Faced with a bit of kit that the hosts of Antiques Roadshow would get orgasmic over, the Bastard finds a rubber mallet can achieve things an engineer's screwdriver can't...

Year 1999 - Episode 8


It seems I'm in the turd and there's no simple way out. Foolishly, I tried to fix an ancient but crucial piece of kit - so old it had a grandmotherboard - which had thrown up several errors a day for weeks. Admittedly, they were just 'warning' messages and the machine was still working OK...

But that's all fixed now...And, as luck would have it, the unit is cram-packed with old, chunky proprietory hardware clinging to the last vestiges of life by virtue of a shielding layer of dust and fluff that's built up over the ages...But not anymore...

The boss is, of course, the soul of understanding, appreciating the mundane hassle of deleting swags of unnecessary warning email, while applauding the aggressive manner in which I track down and solve outstanding problems.

"If it wasn't really broken, why did you fix it?!" he gasps.

"It's a quality of service issue," I respond, getting the ball rolling nice and early in the conversation...

"What do you mean, quality of service? It was working before, and now it's not!"

"It was only partially working," I sigh, "but it could have packed out completely at any time".

"And now it has!" he cries.

"See what I mean?" I ask, sliding into confusing-logic mode.

"YOU BROKE IT!" he cried.

"Look," I kindly explain, "we get caned by the users for unscheduled downtime don't we?"

"Yes?"

"And we avoid this by scheduling downtimes don't we?"

"Yes?"

"So this is a scheduled maintenance and the users shouldn't be using the systems now, should they?"

"Uh...no?"

"So they don't have anything LEGITIMATE to moan about?"

"I guess not," he answers, sounding just a little unconvinced.

"So, while I'm talking to you, I'm not fixing this kit?"

"Uh...no..."

The boss takes his leave in the kind of casual double-time managers often use to disguise the fact that they've ever been somewhere in the first place. Usually only employed after they've broken something crucial, which brings us back to...

"What's the bloody huge thing there?" the PFY asks, indicating a full-height 20MB hard drive in the bowels of the frame, probably consuming as much power as half the lights in the computer room. You can't blame the lad of course; he's too young to have heard of MFM disks, reel-to-reel tapes or 8in floppies - outside the Reader's Letters section of adult magazines that is...

"That," I say, "is what we used to, in the old days, call a..."

"Hard drive!" the PFY cries, copping a view of the '20MB' written on the side in permanent marker.

"Close, but no banana! It is, in fact" - picking up my trusty rubber panel-beater's hammer - "a service call about to..."

BANG! BANG! BANG! SKEEEEeeeeeeereeerrrrrrrrt!

"...happen."

"And what did that achieve?" the PFY sighs.

"Well, before that unit failed..."

"Before you bashed it with your rubber mallet you mean."

"A mallet that leaves no discernible marks," I add. "Before that, it was a software config and unknown hardware failure."

"And now the engineer will think he broke it."

"After he fixes the hard-drive..."

"Exactly!"

A service call is placed, and in less time that it takes to fly around the world by balloon with a millionaire pilot (including stops), an engineer arrives with kit in hand.

"What - it doesn't come in a sealed bag?" the PFY gasps.

"How do we know it's new?"

"The only thing they get in sealed bags is their bedtime reading," I comment. "Besides, there are probably only three drives like that in the world and they're no doubt fixed manually by Swiss nuns, judging by their non-maintenance price.

The engineer fixes the unit - after returning to the office three times to find a replacement for the failed mystery component that had to be soldered onto the grandmother board - and we chuck it back into service, much to the boss's relief. He's figured out the flaw in my logic, after verifying that my scheduled maintenance message was posted way after I'd broken the kit.

"So, it's all sorted out then?" he asks.

"Yep, back in service and working as per usual."

Satisfied that injustice has been done, he trundles back to his office o figure out a way of referring to this experience as 'good customer relations'. Meanwhile, I return to my desk and am about to start work when a mail message pops into my inbox with the subject of 'System Warning', from the machine of the moment. Sigh...if you're going to do something, do it right. I skip the rubber mallet this time and head for the metal version.

"Back in a minute," I tell the PFY. "Just got some 'alignment' to do." Maintenance really is an ongoing thing...