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BOFH #2


(A sequel to Simon Travaglia's "The Bastard Operator From Hell" - January 1994)

With due respect to spt@waikato.ac.nz (Simon Travaglia)


Chapter One:
-------------------

10 o'clock on Monday morning again, and I'm in a *baaaad* mood.

I hate these early starts...

I stalk into the data centre, the lusers scattering in front of me like
frightened chickens. I choose a desk at random and stand behind it's owner,
peering over his shoulder at the word processor document he's working on;
he knows I'm there, but he's too scared to turn round. I watch him type
frantic gibberish for a few moments before reaching past him to deal the
side of the monitor a resounding blow. We both watch the screen flicker and
die with a resigned sort of "pzzzzt". Now he turns to me, but before he can
open his mouth I bend closer, whispering confidentially into his ear.

"Good thing I got here when I did - looks like your line-transformer was
about to blow! And you know what you get when that happens!" The luser shakes
his head, struck dumb. "X-rays! Boil your brains in your skull!". I pretend
to look around anxiously. "Don't tell anyone, will you... we don't want to
cause a panic!"

By now he is edging away from the desk. Obligingly, the monitor delivers one,
last burst of enthusiastic sparking sounds and the screen briefly flashes
white before collapsing to a small, evil, glowing dot. I drag the sad geek
out from behind the partition. He's burbling something about deadlines, and
I open my mouth to deliver the standard lecture on priorities and scheduling
when a thought strikes me. I smile, and a sudden silence descends over the
office.

"Don't worry. I'll sort out a replacement now, and you can have one of the
new ones when the next delivery comes in. For the usual consideration, of
course."

I walk away, leaving him grovelling on the carpet-tiles.

An hour or so later I've finished replying to the morning's e-mail and
remember the monitor. I put on rubber-gloves and search the obsolete
equipment store. I find what I'm looking for under a pile of used listing
paper in one corner: an old 12" green screen with a virulent case of
screen-burn and one side of the casing missing. I hook it up to a spare PC
to make sure. Wow! The power switch has melted in the On position. This is
better than I expected; the display is waaaaaay out of focus, and quivers
slightly in both dimensions. Every few minutes blue sparks flicker on the
exposed HT circuitry and the display rolls up like a Quantel Mirage advert.
I tinker with the horizontal hold slightly and have to look away - I'm
feeling seasick. Excellent! I load it onto the trolley before spraying it
lightly with just enough cleaning solvent to make pretty patterns in the
dust. I like to show willing, after all...

I wheel the trolley back towards his desk, the dweebs parting before me
like Moses with the Red Sea.

Glancing into the cubicle that houses the secretaries, I notice the new
temp filing her nails. I pause. The others are signalling at her, but she
hasn't seen me, yet. Quick as a striking snail I whip the cable-tester from
my belt, holding it close to her ear. It bleeps, and she shrieks and jumps
up like a scalded cat. I point an accusing finger. "It's you! You've created
a class one network event! The whole system could come crashing around your
ears and all you can do is file your nails?"

"Look at that!" I point menacingly at her blouse. "It's nylon, isn't it!
Yes, I thought so! Haven't you ever heard of static discharge?" I wave a
hand at the knackered old Wang WP network. "This is delicate hi-tech
equipment, I'll have you know - static electricity can *destroy* circuitry
like this! Do you have any idea how much money the company paid for this
system? I can't possibly let you use any of the hardware while you're
wearing nylon!"

She starts to plead, so I reach past her to a telephone and start to dial
Security. By the time I get to the third digit she is blouse-less and
shivering rather fetchingly. I glare sternly at the others. "Any of you
ladies wearing nylon?". I fiddle with the cable tester so that it emits a
series of angry bleeps and a small pile of assorted clothes forms on the
floor. I leave, thoughtfully turning up the air-conditioning, and make a
mental note to stop by later on and count the goosebumps.

Now I'm back at the luser's desk. He's standing as far as he can away from
the screen, peering through the fingers of one hand as the other slowly taps
the keys. I realise that he's trying to finish his document by memory...
*giggle*

This is fun, and it's gonna get better. There is a song in my heart and evil
in my mind as I tap his shoulder. "Here it is!" I gesture expansively at the
VDU rotting on the trolley. "I managed to find you a good one!". His jaw is
hanging open, his eyes locked on computing's equivalent of The Curse Of The
Undead as I deftly unplug his old monitor, wiggling the PC's main power cable
slightly looser in it's socket as I do so (should be good for a miraculous
cure next time I fancy a lunch time drink).

I point at the vacated space on desk. "Now, if you just lift the new one onto
there..." I stress the word 'new', making sure he realises how lucky he is.
The monitor obligingly sheds half it's coating of dust and scum across his
shirt-front; the other half stands on end with a great static crackle as he
gingerly plugs in the power cord. Small droplets of cleaner fly off the
screen onto his shirt; I make a note to write up the phenomenon for the BOFH
newsletter.

I turn to him, and put on my stern voice. "Now, you gotta be careful with
this little beauty... don't touch any of the exposed stuff - there's a
gigavolt on the tube, you know! And don't watch the screen with both eyes at
once... you've gotta rest each one in turn. RSI, you know!" He starts
grovelling again, and it's time for the coup de grace. "You'll have a new
one in... oh... six months, say. Maybe even sooner!"

That's if there's any left by that time, of course - with the low prices I
charge, I normally sell most of them fairly quickly... I make another note
to check with Crazy Eddy's Computer Mart before I put the next purchase order
in; there might be some more stuff they're after...


Chapter Two:
-------------------

I decide to relax for a while to make up for the unaccustomed activity. I
mean, I actually lifted a monitor! Twice! And on a Monday morning! In this
profession, you've gotta watch for burnout...

The frame-grabber appears to be unused (it often is, since I took the
precaution of clocking the PC running it down to 4.77MHz - the record for
processing a single frame has been timed at slightly over 17 hours...), so
I steal the video recorder and attach it to the back of one of the
fileservers. I evict all the current users, and boot from a concealed DOS
partition. Soon I'm watching Blade Runner in one window and fiddling with
some ray-tracing software in another. It's working, but I can't be bothered
to transfer the ray-trace sources to the local disk, so I kill off a few of
the busier jobs and run the package over the network. Everything is going
smoothly when the phone rings. Now that really pisses me off. I'm trying to
take a well-earned break, and all they can do is pester me. Do they think I'm
a machine? I sigh and pick it up.

"Yes?"

"Ah... I'm in Planning. Um... the server's down..."

"And?"

I can tell he's mustering his courage. Voices in the background urge him on.

"...And we wondered whether... ah... you could estimate how long.... "

Time for speech #7.

"Listen, I was up to my elbows in micro-electronics trying to fix the server
when you called! Don't you realise we've had a class one network event here?
The longer you keep me here talking, the greater the chance of a total stack
overflow!" I stress each word carefully, and by the time I get to "overflow"
he's begging to be allowed to ring off...

I glance over to the part-time server. The raytrace has finished, so I reboot
to Netware.

"Tell you what; give me your username and I'll make sure your files get
*special attention* during the recovery..."

He tells me. Sometimes I wish they'd stop doing that - it kinda makes it too
easy...

--- clickety-click ---

"Oh dear..." There is total silence at the other end of the phone.
"It doesn't look like your files survived the systems crash..."

--- clickety-click ---

"... or your user ID... "

--- clickety-click ---

"or your workgroup."

I hear a sob down the phone line.

"You'll all have to fill out the request forms for new user IDs. In
triplicate. And remember - they have to be hand typed in Courier 12, not
word-processed, otherwise the OCR won't recognised them... and no carbons,
either - messes up the feed sprockets."

I slam the phone down, making a mental note to file their forms in the
shredder when they arrive.

I can't be bothered to re-boot for the rest of Blade Runner, so I mooch
around the machine room for a while, idly running a screwdriver over the
exposed terminals of the fax-gateway port, then decide to get back to some
real work.

I'm feeling a little out of touch with the current office politics, so I
grep the corporate email files for the words "body" and "love", then post
the juicier bits to rec.arts.erotica under "Seen on the nets". This fires my
imagination, and I quickly log in as the dweeb from Planning and compose an
email love-letter to the MD's secretary-girlfriend. I guess I won't have to
worry about shredding his user ID form, now...

A quick glance at my watch reveals that it's lunch time, and I rush to put
Plan A into action. There's a new 486 down in Accounts, and I've had my eye
on it for a while. I've set up an old IBM XT with all the software they use,
and I load this onto the trolley. A fair exchange, I think; especially as
I've saved the last of the CGA monitors specially for them.

A junior accountant tries to argue with me. She must be new. Sheesh, and I'm
even taking the trouble to back up their data for them, too. Talk about
ingratitude!

When I start disconnecting the cabling she puts up a token resistance, so I
pull out my Quaderno (a Christmas present from my loyal users) and start
dictating. "Memo to Security: investigate possible network security breach
in Accounts - user ID... ah..." I turn towards her with a raised eyebrow, but
she has already gone, knocking over a potted fern in her haste to escape.
Not that new, then...

I open a floorport and casually brush some of the soil into the cable
junction box with my toe. "Ah... Memo to Building Resources: investigate
possible contamination of Accounts network electronics by potted plant
debris..." Lets see how they like having their plants banned!

Sometimes I hate myself...

I wheel my new toy back up to the machine room and plug it in. To my
amazement, they've set the hardware password. Do they really think that
would stop me? A simple flick of the screwdriver and I have shorted the
backup battery to wipe the CMOS RAM. Thirty minutes more and I've brought
down an optimised configuration from storage on the network and I'm done.
Still, I'm more than a little pissed about that. Passwords, indeed! I
resolve to do something very unpleasant to the previous user...


Chapter Three:
---------------------

Later; and I check my e-mail in time to see the announcement of the ban on
plants in Accounts, which makes me feel a little better. One of the
data-entry bods mentions it to me (trying to curry favour to get his
footrest back, I expect) and I feel obliged to point out that it is only my
influence that prevents things like that from happening here too! He looks
suitably chastened, and rapidly assembles a small crowd, who proceed to give
me a round of applause. I escape back to the machine-room before they can
club together for a bouquet... Ah, users... can't live with 'em, can't live
without 'em...

I detect a shred of compassion forming and decide to do something really
evil to compensate. I run through my notes, pausing briefly at "Payroll
System" while I contemplate fitting up the Personnel Manageress by using her
user ID to create a couple of dummy employees with salaries routed into her
bank account (no, I'll save that one for nearer Christmas). Ah! Fabrication!
Yes, the full source for a command file that will program the CNC laser
cutter to write "Failed - Discard" onto all the widgets run through it.

A few deft keystrokes and the new command file is in place. I decide to
check the routers in Quality Control, arriving just in time for the
high-point of the argument, with a CNC operator and the QC manager virtually
coming to blows. I make sure tempers stay hot by unplugging the shop floor
network connection - all the CNC machines lock up, and after all the crashing
and grinding and snapping noises have died down the QC manager hits the
technician. I hang around long enough to watch Security take him away in a
straight-jacket. Tsk. So soon after his last breakdown, too...

I reset the routers and leave, allowing myself a slight smile at the screams
behind me as all the document system terminals freeze. I decide to give the
shop-floor a rest for a while. Sometimes I'm too good to them...

When I get back to the machine room the phone is ringing! Again!
Sheesh... twice in one day...

I pick it up.

"Ah, hello?"

"Yes? What do you want? There's a class one network event here, you know..."

This one must be made of sterner stuff; he doesn't blanch.

"Well, yes, that was what I wanted to ask you about... what exactly is a
'class one network event', and why are the terminals running so slowly today?"

Ok, where did they get this one? A cursory glance at the system logs shows
that half the network is down, and the rest is going as fast as a stepped-on
slug. I ponder on whether I should have fucked with Fabrication so much...
Ah, what the hell... I decide to try being nice for a bit, just to remind
myself what it feels like.

"A class one network event is a system-wide propagation-overflow fallback",
I tell him earnestly.

"Fallback... uh huh."

"The NLM stacks filled up with jabber and the swapper swapped itself out to
disk."

"Swapper, yeah..."

"The crash down in Fab was the last straw - the cache buffers went
read-only..."

"Buf? Ah."

"And dumped core all over working storage. And that's why everything's so
slow!"

"Uh."

Well, he tried hard, but I can tell that he's starting to glaze over, now.
He half covers the telephone and relays my wisdom to his cronies. Wow! It's
like Chinese Whispers - his stuff means even less than mine did! I must
remember to check the help-desk logs to see how much it changes with the next
re-telling.

I trigger the cable-tester next to the mouthpiece a couple of times, to
attract his attention. His scream tells me that he was listening already.
Oh, well.

"I'm glad I've been able to help you like this", I say. "The Data Centre
likes to maintain a cordial working relationship with it's internal
clients... otherwise... ah... *misunderstandings* might occur..."

He detects the edge in my voice and hurries to agree, mumbling something to
his co-workers. I hear a tinny round of applause over the phone and slam it
down hard, half-hoping to have caught his other ear.

Damn. I realise that I've forgotten to ask for his username. Sheesh! Now I
have to go to all the trouble of interrogating the telephone exchange log
files to find out the number he called from... Still, first things first.

I log in as oper and send a console message to all users:

************* Attention - Message from Supervisor! **************
The corporate network will go down at precisely 3:00pm.
Please save all vital work and disconnect as soon as possible!
Repeat - you must log off before the network goes down at 3:00pm!
*****************************************************************

I set it to strobe at an annoying frequency and glance at my watch.
Hmmm - 2:35 - I give it five minutes to trigger the latent epileptics
(they'll thank me for it, later - they'd damn well better) then pull the
plugs. One of the UPSs starts bleeping (damn, they're always doing that) so
I kick it until it stops, then go round rebooting all the servers. Just for
a change, everything boots first time, and I feel quite smug as I wander
around the user's home directories, altering a spreadsheet here, corrupting
a document there... I pause to check the telephone logs for the dweeb who
phoned me. Oh, good; he's in Stores - I've been wanting to do this for a
while.

Shazamm! I configure his print redirection to send 99 copies of all his
spool files to the hi-res film-recorder in Marketing. I check the internal
services pricelist. Phew! Tenner a slide, talk about overcharging! I change
it to 100, then sit back with the network snoop and I watch him log in and
bring up dBase. Oh good - he's loading the main-engine parts file - will he?
Won't he? Oh, the suspense is killing! Yes! Excellent! I reach for my
floppy-disk calculator; some nimble finger-work (damn Taiwanese freebies)
reveals that I may have succeeded in bankrupting the entire cost centre.
A good days work, I think.


Chapter Four:
-------------------

Ah, a new day, a new system to hack. I'm bored; I don't fancy randomising
the Token Ring patch-panel again so I reach for the excuses book. "Upper
atmosphere radiation caused by global warming." Hmmm. I hit the store room,
then stroll over to Marketing. I glance into the print room; technicians
are loading a trolley with slide-cases marked "Stores" and the film-recorder
is steaming slightly. Must remember to schedule it for overhaul ... I've
been thinking of leasing it elsewhere while it's away from the office...

In the main Marketing area I choose a printer at random and open the
acoustic hood. "Preventative maintenance", I explain, filling the printer
bay with polystyrene packing chips. "It's global warming, you know... causes
super-ionisation of the Van Allen Belts in the upper atmosphere - these old
dot matrix units are like a magnet for Cosmic Rays..."

The assembled Marketroids are rigid with fear as I step back and power up
the printer. All the chips are sucked out through the cooling fan and
shredded instantly. Within seconds Marketing is like a snow scene. I briefly
contemplate hitting the other printers, but pity stays my hand: "It's a pity
of run out of polystyrene", I think...

"Don't bother cleaning it up", I tell them. "Or I'll have to do it again
tomorrow..."

Nuts. I'm cross with myself, now - I should have waited until they'd cleaned
everything up, and then told them. I make a mental note to mix in a cupful
of toner next time - might be interesting when it goes through the vacuum
cleaner.

One of the Marketroids is trying to load greenbar into the blitzed printer.
As I go by I joggle the strut on the acoustic hood - it slams shut, trapping
her hands in the enclosure. Her shrieks make me feel a lot better, and I
remind myself that time spent in weakening key components is never wasted...

It's mid-morning, and I'm watching old American cop-shows in an MPEG window,
when a whimsical thought occurs to me. I decide to replace my in-basket with
a spike. I file an expansion card blanking plate to razor sharpness and
superglue it to the top of an old 5" disc drive, then put it on my desk in
the Data Centre and lurk, waiting for the inter-departmental mail. I've just
finished reading the MD's WordPerfect files when I look up to see the mail
man sidling towards me nervously, holding out a much-circulated envelope.
He's obviously confused by the absence of in-tray, and eyes my mail-spike
with some fear. I guess he still remembers the time I made him help me set
up that 26" exhibition monitor. Hey, I didn't know the earthing was faulty!
And he only got zapped a couple of times, anyway...

I snatch the envelope from his limp fingers and impale it viciously on the
spike. Yes, I decide; a nice touch - adds some drama to the poor dweeb's
life... I smile at him, and he runs away, crossing himself.

I have nothing better to do, so I open the envelope.

Disaster! Tragedy!

It's from Accounts; they're querying one of my expenses claims! Don't these
lusers realise that radio-modems are vital equipment for modern tech-support?
Ah, maybe I didn't fill it in properly... I check the Justifications
section: "Because I wanted one". That should have done it, surely? Anyone
would think they didn't want me monitoring the networks 24 hours a day...

In the middle of all this the phone rings! I can tell from the tone that
it's an outside call; this surprises me, as I bribe the reception staff
heavily to make sure I'm always out for external callers. I speculate on the
accident their photocopier will have next week. I'll time it so none of them
actually get *killed* by the explosion, of course...

I pick up the phone. Oh, joy... it's my ex-girlfriend's boss. I helped their
company out a couple of times while I was trying to get into her knickers.
She said no, so I consider him to be fair game...

"You gotta help me!", he bleats. "I think the network has locked up! All the
terminals have frozen and we can't get our invoices out!"

Looks like my logic bomb has just fired. My voice oozes calm. "All right,
don't panic! It's vital that you keep a clear head. Now, there's some
procedures we can run through, Ok?"

He has started to gibber, now, but manages to communicate his readiness.
"Ok. I want you to go to the file-server and phone me back from there. And
don't forget, as a last resort I've still got a copy of your last monthly
backup, right?"

It will probably take him a few minutes to get back to me, so I decide to
attend to his backup tapes while I wait. I fire up the bulk-eraser and head
for the tape store...

"Right", I tell him when he calls. "You were spot on when you said the
network had locked; it's what we call stiction - the fileserver disk heads
have bonded to the disk surfaces, and we need to unbond them. Understand?"

"Yes", he says.

I can tell that he's feeling more confident, now, so I decide to soften him
up a little: "You know a bit about computers, don't you... yes, I thought
so when you described the fault so accurately... well that's good, because
what we're going to do is a little ticklish..."

By this time his ego has inflated to the size of a cow, and he thinks he's
up to core diagnostics on a Cray X/MP. I let him have it.

"What you've gotta do, right, is hold the fileserver above your head, at
exactly... uh..." I pretend to consult my notes. "Ok, it says here that 32
degrees from vertical is right for your model of server. Then shake it
slightly, until the heads unstick. It's probably best if you stand on a
chair to decrease the effect of the earth's magnetic field. Oh, and use a
chair with plastic wheels, too - better static insulation... Now put me on
hands-free and go for it!"

Assorted grunting noises and ominous creaking sounds filter down the phone
line. I count slowly to ten, then tell him:

"Oh, by the way - your backup tapes are corrupt, so it's all down to
you, now. Good luck!"

The crashing and breaking noises are Ok, but then I hear a sort of dull
thump that sounds a lot like a 30 kilo fileserver falling onto a prone body
from a great height. I hang up, slightly sickened. Maybe I shouldn't do that
sort of thing to innocent computer hardware. I resolve to buy the remainder
of his company's computers from the receivers and give them a good home.

Right, back to Accounts. Obviously they've gone too far, this time. No more
Mr Nice Guy! I telnet over to kgb.kremlin.sov and page the operators. They
agree to add the accountant's name to the KGB's "Terminate Messily!" list;
the political assassination business is quiet at the moment, they tell me,
and offer to add the Accounts Manager too. I snatch their files from the
personnel database and zap them over the net; while we're waiting I doodle
black borders round the accountant's bitmap with a digitising tablet. It
always pays to plan ahead... and it's amazing what a copy of Windows 2.0
will get you in the Eastern Bloc these days...


Chapter Five:
-------------------

Ah, the end of the week at last. I stop off at Accounts on my way in at
lunchtime; I can't help noticing the chalk outline on the floor by the
accountant's desk. I drop my expenses form in the urgent basket, and look
pointedly at the outline; I don't expect any more hassles from them for a
while. Interesting shape, though... I nip back and remove the relevant
carpet tiles for my collection.

It's quiet on the nets, so I fiddle with the NLMs on the main server. I'm
quite pleased - simply by changing the loading sequence I can slow down the
whole server by 3.7%. I play a little more, and the server falls over. Oh,
well. I'm in a good mood, so I boot it up for them again, and write a little
macro that repeatedly enables and disables the network driver. I snoop a
couple of users with the network analyser - it looks like their terminals are
locking up about once a second. Not bad.

The phone rings. I answer it, and it's my manager. Wow! I really didn't
think he'd have the balls to phone me again, not after last time. I put him
on hold for a moment and send a few dial strings to the high-output modem.
I've chosen the sequence of tones that gives maximum chance of inner-ear
damage, and the receiver is buzzing slightly from the harmonics as I pick it
up again. Strange, there doesn't seem to be anyone there, now...

I'm a little worried, though - I wonder if the lusers have been bending the
DP manager's ear again. I check the network boot logs - they're so
fragmented all I can tell is that some of the servers were up some of the
time... but then, they can hardly ask for more, can they...

Hmmm. Better check... I zap into the Personnel server, and sure enough, they
seem to be advertising for techies. This is not good, and I quickly kill all
the letters that haven't yet gone out, and start a merge that prints
"Thanks, but no thanks!" onto a Without Compliments slip to send to all the
other applicants. That's taken care of the short term, but obviously the
management is going to have to be re-structured a little. As a token
gesture I dial out to my tame credit-rating service and set the DP manager's
credit status to "bankrupt". I flag it "broadcast update" and disconnect,
wondering how long it takes to re-possess a house these days...

Right, time to get creative. I sneak over to Document Control and borrow
their magneto-optical jukebox while nobody's looking. I kill all the boring
engineering documents, then play with the routings on the digital telephone
exchange for a bit. Hmmm... Rusty & Edie's, I think... I flag all the girlie
GIFs and settle back to watch the Personnel Manageress's phone bill turn
into the National Debt of a South American banana republic. Should run Ok
over the weekend, I reckon. Hope the mag/op can cope...

I'm beginning to run out of targets by now, but my creative juices are
flowing, and I roam through the personnel files, randomly increasing and
decreasing salaries. Even that palls after a while, so I arrange to have
some of the data entry staff fired and sit back to scheme.

A thought strikes me.

A nasty thought.

Dare I?

Could I run The Omega Program?

The program to end all programs? The program that will, like, *totally* fuck
up the company's data beyond recognition?

Yeah, why not...

--- clickety-click ---

A few keystrokes are all it takes... I type in the 'go' password and the
modems start dialling, the server disk lights flickering frantically as the
network load alarms sound. All across the corporate network, data juggles
randomly in the grip of my command programs. Spreadsheet files merge with
databases. Documents are overlaid by images. Mail blends with executables...

The lights dim for a moment as the Tesla Coil in the tape archive powers
up, and I sigh... somehow I feel a sense of anticlimax.

I throw a couple of the choicer expansion cards in my briefcase and grab
my jacket, walking out through the chaos I have caused. A few of them cast
worried looks in my direction, and I force my usual evil glare... it doesn't
feel the same, though...

And I have to start looking for another job in the morning...

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Pursuant to the Berne Convention, this work is copyright with all rights reserved by its author unless explicitly indicated.