."
"What?!" the boss cries, dangerously close to blowing a major blood vessel.
"Wait," the head of personnel interjects, recognising an escalating situation when he's in one. "We'll transfer her."
"To stamp-licking in the mail room?" I ask evilly.
"We have a franking machine," the boss comments dryly.
"Not for much longer," the PFY comments. "I think I feel a bout of frank rage coming on."
"Interesting manifestation of trauma," Brian comments. "Well, I see no need for my remaining here."
"You bastard!" the boss snarls before yelping as Brian's briefcase crushes his hand.
"Sorry," Brian explains. "I'm a recovering briefcase rage sufferer."
Amazing what a psychiatrist can find out, if you pay him enough...
There is a distinct tendency toward home working, which is bad news indeed.
Bad news in a number of ways. First, there are fewer people in the office to admire the support 'efforts' of the PFY and myself; this, in itself, implies a reduction in the level of available victims.
Second, for every user on the remote access server, we lose 64Kbps (before compression) of our PRI Quake connection to the US arm of the company.
Finally, and most importantly, remote access equals more user moans.
You see, remote access is hard to use. It involves not only using Windows NT's user interface, but also a modem and a phone line. It also involves calling the right number in order to gain access to the company network.
Difficult, you may think. Except the reason we run NT Workstation is because we can lock everything down tighter than...well, just think of the anatomy of waterfowl. And the modem is internal to the PC, so they can't get the wires wrong when they connect it up.
And the phone line is Araldited into the modem card, so they can't put the wrong end in the wrong hole. And the other end has a big green label saying "Plug this end into a telephone socket". Made of steel. And the dial-up number is hard-coded into the modem software. And it's even the right number on ten per cent of the machines.
So what exactly is it that these people find so hard? These are people who, by and large, can figure out which way round to sit on a toilet. Who - with the exception of the senior purchasing controller - know which end of a biro goes on to the paper. Who somehow passed a test and are legally allowed to drive a big heavy car with a big engine and sharp edges to work but still can't figure out how to plug a power cord into the only socket it'll fit into in the back of a computer.
For example, a call the PFY answered by mistake the other day:
"I can't dial into the network."
"Really? Is the modem plugged in?"
"Yes, that was the problem last time, so I made sure it was okay today."
"Have you been able to connect at all?"
"Well, I got in yesterday."
"Have you changed anything?"
"Try it again now."
"Okay...hang on...it says 'no dialtone'."
"How many phone lines do you have in your house?"
"Just one. Why?"
But it's not all bad. Remote access users do have their uses, of course. You see, a while ago the beancounters decided to ban people from charging their home phone bills to expenses.
They figured that if people couldn't be bothered to come into the office, they weren't about to pay. Therefore, we in IT decided to be very friendly to the poor little cherubs who were too delicate to face a daily commute and give them an 0800 number to dial into.
Sadly, something appears to have gone wrong with the local cable franchise's phone billing system. Somehow
I don't seem to be getting the bill for all these allegedly freefone remote access calls. Yet I've heard rumours of relationship rockiness becoming rife among our remote access friends. Something to do with wives finding £800-per-quarter phone bills full of itemised, premium rate numbers with suspicious-sounding names...whatever the case, the Operations beer fund appears to be ticking up nicely at a rate of 44p per minute (35p off-peak).
Not only this, but the management are starting to catch on to the fact that there might be something in the remote-user thing after all. Something called hot-desking, I'm told.
Manager theory goes along the lines of: if someone isn't there, I'm getting charged for their bit of the office, so let's put someone else in there and save money. It is, of course, perfectly logical to take on extra people on thirty grand a year in order to fully utilise eighty quid's worth of square footage.
Anyhow, as the PFY and I gaze out of the window we can see a whole load of big vans and men carting into the building what look suspiciously like cubicle partitions. A suspicion looms...
Three o'clock comes, and it's time for the PFY and I to adjourn to the cosy meeting room on the corner that has a full-sized pool table and serves such a nice pint of Stella.
As we battle our way across the yard, weaving a path through the head-butting and the fist-fights, we find ourselves musing about how ironic it all is that one of the junior programmers should have discovered the old cubicle-allocation application I wrote five years ago for the previous management (most of whom have now, sadly, passed on or checked into rehab units).
For some reason hot-desking didn't work then, either.
"We pay how much per hour?"
The PFY is startled by my exclamation, though realisation dawns as he looks at my screen-scrape of the financial director's Word window. It seems that our department loses money should my humble assistant or I be late fixing someone's machine. To the tune of a grand an hour, give or take a few pennies.
True, it's nice to labour under the misapprehension that they think we're worth that much, but in reality I suspect they're just trying to induce urgency. They also think we care how much the boss's budget loses, but that's another issue entirely.
"Quick, change it while it's in the print queue," the PFY shouts, seeing the 'Print' dialog appearing. He dives for his keyboard, but stops himself as he notices my smug grin.
Sure enough, a few days later the boss walks in, with the financial director in tow, to see how we're doing. Just so he can be kept happy we've installed a big 'job status' screen (103" TFT displays don't come cheap, but it had to be flat to be wall-mounted) which is showing lots of healthy 'green' jobs.
Allow me to explain. A 'red job is a call on which we have missed our deadline. A 'green' job, on the other hand, is a call which has been logged but not yet attended to, but whose deadline is still in the future. We persuaded the management that we didn't need to record completed calls, as they were largely irrelevant to progress. True, the fact that there weren't any made it even more pointless, but we didn't exactly press that issue.
"Good show, chaps," the financial director booms in his clipped retired-Army-lieutenant-who-still-calls-himself-colonel tones. (Note at this point the derivation of the word 'colonel', as in COLON-el). "Keeping ahead of things, I see!"
"Oh yes, sir, we make a point of hitting our targets." Yeah, but I'm not telling you what with.
The phone rings, and the PFY flinches at the intensity of the boss's "answer it or die" look.
He's certainly learning.
"Operations, PFY speaking."
The boss manages to shepherd the financial director out of the office while he's still happy, leaving the PFY to look after his 'customer'.
"Yes, I realise we haven't managed to get round to you yet, but we're very busy, and we're still within the permitted fix time - yes, I know you called on September 8th - yes, I know it's the 30th today. What's that? Sure, I'll just look it up - ah, here it is. 14 April 2003 seems to be the deadline. Tell you what, I'll call you on the 13th just to make sure you still work here, just so I don't waste my time coming up to your office only to find you've fallen out of a window. No, that's not a threat, just a vision of the future. Bye now."
The days pass and we while away the time as our part-time assistant (drafted in for two hours a week to cope with the vast demand being placed on our human resources) knocks off the odd job here and there just so the board isn't too full.
Meanwhile, unrest is growing among the users, who don't seem to realise just how hard it is to keep that board full of green call reports. It's a full fortnight before the boss catches on to what we're up to. It took him a while, but his training is coming along nicely and every so often he spots what's happening.
"Tell me," he prompts, "just how many calls actually get as far as being closed?"
"Depends how you mean 'closed'," I reply.
"Like, problems getting solved."
"Depends what you mean by 'solved'."
"Okay, let me explain. We set deadlines to give ourselves enough time to do the job properly. Right?"
"We have two alternatives. First, we can go and fix the problem. This takes time and draws us away from our real job."
"And I'm not even going to ask what you think that is. What's the other option?"
"We sit in the pub doing essential network maintenance and, by the time the many-months-off deadline arrives, the problem, or preferably the user, has gone away. The deadline generator is tied into the HR staff turnover measurement system."
A twinkle in the boss's eye tells me he's plotting. And he knows better than to come up with anything that isn't grossly beneficial to my spotty colleague and myself.
He strides off purposefully, returning half an hour later looking triumphant.
"I persuaded the financial director that stuff might get done a little bit before deadline if there was some incentive to our department for finishing jobs before deadline."
"Don't ask. Enough."
Within a day and a half the call-board is darker than a gorilla's groin, and the Operations beer-fund, which is index-linked to the boss's budget, is looking healthier than ever. I could grow to like the idea of accountability.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm feeling poorly.
But having used up my sick leave entitlement during the World Cup and considering a bomb threat too drastic, I struggle into work. After all, if you're going to be crook, you may as well do it on company time. It always makes me feel a little better anyway. The source of my illness was plain to see once I'd emerged from the bed to focus on the congealed remains of a half-eaten kebab solidified on the top of the TV set and half a pot of cold coffee sitting on the table.
A vague memory crosses my mind, collides with a patchy recollection and goes down...I seem to remember a lager frenzy starting at the pub just down from the office following the outcome of some wager that ended in my favour. As they do.
A wager that must have undoubtedly involved the boss in some way, shape or form, following his imperial command just a few days ago with regard to morning and afternoon tea. Apparently we're only supposed to take one of each a day, and they're only supposed to be 15 minutes long. And they're to be measured by the company's clocks and not by any personal equipment. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.
Of course no one expected him to enforce the ruling, so it came as a little bit of a surprise when the unauthorised timesheet prunings were brought to light by a less-than-expected payment cheque.
I manage to drag myself to work, although I have to admit to feeling very seedy by the time I get to the relative security of my office. A rest is called for.
I redirect my phone to the voicemail of the networks and systems group of the company, three buildings over, then catch up with some well-deserved sleep.
An hour later I'm woken by the entry of the PFY into the room. Well, more accurately, the sound of the PFY falling through the door to Mission Control.
His condition is no better than my own, but I'm hoping that his memory of events will tide me over.
A hope that fades quickly when he informs me that the last thing he remembers was when we pulled the toner cartridge out of the fax machine and shorted out the 'toner low' and 'cartridge-removed' sensors.
Further questioning is pointless once the PFY reveals that the next thing he remembers is waking up in the telecomms access duct at the rear of the building.
Curiouser and curiouser...
I can only assume that some major form of celebration occurred, the likes of which is not often seen in computing circles (i.e. as rare as a bug-free Microsoft release).
CCTV is no help, revealing only that we left the building at approximately 5:22pm, considerably the worse for wear, in the company of half the secretarial pool, who also looked like they had a bad case of bottle fatigue.
Being a troubleshooting professional of long standing, I apply the first rule of problem solving by asking the question "what has changed?". Observation: there aren't many healthy-looking staff at their desks.
I apply the second rule of problem-solving by tracking the problem backwards - 5:22 is far too late for me to be working, so
I must have been propping up the bar at the company anti-social club.
I put in a call to one of the more human company lawyers, who's rostered on to bar duty this week to see if he remembered us.
I eventually track him down to his cellphone.
"Yes, you called me to open up the bar rather early..."
"When was that then?" I ask.
Missing time and memory accounted for, more important questioning must follow.
"Spend much?" I ask, with a due sense of trepidation.
"As it happened, no," he said. "Not after you pointed out that your boss's memo distinctly states that the company shall provide beverages, at its own expense, for all staff between the hours of 10am and 11am."
"So what happened at 11?" the PFY blurts over my shoulder.
"That's not come around as yet. It's only about 10:49am at the moment. I'm not sure, but the clock appears to be running incredibly slowly. Mine is not to reason why though.."
Yet another penny drops and I vaguely remember tweaking the calibration knob on the pulse-advance unit of the company's timekeeping system to buy us a longer tea-break. Perhaps a hammer wasn't the best tool for the tweak job.
"You mean it's been between 10:30 and 11 for a day?" the PFY gasps.
"Ah...two days I think you'll find."
A quick squint at the unfeasibly small numbers on my wristwatch confirms his story.
"Bloody hell. What's management doing about it then?"
"Well when your boss left here about 16 hou...I mean about six minutes ago, he said he'd be back in five minutes. The whole of legal's here still, because they were on the late morning tea shift, and the DP pool are taking their morning tea in one-minute instalments."
About 43 hours [11 minutes] later, the PFY, myself and some hardcore legal and DP drinkers are helped out of the building.
By the police.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: "AGG AAARRICC GUBB IN FARLIN GOT!" And you can quote me on that.
The PFY confirms it when he gets back from morning tea - at the pub - and looks around as if to check everything is as it should be.
It's like a funny-coloured smell.
The boss must be up to something. We could be over-sensitive, but I think he's a bit upset about me telling the helpdesk staff the grey powder on their furniture might be asbestos dust. That was two days ago, but the mass walkout and hypochondria is yet to end, despite proof that the dust concerned was in fact talcum powder dyed grey.
Some form of retaliation is expected and the waiting game ends fairly shortly when we see the boss waddling in our direction.
"I think it's about time you did some documentation," he blurts, after exhausting his list of social niceties ("How are you?", "How are things going?" and "Isn't that memory the stuff that's missing from my desktop machine?").
"Yes, a site guide, configuration standards, network and systems topologies, installed software, site customisations," he burbles, reeling off the sentence he's obviously spent half the morning committing to memory at great personal risk to the other contents of his brain (where he lives, what his name is, when it's appropriate to unzip his fly etc.).
"But we've got all that already - in the fireproof filing cabinet over there," I respond, pointing at a dull grey monster in the corner that I've only ever opened once.
"Well, let's have a look at it."
"Well, I'd like to, but apparently my assistant locked the key in it the last time he was updating the information!" I cry, using the PFY as a scapegoat for this particular excuse (as previously arranged, of course).
"Then get a locksmith in!" the boss yells, not one to be put off by small details.
Three hours and one fire alarm later the 'documentation' is a mass of ashen remains in the now open cabinet. The fact that they were a mass of ashen remains when I put them in is beside the point.
"I can't think why the PFY would have put that large jar of tapehead cleaner right next to where the locksmith would have to gas-axe the lock open. What an oversight!" I wail, stifling a snigger as the boss gingerly applies some burn cream to his hands.
"It's irrelevant now. I want some documentation to show the auditors."
"The auditors?" I protest. "What do glorified beancounters want documentation for?"
"Not monetary auditors, company auditors. Since the company sold itself to that US combine we have to have our every move audited to ensure the place is a smooth-running machine."
"My money's on a '73 Ford Escort running on three cylinders with water in the fuel tank, but I take your point."
"So I'll expect reprints of your documentation first thing tomorrow," the boss says, leaving.
"Auditors?" the PFY asks. "I haven't heard anything about them."
"First thing you'd better do is OCR scan some random manual pages - the older the better - into a word processor to add a bit of bulk to our documentation. I'll dump the network topology mapper output into another document in 24 point, which should use up about 100 pages by itself. Then push the DNS through a perl filter to add some fancy field information to it. Then I'll work on some table of contents pages, etc.," I reply.
"But won't they know it's crap?" the PFY asks.
"Nah, there'll be so much of it they'll look at the table of contents, check the first few pages, then randomly open the documents at certain pages. Which reminds me. Anything that's reasonably legit should be printed on heavier paper than the rest of the document so that anyone flipping through will stop there.
"You sound like you've done this before."
"One of the tricks of the contracting trade. There's always a run on 100gsm paper at company report time."
Three hours later, we have a document that would fool the average beginner. However, bearing in mind that the auditors have probably seen a few of these in their time, I'm going to have to insert some believable stuff into the procedures area.
An hour later, I've whipped out ten good pages of bumpf on "Hot Swap," "Disaster recovery," "Host configuration and naming," "Router configuration standards", etc.
I also chuck in some roughly accurate palaver about cabling, trunking and patch panel locations, as well as a brief outline of emergency service and security configuration information. I slap it all together into an appropriately named folder, then subject it to the ageing process (meaning I jump up and down on it, kick it around until some of the pages fall out, then spill some food and ink on it) to make it look like it's heavily referred to.
The document gets submitted, and, judging by the lack of evidence to the contrary, the auditors must be happy.
And so it was that the next day the PFY and I were standing beside the network monitor when it started emitting the telltale signs of a router not talking to anything any more.
"That'll be the boss turning on router redundant takeover."
"How can you be sure?"
"The old ROMS don't support it - it causes a memory leak. Of course, I forgot to document that. Actually, come to think of it, I also forgot to document..."
A large crash from the floor above interrupts me.
"The emergency duct access retracting ladder isn't screwed into the roof yet."
Five minutes later the boss is on his way to hospital and the documentation is on its way to the incinerator.
As expected, it's wall-to-wall propeller heads with 100 per cent polyester appearing to be the clothing order of the day.
And, also as expected, the vendor wheels out the new hardware while simultaneously reassuring the assembled clientele that this is not a REPLACEMENT of the kit that they bought a few months ago, just a parallel product.
The fact that last quarter's machines have been removed from the hardware catalogue (along with the support from the maintenance catalogue) is purely coincidental...As is the fact that the serial number on the new kit implies that it was actually manufactured SIX months ago. No, no, it wasn't a product-dumping exercise at all. Just coincidence.
Oh, and a complete change of architecture...
So we see the new model, with a new bus (which means that stockpile of peripheral cards you bought are about as in demand as XT thin-wire cards), 20 per cent increase in processor speed, 80 per cent increase in cost, 200 per cent increase in size and ugliness of logo, and immediately the braindead among the audience start drooling.
"As you'll see," our presenter says with a coat-hanger grin, "the SpecWPIOP Int figures for our machine are much higher than for any other manufacturer's machine of comparable price..."
"Ah," I interject, suppressing with great effort my sense of annoyance at their transparency, "could that be because you just made up the SpecWPIOP Int standard to take advantage of your new kit's design?"
"Certainly not," our presenter hotly denies, "the SpecWPIOP Int is an open industry standard!"
"And who," I ask, knowing full well the answer, "developed and opened this standard?"
"Well I have to admit, somewhat proudly, that our company has excelled in developing a standard which truly reflects the loads on an active system of varying users more accurately than something which performs simple integer test cases."
"In other words, you made it up?"
"No No! Bookmarking figures have, for some time, not taken into account the true loads on a system which may have users of varying types, from development, to database, to data entry. The SpecWPIOP takes into account all these things to produce a figure that is fully representative of the 'whole-system', or 'holistic-interoperative' approach, as we like to call it."
I look around me and notice that the guy's got about 60 per cent of the customers sold, with their proverbial pants already at half mast.
"So SpecWPIOP, what does that stand for?" I ask.
"Specifications When Pmmmmmdmd Idndn Ouidud Pddnls," he mumbles. "Pardon?"
"Specifications When Plugged Into Our Peripherals," he murmurs slyly.
"Oh! So what you're saying is that when you plug one of your SCSI disks, say, into another manufacturer's hardware, the processor is so busy dealing with the errors generated by your non-standard interface that it works much slower."
"That's not it at all," he gasps, incredulous. "Why, just looking at the system in action would convince anyone otherwise!!!"
He proceeds to power the thing up and it whirrs into life with an impressive start-up sound.
Worth at least half of the purchase price alone, when combined with the new full-colour start-up graphic!!!
"And if I could get a volunteer from the aud..."
I almost pop a hamstring in my hurry to be first out the gate and up to the podium. I can tell that I wasn't the volunteer that he was looking for - probably having primed some Infomercial dropout with questions to ask and 'Gosh, look at that!' responses to give.
"Ah," he murmurs, not wishing to let me near his kit, but not really having much choice in the matter. "How about you start up the Graphical User Interface by clicking on the little screen icon then?"
I do so and am actually very impressed with the speed of the start-up. As is the rest of the flock, who crowd in closer to get a good look...
Obscuring my hand briefly... quicker than you can say: "What is that, aluminium foil cuttings? Chocolate wrapper bits? Iron filings?" I've surreptitiously flicked a small handful of aluminium foil underneath the machine...into the thirsty holes of the cooling-inlet.
The subsequent short-circuiting, smoke and minor explosion rounded off the entertainment for the afternoon - ruining the new business prospects for the manufacturer and sending the presenter home with a 'shocking' new hairstyle - after he regained consciousness. Suffice to say that the rest is history - the model isn't being pulled from the market per se - another demonstration is being organised in a month from now when they iron out the "power supply problems", but at least it's restored, temporarily at least, the resale price of my peripherals to give me a chance to offload them on some poor, unsuspecting alternate customer of our vendor.
Ah well, you know what they say - all's fair in love and hardware acquisition...
Propagating our Web cache with smut apparently destined for the Boss is a sure-fire way to get immunity from a bollocking if you're caught browsing at it yourself during work time, and it solves the hassle of having to wait for the stuff to load over the smut site's crappy Ethernet connection.
True, loading the Boss's corporate credit card details into the robot was a little on the nose, but it all boils down to what you're willing to pay for a good cache service.
And the Boss sure is paying - I've had to have his credit card limit extended twice this month just to keep up with the volume of incoming material the patient and inquisitive robot has found.
If he didn't want to buy anything with his credit card, he wouldn't have got one in the first place. Nor would he have left it carelessly lying around in a sealed envelope, locked in his briefcase, secured inside that filing cabinet drawer marked 'IT94 conference proceedings', in the cleaners' cupboard at the far end of the building. He was just asking for it to be used.
However, I'm pleased to say that the cache is responding well to the challenge now that I've whacked those two new nine gig drives into the server. In other words, it's a happy ending - or beginning...
"I've got a problem with these machine usage stats," the Boss blurts, entering the office in such a hurry I have to terminate my 'cache-occupancy hit stats survey' by switching my monitor off.
"What problem is that?" I ask.
"Well, according to this, my machine does a hell of a lot of traffic in off-peak hours."
"Really?" I respond, upset that my little smut-acquiring goldmine looks like meeting its end.
"Oh that'll just be DHCP mapping playing up again," the PFY jumps in. "It's just because our DNS isn't dynamic, so it's charged against your machine, but really is some other machine using the IP address you were using when the IP usage stats program was run!"
"Duh - really?" the Boss responds, so far out of his technical depth he's looking for a life raft and water wings.
"Yeah, it's nothing to worry about."
"Oh," the Boss says, happy in the knowledge that his desktop is faithful to him only. "So who is generating the IP traffic then?"
"Ah...that'll probably be our site's Web server," I jump in.
"But I thought you told me last week that servers weren't going to use DHCP?" the Boss quips, annoying me with an unexpected attack of accurate recall.
"No, no, I said that surfers don't use DHCP - because...ah...most of them don't even have PCs...and those who do don't take them to the beach anyway..."
"What have surfers got to do with our company?" the Boss blurts, even more confused than normally...
"Nothing that I know of," I respond.
"So why did you tell me about it?"
"Just passing the time of day..."
Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a beancounter wearing a worried expression, which can only mean that the credit card eagle has landed. Crash landed by the sour look on his face.
"It's about your company credit card," he mumbles anxiously.
"What about it?"
"It's £23,000 in the red!"
I'm a bit shocked at this figure, as I only cranked the card limit up to £10k, but put it down to a credit card company keen to generate revenue...
"That's preposterous," the Boss blurts.
"It's all here in black and white - but mostly red," the beancounter says, handing over some papers.
"What's this www.spank-spank.org...and too-tight-lederhosen.com? And who the hell is the Progressive Press in Amsterdam?"
A warning bell rings in my head as I don't recall any Web-site by that name. I grab the papers from the beancounter and find that Web traffic accounts for only about 10 per cent of the charges therein, the rest appearing to be for merchandise shipped into the UK...
"I have no idea," the beancounter responds. "But it's all above board on your card..."
"It can't be, my card's locked away safely, in a drawer in a cabling cupboard."
"A cleaning cupboard, I think you'll find," I mention, cheerfully.
"And in a filing cabinet," the PFY adds.
"Sealed in an envelope, in a briefcase," the beancounter finishes smugly, much to the surprise of the PFY and I.
So it seems there's a new player in the game - a beancounter gone bad. Excellent.
The Boss burbles some crap about us not getting away with it, and rushes off to get his card cancelled.
"The horse has bolted on that one," the beancounter chirps happily. "Besides, I used his old card as leverage for a new one with a different bank."
"And...?" I ask, preparing for war.
"I sent the Boss's details in e-mail. Not encrypted with his public key of course, yours in fact - what an oversight!"
"So what you're saying is the Boss has an e-mail message he can't read..."
"That anyone with your private key intercepting that e-mail could..."
It's a wet and windy afternoon when the crack security force of the building break into the Boss's office and drag him up to the board for a good spanking. Apparently his claims of innocence fell upon deaf ears when enquiries revealed that the shipping address for the 'progressive' media was the Boss's summer house...
One down, too many more to go.
But at least we have an ally in the enemy camp...
Security wants its systems back. Well, actually not Security at all - we have a great working relationship - but its new manager - an ex-military type who takes the job far too seriously. He (outrageously) believes CCTV security systems should be Security's responsibility, and that Network and Systems Operations types shouldn't have unrestricted swipe card access to the building "to enable rapid support".
In other words, he's trying to make us join the great unwashed.
Our new boss is no bloody help. With the spine of a jellyfish, he backed down in record time.
I don't like it.
The PFY doesn't like it.
Something's got to give.
And give it does. The final straw comes when the new boss pops into the office and asks what we were doing in the boardroom last night at 6.35pm.
Obviously the answer‚ "Drinking ourselves senseless with a couple of members of the secretarial pool" - is out of the question.
So it looks like I'm going to have to ad-lib. And we're not talking sound cards here.
"Ahh...checking the connectivity of the individual ISDN desktop ports," I blurt quickly.
"Really? It doesn't look like that!" he cries, brandishing a frame-grabbed image from CCTV showing the PFY topping up a half-full sherry decanter with a reconstituted version of the original.
"That's disgusting!" I cry heatedly.
"Yes it is," the boss concurs, saddling up his high horse for the 11.30 hurdles. "As is this," he continues, flashing another image - of me this time - making up the PFY's shortfall (he's just young).
"And what do you have to say about that?" he challenges.
"Well, obviously I need to reduce my vitamin B intake," I cry.
"I'm only joking. It's obviously a fake."
"Well, if it's a fake," he responds smugly, holding up a strangely familiar vessel, "you won't mind taking a quick swig of this."
"Not at all," I respond, pouring myself a healthy dram, or 57, and downing it in record time. "As I said, it's a fake - a plan by security to discredit us with misinformation.
"Obviously a video edit. Look at the pixellation around the thing. It's been digitised and re-enhanced."
"I...uh..." the boss mumbles, inquisition in ashes.
After he's slouched out in despair (not having the bottle, or even a decanter) to face up to the head of Security, the PFY comes over.
"Can't believe you bloody drank that," he gasps disgustedly.
"Ah, don't be silly - I put the full one at the back and swapped the seal with that one. The board's stupid, but not stupid enough to mistake that for sherry. Not until they've had a couple of priming decanters anyway."
A swivel from the camera behind the computer room viewing window alerts me to a potential problem.
"Reckon he can read lips?" I ask the PFY from behind my coffee cup.
"It's possible," the PFY comments, apparently yawning.
"Right. Emergency action is called for!"
The PFY and I race up the staircase to the boardroom to dispose of the evidence. But we are too late. The head of Security is already in the room and has hurled glassware everywhere in his haste to find the decanter at the back.
With any luck...but no - the sole surviving decanter is much, much clearer than the one I drank from.
"We're stuffed," the PFY whispers.
"Not quite," I blurt, remembering the access card system's configuration parameters. I swipe my card through the reader, then punch in an incorrect PIN number. And again. And again.
The fourth attempt triggers an alarm, and the Security boss rushes over to the door to swipe the door release from his side...but too late. The ten-minute lockout has occurred.
Quick as a flash the PFY pulls the phone and network connections from the room, then manually locks the access corridor to the boardroom.
"Hang on, he'll break the emergency release glass," the PFY cries.
"He would. If I hadn't replaced it with the bulletproof stuff years ago."
We pull a couple of chairs up and wait for the inevitable, swiping the door invalidly every nine minutes or so to keep the lockout in force.
To his credit, the head of Security held out well - the military influence no doubt. It takes nearly ten hours for thirst to set in. And a full two more before he unstoppers the bottle.
"I'd have tipped it on the ground," the PFY says quietly, at the pub a day later. "That would have solved it."
"Yeah, there's no understanding the military mind," I sigh, as I contemplate the names he's going to be called by his troops, who were too busy making video dubs of the proceedings to come to his aid - even if they'd wanted to.
Different horses for different courses...
As a result of the (albeit compressed) video and audio stream, our connection to the rest of the world isn't performing up to what we laughingly refer to as scratch.
And there's NO POINT in getting into a discussion with the new boss about bandwidth requirements, as he's been trawling through the notes of his various predecessors (including the ones in crayon from the loony academy saying "THEY'RE OUT TO GET ME!") and has already informed me that there IS no upgrade path...
However, this doesn't solve the perceivable lack of response of transmission, but with any luck it'll pick up once I patch the video onto a live redundant bearer that our network carrier company ran to our building but neglected to configure as 'down'.
I mean, that's just GAGGING for it, as all of their competitors wouldn't have left a spare NTU in the building in the first place.
Of course, I justify the temporary unofficial upgrade by telling myself how much the carrier company is screwing us for. Who says I'm not the sentimental type?
I liven up the link and run a test. Sure enough, it's even on an active router port! I route the video through it, thanking the gods for a provider with more ports and money than sense...
It's just a matter of time of course, so I make sure that external caller-ID and subscriber look-up are configured into the phone. Sure enough, in a couple of hours, I get a call from our network carrier's customer rep.
"Hello, Belgian Steak and Waffle House...do you need a reservation?" I say carefully, in an accent somewhere between eastern Europe and East London.
"Sorry, wrong number," the caller mutters, then rings off. Two seconds later, he's back. "Belgian Steak and Waffle House...do you need a reservation?"
Now he's confused. He verifies the number he has in front of him against mine, then asks if we have computers on the premises.
"I theenk you mean the peepill upstairs," I say. "Day haf many computers."
He verifies that the company name is right, then asks how I'm on their phone number.
"Oh, that ees a long story," I say. "There was a beeg accident into the building, and now all the phones, they don't go so good seence dee man came to feex it..."
Realising that my accent is rapidly heading towards Mexican, I make my break. "So sorry, I haf some customer - can you call back afder lonch?"
So now I'm on limited time. I know that they're not going to disconnect me in case the problem's a result of work that THEY have done - or worse still, the connection is supposed to be in place but no one's told them about it - but I also know they're not going to let me have free bandwidth for long.
A sneaky plan is called for.
I call our customer rep (after disabling caller-ID look-up) and ask him what the hell is going on with our link speed.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"Something's using all the inbound traffic!" I blurt. "Just after one of your guys came and fixed the link for us and screwed up our phones at the same time."
"But we don't supply your phones!" he blurts.
"I know you don't!" I cry, "but now they're all mixed up with the other companies in the building and no one's able to do anything!"
"But we never had a service call for you!" he wails. "Have you got a job reference?"
I switch my phone line to modem and flick it into manual connect so he gets an earful of garbage, then switch it back and forth so it sounds like a dalek reaching puberty.
"You haven't got a service call?" I ask.
"No," he blurts, while I check the CCTV to see if the boss's company car is still in the basement.
"But it was just recen..." I blurt, then switch in the modem for the rest of the call and slip off to the basement.
A quick spray of matt-black on the security camera lens later, I've got the boss's bonnet open and a pair of vice grips on his wide-open accelerator cable. Now all that remains is to slip the vehicle into reverse and disconnect the start-in-park-only switch.
Barely half an hour later, the boss's car rips into the telecomms room at about 30mph, more than sufficient to terminate all network and phone connections.
I rip down to the basement and help the boss from the car to a point where he won't see me retrieving Systems and Networks tools from the vehicle.
While he's in shock I add a couple of finishing touches to the NTUs with one of the few remaining fire axes the US company owners supplied as part of their corporate safety plan.
"It just ran away on me!" the boss cries. "Well, the whole building's out!" I say.
"Can't you get it live again?"
"Yeah, but it'll take all night at least and we'll have to enable the redundant link just to get the throughput. Besides which, both NTUs are destroyed, and they only make faster models now and..."
A day later, I'm watching the video of the aforementioned TV series as it comes to me from Wales. Link speed perfect.
"How long will we need that redundant link?" asks the boss.
"Phew," I mumble, "I don't know - how long is the complete Star Trek series?"
"It's crazy!" I blurt to the PFY, as soon as he rolls in, holding one of the aforementioned posters.
"Why?" he asks, with the air of someone seriously contemplating taking up the offer.
"Oh, puhleeze. Who would turn down the opportunity of spending an hour of paid time whining to someone about how their mother didn't love them and their deep-seated problems concerning trains and tunnels?"
"Sorry?" the PFY asks, obviously a little short on his Freud appreciation.
"Look, half the staff already whine to each other about how hard they have it. This just legitimises the whole process!"
"You really have a problem with this don't you?" the PFY quips. "Perhaps you should seek some help with your feelings of..."
(One very long high-pitched scream later): "So do you get what I'm trying to impart?" I ask, opening the drawer that contains the PFY's testicles.
"Yes, yes," the PFY gasps, on his way to the ground. "But..."
"But?" I cry, opening the drawer for round two.
"But don't you think that management knows the staff spend lots of time whingeing..."
"And are trying to reduce it by making the whole process 'street-legal' so to speak?" I finish.
"Yeah. If they get real help, instead of a chance to grumble..."
"...they might become more productive?"
"I see your point, but I don't think that management knows how much the staff like to complain. Still, this warrants keeping an eye on..."
And so it was that, two days later, I was getting first-hand experience of the therapy 'thang'.
"...and so what we use is a therapy called 'RET' - Rational Emotive Therapy, where we ask you to face your problems as problems that you, and you alone, have to deal with, challenging their reason for being there in the first place."
"Ah yes," I interrupt, to avoid lapsing into a boredom coma. "I've done a lot of therapy in the past, mainly 'TPC', but it doesn't seem to work - my problems are back by the next therapy session."
"TPC? I'm not familiar with that."
"TPC? Ten Pints and a Curry. Every Friday, down at the local boozer and then down the local Ruby."
"Yes, very droll," he comments, lounging back in his comfy chair. "Now perhaps we can talk about what brings you here?"
"Of course! I'm actually here to find out all the dirt you've amassed on our staff!"
"You know, the dirt - who's a bedwetter, who has a predilection for the company of furry rodents, that sort of thing."
"All the information I gather is confiden..."
"Like the boss being impotent?" I ask.
"How did you...?"
"All in your notes," I murmur.
"I don't keep them on computer!"
"But you do keep them on a pad in full view of the elevator CCTV cameras..."
"But they're in modified shorthand!"
"That abbreviated Pitmans?! It took eight minutes of processor time to decode on a machine with a technical vocab, phrase analysis and variance..."
"Face it - I'm going to say you told me anyway, so why not cut out the middleman?"
"I can't. I swore an oath."
"The one about not dobbing in nutters?"
"We don't use terms like 'nutter'."
"Or like 'professional misconduct'?"
"What do you really want?"
"Oh, all right!" he shouts angrily.
"Your boss has an irrational fear of power staplers."
"That's not irrational. Almost everyone I know does! The PFY has nightmares about them. And drawers now, too, I shouldn't wonder..."
"And one of your telephonists feels she may be a nymphomaniac."
"Which one!?" blurts the PFY, bursting in from behind the door.
Honestly, that boy should eat less red meat...
"Small potatoes," I complain. "I'm after the real stuff no-one should know about..."
"There isn't any!"
"Breach of professional confidentiality means personal damages proceedings now, doesn't it?" I ask the PFY in an off-hand manner.
"Oh yes," he chirps, grinning evilly.
"All right," my personal therapist moans, throwing in the towel...
I really did feel better at the end of the session. So good, in fact, that I booked myself in every week...
"...for about two weeks, until word gets out that secrets aren't so secret," I mention to the PFY, as I start my TPC therapy early Friday afternoon.
"That won't be for a while will it?" the PFY queries.
"I dunno, ask me after six pints when the 'workers' arrive. I feel a 'cathartic' experience coming on in my therapy..."
"Bound to be. Your turn to pay for therapy I believe?" I mumble, handing over my medicinal vessel.
That's the thing with therapy - you've got to want to get better.
The beads of sweat on his brow and twitching fingers - as he contemplates getting his hands on the thing - speak volumes about his state of mind. He's obviously in Minesweeper withdrawal - even though I replaced the version on his old laptop with one that always explodes a bomb in the first move.
I leave him to his personal trauma.
Sure enough, he's cracked under the pressure, and enters my office 15 minutes later.
"That bloody laptop doesn't work!" he bellows.
It's not surprising considering the PFY and I gutted all but the keyboard, power supply and screen to provide the heart and soul for our latest and greatest project, the IT cleaning droid - which is infinitely more intelligent than the floor polishing droids they release into the corridors at night. I wrote the code myself, even the image recognition and seek-and-destroy - I mean seek-and-clean - code. It's a work of art.
"What happened?" I ask.
"Well, I opened it up an..."
"You opened it up?!"
"And voided the warranty?!"
"I couldn't use it 'til I'd opened it up, could I? The keyboard's inside when it's closed."
"Oh, I see what you mean. I thought you'd broken one of those warranty void seals!" I cry, faking the kind of relief some people pay large sums of money for.
"Ah, well, there was one seal I had to break, but that was the one over the 'open' latch."
"You mean you didn't get an engineer to install it?!" I gasp.
"You installed it!"
"No, I only put the software on it via Target-Mode SCSI upload. You need an engineer to provide the inherent firmware personality modes." (Dummy mode on.)
"But it's a bloody laptop, not a mainframe," he sniffles.
"Yes, but the engineer has to set the localisation on the machine for you, and personalise the unit, passwords and stuff."
"I see. Well, you'd best do it."
"You're joking aren't you? They're not going to touch it with a broken warranty void sticker."
"Because you could have set the localisation to Peru, or something. That'll all have been stored in permanent non-volatile, doubly redundant, device-specific, static RAM." (Dummy mode cranked up.)
"What does that mean?"
"It means all the components have stored the fact that your machine is installed in Peru, Antarctica, or wherever it configured itself for. If that location conflicts with what the GPS tracker says..."
"My laptop's got a GPS inside it!" he cries excitedly.
"Yes, but if the hardware conflicts with what it says, well, it may as well be a machine with no motherboard, memory, floppy or CD-ROM - it won't ever go."
True, Ray Charles could have seen that coming, but who gives a toss - it worked.
"W...w...what should I do?" he burbles, contemplating the full horror of a whole day without his favourite game.
"Well, we could buy in the parts and replace them, and I could perform the engineer install. But it'd never be under warranty."
Quicker than you can whisper "executive decision" down a scrambled phone line, the boss has agreed to purchase the aforementioned items.
I, of course, slap all the old stuff back into the boss's machine - being sure to leave a couple of scratches on the casing and have a couple of screws left over so that it looks like a real engineer worked on it - then kick it into life (literally) and hand it back to the boss.
So everyone's happy. The boss has his new laptop, and the droid has brand spanking new hardware. I fire up the droid and get the PFY on the remote console to give my code a good, hard seeing-to. I've offered him a pint for every error he can detect.
"It won't go near walls," the PFY murmurs, without looking up from the console.
Dedication is his middle name. At AA meetings, anyway.
"No, it has an object back-up of a foot so people don't walk into it."
"Meaning it backs up a foot from any object."
"I see," he says, "and what about moving objects?"
"It keeps a foot away from them," I respond, anticipating his plan. "So you're not going to run it into a wall at top speed, nor is it going to let you run up to it and 'physically reboot' it the old-fashioned way."
"The thought never entered my head," the PFY replies, offended. "I was just wondering what it would do in this situation," he says, pointing at the video monitor showing the boss entering the lift with his new laptop.
"So you've not heard of a lag to prevent hysteresis?" the PFY burbles smugly (and drunkenly) at the pub later that evening.
"Uh-huh," I mumble, "where are we up to now?"
"Ah, I think we're up to where the droid backed up from the lift wall and into the boss, then backed up from the boss, over his laptop and into the lift wall. For the...11th time."
Ah...my job beats playing Minesweeper anyday.
"Er, I've had a complaint about you," he mumbles unhappily.
"Really?" I respond politely, while reaching under the table for the 2-wood golf club which I keep for special occasions.
"Yes, yes, but I'm not sure it's valid," he blurts, trying to hide himself deep in the rough.
"Really?" I ask, foregoing the 2-wood for a 6-iron, considering the lie of the conversation.
"Errm, no. You see, he's complained about your music."
"What music?" the PFY asks. "That music," he replies, indicating the surrounding air.
"That music?" I ask, waving a hand around in a similar manner while reconsidering my options.
"Yes, he's complaining that it's too loud."
"Too loud?" the PFY counters disgustedly. "But we can hardly hear it."
"I use it for relaxation," I murmur. "It keeps me calm in the face of adversity."
Now that the implied threat is on the table, there's nothing left for the boss to do but back down. Or risk life and limb in the pursuit of an unattainable goal.
"I know that you can hardly hear it, but the same doesn't go for the people downstairs. Anyway, I can't believe that it's relaxing."
So it's life and limb on the line then.
"Offspring is a very relaxing band," I say. "Yeah, it's the comforting bass line," the PFY chirps. "Besides," I add, "it's at a low level."
"NOT IN THE BLOODY COMPUTER ROOM IT ISN'T!" the boss shouts, losing patience.
"Well, no, but if we turned it down we wouldn't be able to hear it through the soundproof wall." "The people on the floor below bloody well can, though! Why don't you put your stereo in here?"
"We tried that, but it kept popping the circuit breaker when we turned the volume past 3."
"THEN GET A NORMAL STEREO!"
"It IS a normal stereo," I gasp.
"Yes, Notting Hill Carnival normal."
"Well it's not good enough.
I want it TURNED DOWN!"
This just won't do. The PFY and I are relying on the 'comforting bass line' to work its magic on a rack of disks that should have been retired, but for the stupidity of management who want both zero downtime and reliable service.
So it's back to the drawing board again. I slap a set of airport-issue ear protectors on, having learnt from the PFY's mistakes (the poor bastard set off the water leak detector circuits when he wet his pants after pressing the 'play' button with the volume set at 6).
Entering the computer room, I notice the error of his ways - he'd left the volume at 6 when he stepped in his own by-products AND he hadn't switched the bass expand circuits on.
I note that the amp's power supply is 'running a little hot', as we in the trade say. Not good. I break off the volume knob (now pointing at the infamous '11' setting, then slip back into the control room, just in time to see a wild-eyed boss burst through the door.
"I TOLD YOU TO TURN IT DOWN, NOT UP!"
"I tried to turn it down," I blurt, "but the knob broke off!"
"Why didn't you turn it off then?!"
"Because the amp was so warm I thought it might trigger the heat sensors and release the halon."
So, of course, he is screwed. He KNOWS this is a 'tragic workplace accident' with his name scribbled all over it, and he's not going to bite.
"Well can't you switch the power off from the breakers outside?" he asks.
What a wimp. "We can try!" I cry, rushing to the breaker cupboard. "All the ceiling outlets in the front are on red phase, so it's got to be one of these."
30 seconds later..."Red?
I thought they were blue," the PFY chips in.
A further 30 seconds later..."So, it's yellow then," the boss cries, in the face of a cacophony of outage alarms.
"Worth a crack!" I cry, flipping a switch.
"No, that's the old disk rack," the PFY cries from the observation window.
CLACK! "Disk rack again!"
"My mistake!" I blurt, innocently, then flip the next switch.
"Right, let's see what the damage is," the boss cries, pushing past me to the computer room.
"I wouldn't..." I cry, but too late.
"You see the problem with kit like that," I explain to the PFY at the window, "is that turning off the power also shuts off the cooling fan, whereas switching it off at its power switch will leave the fan on until the unit has finished cooling."
"So the kit gets hotter?"
"Let's see what the judges have to say," I respond, nodding at one of the heat sensors.
A couple of short, and fairly muffled 'whoop-whoops' later...
"Is the halon hold-off button still broken?" the PFY asks.
"Well, the judges' decision on that one is...final, by the looks of things. Still time for a quick wave though," I cry.
Of course, we let him out... eventually. After all, he's only new.
Naturally, it's taken as read that a certain amount of spillage finds its way to BOFH Enterprises but very little actually disappears - the value tends to appear as miscellaneous lines in a beancounter's spreadsheet and besides, not much of this Unattributed Cost (as I believe the technical term is) finds its way into my pocket - mainly because it generally goes towards paying for a small holiday in Acapulco or somewhere equally humble.
"It's strange," I say to the PFY after we'd escaped from the boss's sanctum, our ears still ringing from the force of his invective. "It's strange that whoever is doing this has evaded all our carefully prepared traps (the electrified door handle and the strategically placed axe) and has managed to liberate some of our shiny new stock. He wasn't even put off by its careful labelling as 'defective'."
There were three possibilities: we'd had a break-in by a thief who knew exactly what he was looking for; the boss had woken up to the possibility that there was serious remuneration in 'defective' stock; or there was another Bastard somewhere on the premises.
I discounted the first possibility. Not only had none of our alarms gone off but an outside tea-leaf would surely have taken the colour TV (sorry, the High-Definition Multimedia Receiving Apparatus) that the PFY and I use during downtime or when the Test Match is on (which seem to coincide with remarkable regularity).
"Could it be the boss?" asks the PFY. "Do you think that the bollocking he's just given us was all for show?"
"Impossible. The boss is not just dim, he's 20 watt. I understand that he needs an A-Z to find his way home at night."
"And even then he gets lost," says the PFY, alluding to the night that the boss foolishly came for a drink with the boys, only to discover that extra-strength Polish white spirit is undetectable in strong lager (and after three of them so is shoe polish). "Still, it was only a £30 taxi ride from the wilds of east London."
That, incredible as it seemed, left only the possibility of one of my fellow workers, a breed for whom technical sophistication means changing the text colour in Office.
But which one? It was obviously no one in marketing - they scarcely had the intelligence to turn a door handle the right way. It was obviously not anyone in sales as they'd hardly be elsewhere while the pubs were open and not sober enough after they'd closed. The beancounters were a strong possibility - those Unattributed Costs were really getting under their skin - but they'd have chosen a more subtle revenge. It couldn't have been anyone from admin and building services...
Something clicked. There was a new guy there who a few weeks before had gone round asking questions, "just to test the security of the building". Naturally I hadn't given him the right answers but how could I have been so stupid...
Now I come to think about it, this guy seemed to be a cut above the rest but then so would an orang-utan. The only question was how to get the kit back, or, failing that, a contribution to the Bastard Holiday Fund.
Seeking inspiration, I idly flicked through the outgoing post log. One foreign-bound item caught my eye and I smiled.
The next day, I went down to building services and happened to overhear Kevin talking. By chance, he was dropping some big words like 'screen' and 'keyboard' so I knew we had our man. It was time for a phone call.
Back at mission control, I flicked on the intercom and heard Kevin's voice come over loud and clear, as a deep foreign voice said: "Mr Kevin?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"Just call me Stefan. It's about this consignment of tights that you delivered to us."
"That's right, you got 'em?"
"We have, that's just the point. I was given to understand that...er, certain other goods were being delivered."
"I hope you realise that the last person who double-crossed us is now part of a motorway infrastructure."
"I'm sure you want to avoid any misunderstandings. So, if you return the sum we gave you plus, say, £500 for incidental expenses, we can avoid any unfortunate repercussions. Shall we say that you deposit the money behind the dustbin shed by 12pm today?"
There was a strangled "yes".
I switched the intercom off. "Your cousin's very good isn't he? I said to the PFY. "I'm sure he'll go a long way in drama college."
"Come on," he replied. "There's time for a quick game of Doom before we collect our winnings, er... Unattributed Costs."
It takes a bastard to catch a bastard.
"BSD?" the PFY murmurs, "What the hell does BSD stand for?" Double-clicking on the icon concerned, he continues: "It's in the boss's office."
Sensing my suppressed panic, he returns to his original tack. "So what the hell's a BSD?"
"It's a new tailor-made piece of kit I conceived and installed," I reply.
"It's a network device, then?"
"Yes, in that it delivers an SNMP trap in response to certain predetermined criteria occurring."
"Criteria no doubt linked with its cryptic acronym?"
"An acronym that stands for?" the PFY sighs, losing patience.
"Yeah, bullshit detection. I've decided that I can't be arsed spending a couple of hours a day sifting through the Boss's office conversation tapes just to see if he's planning something, so I've developed a piece of hardware and software to do it for me."
"Which is?" the PFY asks, his curiosity peaking.
"Ah, a bit of voice recognition software that parses conversations for keywords used in close proximity to each other."
"Keywords, like what?"
"'Purchase', 'buy' or 'invest in' - in conjunction with 'new technology', 'updated software' etc., plus lots of other little bits and pieces that can only mean trouble."
"You mean words like 'maintenance budget'?"
"The very same. There's no legitimate reason why the boss should be talking about that unless he's going to increase it, and that's unlikely to happen following my efforts yesterday to migrate those beancounters from that archaic tower subsystem they use for hot back-ups."
"Your efforts to migrate users ... Oh, you mean when you set the machine on fire and pushed it out of the third-floor window?"
"I most certainly did not set the machine on fire! That was spontaneous hardware combustion - just like the human kind the tabloids talk about. Besides, throwing it out the window was the safest thing to do given that there was no fire extinguisher at hand."
"There wasn't one three floors below either, was there?" the PFY asks snidely.
"I don't suppose there was, but I can't see what that..."
"When the chunky, burning machine plunged through the open sun-roof of the head beancounter's vehicle, which just happened to be parked there - setting it on fire."
"Coincidence, pure and simple."
"Yes, and I resent ... actually, is there a point to all this?"
"No, no," the PFY counters innocently. "Just asking. So, this bullshit detection, what's it running on? Not a piece of kit that the boss is going to discover - or discover missing from where it should be?"
"Well, that's the beauty of it. Because he's got so many machines in his office, he had a ventilation fan installed, which just so happens to be the cooling that other tower machine users have already been migrated from."
"Not that monstrous chunk of iron from the sixth floor that you said was using parts from Chernobyl and expelling dangerous levels of radioactive waste?!"
"The very same."
"I never thought they'd buy that."
"Well, not at first," I sigh, "But once I'd taken that black marker to the chest X-rays in the med centre they couldn't wait to get rid of it"
"True," the PFY grudgingly admits. "So, how'd you get it into the ceiling?"
"Well, Janitor George gave me a hand lifting it into the roof as he wanted the real fan for his bathroom at home."
"A fair exchange," the PFY says. "So, what's the warning mean?"
"Well, it's a simple traffic threshold MIB: the more bullshit in the office, the more network traffic the machine reports. That way, no-one will give it a second thought."
"So what's it up to? What's the machine's owner name field say?"
"100 per cent, and Dave C.
"So, that means Dave C is in the boss's office talking up a storm about hardware that we should be buying, money that he should be spending etc.."
"He's a borderline DIY geek, isn't he?" the PFY asks warily.
"Correct. Rumour has it he installed his own keyboard once, but you know how users talk."
"But is it bad?"
"Oh, yes," I respond, leaning past him to point at the display. "See the 30-second average level? That's really the boss's level of disagreement."
"But it's at zero!"
"He's going to let Dave spend our budget."
We both break for the door at the same time to steer the boss away from the foolish.
But before we can get into place the God of Computing acts.
Later, the PFY and I piece together what had happened.
"So, apparently, Dave tried to fix the noisy aircon fan by prodding the roofing tile with the boss's umbrella, upsetting the BSD machine's delicate balance on the rafter and causing it to plummet through the roof and strike the DIY cowboy," the PFY finishes.
Now that's justice for you.
"You've gone too far this time" said the PFY breathlessly.
"Well, I guess I just under-estimated the amount of power going through the doorknob."
It was Christmas Eve and the seasonal prank had just gone slightly wrong. Honestly, Old Ebenezer Bastard had tried the old "electrified door handle for the computer room" trick a dozen times before and it had all been good seasonal fun. Still, this wasn't the first manager to die on him and it was sure not to be the last.
Ebenezer must have stayed a bit longer than usual in the pub that evening - this kind of event does tend to shock you a bit and he needed a few to steady the nerves. Of course, the fact that the young beancounter felt 'obliged' to buy him drinks all evening helped - and all because Ebenezer had happened to mention something about video footage from the office party. So corny, but so effective.
Anyway, the drink must have been sitting heavily on his stomach when he got back to his flat, as he could have sworn that the door knocker changed shape to look like the face of his old boss (before the scorch marks disfigured it, that is).
Putting the effects down to the ten extra pints of Brainfrazzle he'd had, he ignored the door knocker and went up the stairs. But there was a restlessness about him that night. In truth, it had been a long time since he'd enjoyed Christmas. He hated all the false bonhomie and the pleasant chit-chat from people with whom he hadn't anything in common; he hated the way that people spent vast sums on their kids when that money could have been quite easily diverted into the Bastard Holiday Fund. What was worse, some of his work colleagues expected him to buy drinks for them.
Even young Cratchit, his PFY, had been affected and was spending his days wistfully dreaming about Denise from the pool and a few quick snogs under the mistletoe. The young fool even wanted him to join him for a few drinks on Christmas Day. What did he have to celebrate, on his salary.
"Bah, humbug." Ebenezer said loudly to himself, as he heated up the instant dinner that would represent his one solid meal that day.
As he went to bed in that sparsely furnished, unheated room that he called home he saw something in the corner: this time there was no mistaking it. It was definitely the shape of his erstwhile Boss but there was a horrible, clanking noise that seemed to fill the room and make Ebenezer shrink with terror.
"Ebenezer Bastard" came the voice, and though it was recognisably his boss's there was a touch of the underworld about it.
"Ebenezer Bastard" repeated the voice. "I have been condemned to a terrible place, where men of unspeakable wickedness live out their days.
Ebenezer breathed a sigh of relief. "So you're not dead after all, you've just gone to work for Microsoft. I wonder..."
"Silence" thundered the apparition and the clanking got louder. "I speak of a place where you surely will be condemned for eternal torment."
"What do you want with me, spirit?" stammered Ebenezer, finding that the effect of ten pints of extra-strong lager was diminishing somewhat.
"This night you will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Tech Support Past; the Ghost of Tech Support Present; and the ghost of Tech Support Yet to Come. Listen to them - there is time yet to repent."
"Spirit," said Ebenezer. "What is that rattling sound I keep hearing?."
"You mean this?" said the shade, shaking what appeared to be long tail.
Ebenezer Bastard peered through the gloom. He could dimly perceive a chain but tied to it were all manner of devices that had made his life easier: there was the claw hammer that was such an excellent "reconfiguring" tool, there was the anvil that he'd enthusiastically "tested" PCs on, there were power staplers galore, there was every item under the sun that had made his life easier.
"I see you recognise some of them" said the apparition with a grimace. "I used all these tools when I was a young bastard. Now my crimes have caught up with me and I must drag my tools around with me for eternity. But be warned, this chain is long and the burden is onerous but the chain that is being forged for you is already twice the length and three times as heavy."
In emphasis he shook the chain until all the objects leaped up and down and the whole room seemed to rattle.
"I must depart now but remember, three spirits..." and with a low moan he disappeared.
Ebenezer's courage returned.
"Bah humbug, ghosts indeed. That beer must have been stronger than I thought".
And with that thought he staggered off to bed and fell asleep without undressing.
It was just after midnight when he awoke and peered into the gloom. What appeared to be a small child was hovering at the foot of the bed.
Suddenly, the moon moved from behind the clouds and Ebenezer could see that it was no child but an old man of child's shape, dressed in what appeared to be a white tunic. As his eyes got used to the gloom, he discerned that it was an old freebie T-shirt with CP/M emblazoned on the front. The apparition's legs and feet were bare but round his middle was tied some thin Ethernet cable.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Past?" asked Ebenezer.
"I am," said the spirit.
"No, your past."
The ghost waved his hand and suddenly the walls of the flat disappeared. Ebenezer and the spirit found themselves in a busy office, where a Christmas party was in full swing. The disco was booming out, sales people were chasing secretaries with bunches of mistletoe, the chief bean counter was slumped in a corner, the marketing manager was regaling the HR manager with the tales of the last campaign before last. The air was filled with the sound of laughter, shouting, chatter, breaking glass and a thumping disco beat: in short, a typical office party.
"It's fun isn't it," said the spirit, "but isn't there one person not joining in?"
"There is," said Ebenezer.
Down in the bowels of the building a solitary person was still in the computer room. Methodically working through the personnel records of the entire staff (the HR password having long been discovered), the young Ebenezer was ensuring that his Christmas overtime was not being wasted.
"Were you not invited to the party?" asked the spirit.
"No," said Ebenezer. "Not since the year when the fire alarm accidentally went and the sprinklers all came on. And of course, all the booze disappeared. For some reason they seemed to think it was my fault, just because I'd been seen with the alarm system technical manual that day. Miserable ingrates, after all I'd done for them."
Suddenly the vision vanished and Ebenezer found himself back in his flat again, his mind still filled with the wonder of what he'd seen.
He heard a noise from another room and peered round the corner. The room was filled with light and on a pile of PCs sat a jolly looking gentleman. His copious stomach seemed to fill half the room and his beard - for he appeared to be more beard than face - filled the other half.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Present?" said Ebenezer.
The spirit laughed his assent.
"Take my hand," he said, "and let us look at the rest of the world this Christmas."
Suddenly, they were hovering over the City. Time and time again they appeared outside computer support rooms where teams of workers toiled diligently to solve problems as soon as they appeared. They worked with smiles on their faces, singing along to the boom boxes parked in the corner of their rooms.
At Megabank there was a particular tricky problem. "That's an easy one to solve," thought Ebenezer, "pull the mains switch and just say that there's a network outage. And because it's Christmas it can't be put right for a couple of days... and you still earn the Christmas bonus."
Instead he watched open-mouthed as his counterpart punched in the password and worked systematically trying to sort out the problem.
"Standards are slipping," he thought.
But suddenly, the scene changed. They were in a pub and his PFY was just buying a round of drinks.
"Here's to Christmas," he said to Denise, cheerfully raising his glass.
"And to us," she giggled.
"And to absent friends," said the PFY. "Here's to old Ebenezer."
"What, that old misery guts," said Denise. "I've never known someone hate the world so much. I wish he'd leave the company, why can't they get rid of him - no-one can stand him?"
"Well, he knows too much about what people have been up to. I certainly don't think the chairman wants all the details of his trip to Amsterdam coming out. Come on, where's your Christmas charity?"
Reluctantly, she returned the toast and the conversation turned to matters more interesting to young people.
In the distance, Ebenezer saw a shrouded figure approach. From the folds of his cape, a long, bony finger protruded and beckoned Ebenezer to him.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Future that was promised to me?" he said.
The ghost nodded and again signalled Ebenezer to follow.
They trudged through the darkness until they found themselves outside a funeral directors' office.
Two undertakers were busily engaged in putting the finishing touches to a coffin.
"Good riddance to him I say," said one, with scarce regard for the sanctity of his profession.
"Though he'd never bleedin' die," said the other, with even less regard.
"When's the funeral?"
"Don't think it matters, there'll scarcely be anyone attending. Perhaps they'll just throw him in the ground and be done with it." They both cackled hysterically.
"Who are they talking about?" said Ebenezer.
The spirit pointed his finger and suddenly the coffin lid flew open. Aghast, the old misanthrope saw his own features.
He sat bolt upright in bed and saw the first glimmers of day coming through his curtains. It had all been a dream. And yet the events of the night had left him with a strange feeling.
He put on his shoes and dashed round to Cratchit, his PFY. He furiously banged on the door and demanded admittance.
It was a bleary-eyed PFY who let him in.
"I've just had the most amazing experience!"
"Don't tell me," chortled the PFY. "You've met three spirits like that bloke in the book and you're going to turn over a new leaf."
"Bollocks to that. In the long run, we're all dead anyway, might as well have some fun before we go. No, I've found out the admin password for the Megabank system, come let me show you how a real bastard behaves.....