The scent of restructuring is in the air, as the BOFH advises a little CD scratching to remove viruses...

Year 1997 - Episode 33


If I had five quid for every time the head of IT thought he'd disguise managerial incompetence with a 'departmental restructure', I'd be a rich man. It's not like he's being tricky about it. In fact, I'm sure the board only ever complains to him when they want to see an arrangement of staff they haven't seen before.

This weeks masterpiece is a set of Client-Solution Buddypersons - that is, everyone in the department gets a group within the department to help.

And being a spiteful and vindictive bastard, the head of IT gives me the distributed consultants group - people with the technical competence of tree tomatoes and social skills to match.

The PFY gets off lightly with the DBA group, who already know that you only call us if you enjoy third degree burns.

The calls start rolling in - something like "The user's printer isn't working so the network must be down," and step through fault resolution only to find the paper tray is empty. At lunch my personal cellphone rings with a consultant problem and I realise the head of IT has been giving out, my private number. I make a mental note to avenge this indiscretion.

Meantime I have a consultant to deal with.

"The application I'm trying to install for a user just comes up with a write error," he moans. "Do you think their system's run out of disk space?"

"Hmmm," I respond thoughtfully, "What have you installed?"

"Office, voice dictation software, 3D design and the Online Encyclopedia. Is that too much?"

"Hell no!" I cry, "That's just a smidgen of the space that must be available on the user's 386. No, I think it's a little worse than that."

"Worse?" they ask, worried that this could be outside their technical expertise (hitting return and floppy insertion).

"Yeah, it sounds like we've got another one," I say ominously. "Another backward masked CD-ROM."

"What happens?"

"Well, it slowly but surely makes the software on the system only operate with software made by the same manufacturer. Attempts to install other manufacturers' stuff results in errors. All the big companies do it these days - it's a marketing tactic."

"Wow! What can I do?"

"Well, what CD-ROMs have you got?"

"Loads. All our software's on CD."

"Hmmmm, it's probably worse than I thought. It surprises me you haven't had problems before now."

"Well, now you come to mention it, the encyclopedia was slow to install. Do you think that was related?"

"Undoubtedly. It's obviously the anti-installation virus at work."

"What should I do?"

"Well, I don't know - are you familiar with what happens to computer tapes when we want to remove data from them?"

"You scratch them?"

"Exactly. And that's what you do with CDs, except you want to keep the data but not the anti-install virus so you only scratch a tiny bit of the data, the bit that indicates which programs the software won't work with."

"How?"

"Well, do you have a micro-surgical ceramic scalpel on you?"

Dummy mode on.

"No?"

"Oh well just use the blade from a pair of scissors. You want to put two scratches, as close to each other as possible, running around the disk in what we call the 'index band' of the CD. That way the software can't look up the stuff that it won't work with."

"Really?"

"Sure," I respond, pinocchioing for all I'm worth, "Trust me."

"Should I do all the disks then?"

"Every disk you can find."

"But there are hundreds in the media store."

"Do it after hours and you could be up for a night's worth of overtime," I suggest, going for the greed jugular.

"Yeah," he gushes, mentally counting pound notes.

"But remember," I add, "If you tell anyone, they're all going to want a piece of the action. But if you were to surprise the head of IT with it tomorrow morning..."

"Mum's the word then," he cries.

"And while you're at it..." I mention

"Yes?"

"The head of department has been having problems with his personal audio CDs as well - you might see if you can fit them in if you've got the time."

The rest, of course, is history. The wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the impromptu dismissals - not to mention the destruction of several collector's edition boxed sets of live jazz.

I smell a reorganisation on the horizon.