Does the BOFH know anything about the disappearance of the telecomms manager, his lawnmower and the wife he's 'grass-widowed'?

Year 1998 - Episode 30


It's been a quiet morning for me.

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."

"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?"