BOFH 2004: Episode 1
It's upgrade time again - like it always is when there's money laying about the place not being used - so I scan down the long list of complaint frequencies and pick the HR database server performance problem from near the top of the pile. I love upgrades!
In a word, crap! A ZX-81 with tape drive could almost give better performance than the server concerned, and it's easy to see why - all the money was spent on the chassis, not the internals, to give "room for expansion" which never occurred. With a single processor, 128 megs of memory and a single hard drive, it's all rather depressing. Something should be done.
"But it doesn't NEED an upgrade!" the Boss burbles, trying to hide the executive edition of the mobile phone and accessory brochure he's been looking through. "Anyway, we don't have the money!"
"Well as luck would have it, the beancounters misaddressed the finance reporting output, and it appears that our cost centre is over twenty thousand quid underspent this quarter - due to under-spending in the last quarter."
"Really?" the Boss asks. "How did that occur?"
"We put it down to the fact as that your predecessor was on life support for so long that he didn't have time to fritter money away on 'tat' like cellphones, handsfree kits, etc", I respond.
"Ah. And how much do you expect this upgrade to cost?"
"The HR Database server - uuuh, I dunno, not a lot. Maybe five k in processors, a couple in memory and another couple for disk and RAID card. Under ten?"
"Which would leave the remaining ten thousand for..."
"Projects which you consider strategically important," I respond, playing his game for him.
"Well... I suppose it might be in our best interests to address this," he grudgingly admits, "so long as your budget figures are accurate and you obtain written quotes."
"No sooner said than done," I say.
A statement which turns out to be bollocks.
"And the serial number of the machine is?" the vendor's sales droid asks.
"B's not a number," he comments.
"It's on the panel at the back, beside the 'S', stroke and 'N'," I reply.
"Well it must be an eight!" he snaps back, oozing condescension.
"Not unless your eights have flat sides."
"Ah, so it's flat both sides?" he asks, thinking digitally.
"No, just the left. ONE flat side, you know, like the letter 'B'."
"The configurator isn't going to like it - it only expects numbers," he warns.
"Tell you what, why don't you punch it in anyway to save me popping down there and punching something myself?" I ask, testily.
"I... uh... >clickety< Well look at that! It did work. So, it's a quad box, four processors and a gig of RAM."
"It's a quad capable box, one processor, 128 meg of memory."
"That's not what it says here."
"But it is what I'm looking at here - I have the box with the lid off in front of me."
"I think you'll find it's got four processors. The configurator is never wrong! Big things with heatsinks on them, and fans."
"Yes, there's one of those. And in the other three slots are some proprietary looking cards with some active components on them instead."
"With heatsinks on them?" he asks, not wanting to give up too soon. "Told you the configurator is never wrong!"
"No. Just small cards."
"Screw-in cards?" he asks.
"No, not PCI cards, just cards," I sigh, putting the cattleprod battery pack into the charger.
"Well let's just skip that. What would you like?"
"A quote for three more processors the same as the original, two gig of memory in 512s, a high performance Ultra SCSI 3 Raid card, and four 15k RPM 36 gig Ultra SCSI 3 disks."
>clickety< "OK, you can't get processors for it, because it's full."
"It's got one processor."
"Yes, but the configurator says it's full."
"Tell it it's not."
"We can't. But we could do a field uninstall, but then it would automatically charge you three hours' engineer time for the uninstall."
"Tell it that the client will do it."
"But you'll void your warranty."
"It's not ON warranty. Besides, I've got the cover off and I'm not certified, so I think we've already crossed that bridge."
"Oh. Well >clickety< it'll only remove ALL four processors, unless we trade the processors in."
"Do that then."
"But you haven't got processors!" he blurts.
"Yes, we have, the configurator says so!"
"But you told me you didn't."
"Yes, when you mentioned the trade-in option, I just realised that they were."
"They can't be, they don't have heatsinks on them!"
"They will by the time your engineer gets here..."
"He'll never accept them - he'll know they're processor bypass cards!"
"Would this be the same engineer we normally get whose specialist technical field is lifting?"
"So, we'll trade the four PROCESSORS in on four faster ones. And we'll trade the gig of RAM in on two gig."
"You said you had 128."
"No, no, it was a gig, I'm sure of it now!" I cry.
"He'll count it."
"I'm sure he will, and will not find me lacking. In fact, he can take as many SIMMs as he likes from the big bag under my desk."
"I think you mean DIMMs," he responds.
"Like your engineer is going to know."
"Is that all then?"
"No, I'd like to buy a Raid card and four disks."
>clickety< "We can only give you three - that's all that will fit into the machine."
"With ten slots in the front? Oh, how many disks have we currently got?"
"I think you're lying. And while you can lie to me, I don't think you want to lie to the configurator..."
"I.... seven disks," he sniffs.
"Lets trade them in on four new ones. And a Raid card. Now, what's all that going to cost me?"
"Well, with... trade-in allowance... one thousand three hundred and forty quid."
"Really. It seems a little steep. Can I trade in anything else from my box?"
"That's all you have!"
"So of the eight PCI slots, there's nothing I can cash in on?"
"I think you're lying. Tell you what, configure me up the cheapest ten meg PCI NIC card."
"What's the total?"
>tap tap< "1420."
>click< >click-click< "You can't, the configurator won't let you."
"Because the bus is full," he sighs, knowing he's trapped.
"What's in the box?" I ask.
"Five high-spec graphic cards with 256 meg."
"AGP Cards?" I ask.
"AGP 8s, yes."
"And how many AGP slots does the machine come with?"
"And so the configurator tells you that I have another four in there somewhere, taking up PCI slots?"
"Yes," he gabbles. "It's because the AGP Connector's right near the first PCI slot, so if you have a AGP card, you lose a PCI slot."
"Ah, and because I have five cards, I lose five slots."
"Yes," he sighs.
"OK, so I'll trade in the five cards and use the on-board video, drop the NIC cards, now what's the total."
"Minus 53 quid."
"Better. Have the cheque sent to me personally would you?"
"You'll never get away with it," he sneers. "They'll find out."
"Course they won't. It's all in the Configurator. And the Configurator's never wrong! Gosh, wouldn't it be awful if the we asked specifically for YOU to do the install and you returned to work with a box of old parts - and they started to suspect that you'd rigged the whole thing?"
"Make the cheque out to cash then?"
"That'll do nicely. And put an expedited delivery on those parts will you - I'd like to get this sorted out quickly so we don't have to upgrade another of your servers to cope with the load. We've got an eight-way in the computer room!"
Now to forge a second quote and get the company cheque made out to Computing Access Support and Hardware (or its acronym) too...
Did I mention how much I love upgrades? ®
And the Official Archive
"Ah... Now I don't think you want to be doing that..." I murmur, watching the Boss authoring an online Client Survey form for the masses about things that don't matter. (i.e. their expectations, How they'd like us to deliver them, etc.)
"Really?" he asks "Why's that?"
"It doesn't pay to ask questions! We already know what people want - everything, yesterday. AND we know that they're used to disappointment. But if you start asking them what they think we should be doing, you'll just ignite a spark of hope"
"A spark is a good thing!"
"Not when I stamp that spark out with the cold hard boot of reality."
"What?! Why? I happen to think that some of the staff may have something valuable to contribute!"
"To the lengthening unemployment queues, yes. But you don't want them mixing stupidity with technology. That's your job. Leave it to them and they'll be recommending that we upgrade to those 'new' voice-operated computers they saw on Bladerunner... ... Oh, and you definitely don't want to be asking for any additional comments they might have about IT, the department, or our ongoing strategy."
"Because it's a drift net for stupid ideas. Sure, you'll get one or two people who actually give a sane suggestion, but then you'll hit all the dolphins - the people who, because they've been asked to contribute feel that they have to contribute - like it's an intelligence test or something. Only they've got nothing useful to contribute, so they start off on some innovative tangent, like if we installed a large plasma screen in reception we could use it to have customised messages of the day for staff and visitors, etc, instead of what it would really be used for"
"Which would be?"
"Security would use it to watch porn movies late at night when everyone's left the building."
"Oh I doubt that. Though the screen itself sounds like a good idea!"
"They all sound like good ideas...!"
"So what do you suggest?"
"Lets start with basic concepts. Firstly, the only cavassing of users you should be doing is with a heavy tarpaulin, a stack of bricks and a deep stretch of water"
Completely over his head. Ah well.
"... When composing a questionnaire, you tailor the questions so that the answers can be made to support whatever it is you're after - sort of like the way they rig election popularity figures prior to the elections and before they get rigged at the electronic ballot boxes. "
"How do you mean?"
"What, the elections, the questionairres or the ballot boxes?"
"OK, as a for instance, say you wanted a pay rise."
"You'd ask if they think that we're paid enough?"
"No! No, if you ask that question, everyone would tick yes, with a few respondents writing 'too much' in the margins. No, instead you ask something open ended like 'Should the company be paying market rates to retain the services of key technical staff?' to which most people will respond yes. Then you go find some IT rag that says that market rates have just risen by 20% in the past year, and pass it to the Head of IT to bring up with personnel.."
"I don't think it's tha.."
"Or maybe you ask the question 'Do you feel that IT doing a good job with the people they have?' with only two answers, Yes and No. All the Yes answers will end up supporting pay rises for the staff, while all the No answers support the requirement for more staff."
"Oh Pulllllleeeeeeze! Say you wanted a larger office. You don't say 'Do we need a larger office?'. You would ask a question like 'Of the two improvements that we have the money to finance this year, which would be of more benefit to the company - buying the a new espresso machine for the IT Administrators, or enlarging technical office space.'"
"And they'd say enlarging offices because they all hate you?"
"No, they'd say enlarging office spaces because they'd think that if they worked it properly they might qualify as 'technical staff' somehow."
"I see your point. But... No... I don't think I want to do that, it's just sneaky!"
"Of course it is! Look, You tell me the results you want and I'll give you a questionairre that makes it look like the whole building supports it."
"And what's in it for you - You want to take the PR credit for the questionnaire?"
"No - I'm assuming that anything you improve can only be a knock-on improvement for us. I'll put your name as author if it makes you feel better.."
"Yes, I think that's best. Well I suppose what I'd really like to do is...."
Half an hour of rambling later. . .
"OK, Leave it to me!"
Three days and one survey later. . .
"Fantastic!" the Boss burbles, looking over the PFY's shoulder as the results are presented "That question about whether they have confidence in IT Management's ability to deliver service within the constraints of our budget is sure to get us good funding next year."
"Bound to," the PFY responds. "...unless..."
"Well unless - and I'm just suggesting this as a possibility - someone misread the question as an indication of a confidence problem instead of an indication of a budget problem".
"Well I don't see how tha... oh."
"Yes, and when you consider that with the question immediately following it 'Do you think that outsourcing IT Staff would improve delivery of services?'"
"And they said No!"
"Yes, which could mean that they're happy with the IT Staff, or it could mean that they think the poor delivery of services is because of IT Management - who should be outsourced."
"Well I... uh.. Do you think I've been set up?!" he gasps.
"I'd have thought that was obvious in question 23"
"On the second webpage."
"What second webpage?"
"Ah well. Perhaps you'd like to take a couple of moments to collect your thoughts. And personal belongings. Question 23 was 'Who is the weakest link?' with your name .vs. the old mailroom guy - who's one year off retirement, wife just died, and who franks people's personal mail for free."
"And speaking of mail, Question 27, asking how offended staff would be at you reading their personal emails - that didn't go so well for you.."
"It's only slander if the question said you DID it, this just asks how offended they would be IF you did.."
"There'd have to be a good reason for me to read someone's personal email!"
"Toilet paper theft?"
"Question 29. Do you think that cameras in the toilets would prevent toilet paper theft?"
"Yes, I know, it's all come as a bit of a shock, but that's how it goes around here. We like our bosses to rollover every couple of months or so - you know, so they don't get stagnant. Why don't I make you a nice cup of tea while you wait for the howling mob?"
. . .
Told you it doesn't pay to ask questions. ®
now what the hell is this all about? :o
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