The helldesk has got a bit too big for its boots, but the BOFH has a cunning plan to knock them down to size...

Year 1998 - Episode 8


I'm sitting at my desk when the PFY looks up from his task of helping users with performance problems on the back-up server.

"Hey, the Kill-9 command isn't working."

"Yeah, I rewrote it with better signals. Ones with more meaning than words like hang up."

"Well what are they?"

"They're a mixed bag - everything a discerning system administrator needs."

"And they are?"

"Let's see, there's Kill-Godfather, which is a quick shot to the back of the process's header in a quiet corner of process space, and also, while it's at it, leaves a GIF of a horse's head in their screen-saver bitmap."

"Lovely, I'm sure."

"Then there's Kill-CIA, which kills the process and makes it look like natural causes."

"Uh-huh."

"Of course, further investigation of the core file reveals the words, 'grassy knoll,' which is sure to get the furry-toothed guys in research reaching for the dandelion tea."

"Yes..."

"Ahhhhh, Kill-shotgun, for when you can't remember the whole of the process's PID - it just kills anything in that vicinity. Kill-driveby, which knocks off one process on either side of the specified one, and so on."

"It's a little overboard isn't it?" the PFY asks mildly.

"No, Kill-overboard kills all processes, e-mails a nasty message to Bill Gates about how badly we're abusing our Microsoft licenses, then writes garbage all over the kernel causing the system to crash. Oh, and tampers with a couple of things on your desktop machine."

"Hey, the system's just gone down."

"Yeah -overboard is the default if your username is helpdesk. Installed SUID too, so they have the power they've been bleating about needing all this time."

The phone rings and something tells me it's the helpdesk wanting to complain. There's no pleasing some people.

"But you know what that means don't you?" The PFY asks in horror.

"That the helpdesk is working? Yes, I know, I thought that new box of whiteboard markers would buy us a week or two in noughts and crosses games, but the boss took it out after the first couple of days."

"We can't have the helldesk trying to fix problems - it took two days to recover the database server last time."

"True - but I have a plan..."

The next day dawns and I await the fruition of my labours. Sure enough, the phone's on the job real early.

"Something's wrong with all the dictate systems," the helldesk droid says.

"And what exactly is the problem?" I ask.

"Well, the 'plain English' module's gone from every desktop, so the machines don't seem to be understanding the users any more. And the Voice Recalibration Application is missing too."

"I see," I answer thoughtfully, gesturing the PFY over. "So what you're saying is that somehow, probably due to the crash the helpdesk caused on the back-up server yesterday, all the voice-tailoring of the user's dictation systems have disappeared."

"Yes."

"And don't tell me, the install media is gone too?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"A lucky guess," the PFY shouts.

"Now tell me," I say, "there must be another voice module apart from the 'plain English' one?"

"Well that's the funny thing."

"Yes?"

"There's a module I've never seen before. It's called drunken Scotsman."

"Really?"

"Yes, but I don't know what it is."

"Well, there's only one way of finding out. Take a bottle of Scotch up to Don McCloud on the third floor, prime him up and let him have a go at it."

"You can't be serious."

"You're right. Tell the beancounters they'll be typing their reports."

"But they're due at the printers tomorrow night."

"Then whatever you do, don't forget Don's a single-malt man."

As soon as he's rung off I'm priming Don over the phone. Like a true professional, he leaps to the task and has no problems being understood by the peripherals. The rush to get temps with accents stops after I mention the discrimination angle and how badly it might look if the papers got hold of it.

The next day at the pub, the PFY and I hear all about it...

"Well a couple of them mastered the accent quite well," Don slurs, after two days solid scotch drinking. "Although I've heard that they won't need it for long as the original voice module is due to be reinstalled on Monday."

"Oh I shouldn't worry about that," I mutter. "It's only a matter of time before one of the helpdesk people dictates the words 'computer, kill minus overboard' into the documentation system."

A drunken beancounter, sounding like Sean Connery on a bad day, brings over the next round.

Another dirty job that someone's got to do...