The BOFH is fazed by the remote working boom - but not for long. He and the PFY find more devious ways to keep the Operations beer fund topped up...

Year 1998 - Episode 34


There are times when I believe that the PFY and I are the only ones who actually spend any time in the office these days.

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?"

"No."

"Really?"

"NO!"

"Try it again now."

"Okay...hang on...it says 'no dialtone'."

"How many phone lines do you have in your house?"

"Just one. Why?"

CLICK

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...

I wonder...

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.