The BOFH #12 & #13
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 96 19:47:23 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The BOFH #12 & #13
[Kinda short, but it's a weekend, after all... and the BOFH doesn't survive
it, anyway... -psl]
The Bastard Operator from Hell #12
I get to work and I'm a bit tired so I plug a thick hunk of copper across
the three phase supply and throw the switch. The room is plunged into
darkness as the circuit breakers trip and for once the machine room is
I like it!
I pop the phone off the hook and close the curtains on the observation
window. Now it's *really* dark in there. I wouldn't be surprised if someone
had a nasty accident in here..
I lift a couple of floor tiles up in the darkness and call our maintenance
contractors saying the mini popped the breaker again, then replace the fuses
in it with a couple of nails and short the power supply to ground. You can't
just hope for this sort of thing, you've got to MAKE it happen.
15 minutes later the engineer arrives and falls down the hole. I pop the
floor tiles back on just as the System Manager (a new and very thorough
individual) comes in, telling me to watch out, someone could really hurt
themselves in the dark...
I nod & tell him that we can't really afford all the downtime, and should
I just throw the breaker and hope that there was no major fault. After
thinking about the negative publicity we're getting already, he makes the
last decision of his short career and tells me to go ahead.
Later, when the smoke clears I examine the smoking remains of the mini. Not
a pretty sight...
"Strange that the breaker jammed shut, isn't it?" I say to our manager as
he packs up the personal things in his office. "One in a million chance. A
pity that someone saw what you did and posted the whole story to comp.misc.
You'll be lucky to get a job managing a car computer after all that
I go back to the machine room and throw the rest of the breakers to liven
everything up, then login and start deleting users' email. I spot an
interesting off-the-record sexual proposition from our male consultant to
a member of the men's swim team which will make a good motd, so I copy it
there, modify root's owner name to be "Winker" and password to be
"ljkadlkajflkj" (then call the big boss to report a suspected intrusion).
Should be at least a couple of hours of login time before we can sort that
out. In the meantime, people are just going to have to read that message...
I realise the message has been read when I hear the gunshot from behind the
consultant's closed door.
I edit the online helpdesk information and change the phone number to the
System Manager's - he'll probably appreciate the extra calls at such a sad
I hear another shot and realise he won't be answering any calls today.
I put the phone back on the hook and flip today's excuse card. "Poor power
conditioning". Too plausible. "STATIC BUILDUP". Still a bit too plausible
for my liking, but I don't want to run out of cards before the end of the
year, so I decide to run with it.
The phone rings almost as soon as I've got "Top Gun" in the video machine
so I pause the video and put the phone on hands-free.
"I think I've bought a bad floppy disk"
"Yes?" I wonder if I've suddenly become the consumer watchdog?
"Well, I've got this disk and it won't format. All the others in the box
did so I thought I must have a bad disk"
"Why are you calling me about this?" I ask
"Well, the disk says guaranteed; where do I go to get a replacement?"
Ah! Of course.
"Well, let's see. Are you sure it's the disk, and not just some problem with
"Static Buildup, you know, static electricity that's passed from you to the
"But I'm wearing a wrist strap!"
Around about now I realise I'm deep in dweeb country. Wrist straps aren't
fashion accessories in *my* part of town...
"Of course you are, but your average wrist strap has a 1 meg resistor in
series with it, a *really* poor earth. What you need is a direct earth
connection. Hang onto the frame of something that's earthed properly."
"What, you mean like our stainless steel work bench?"
"Excellent. Now, have you got a paper clip to discharge the static with?"
"Hang on. Yeah"
"Ok, with your other hand, poke the clip thru the ventilation holes at the
back of the unit, and just touch the contact at the end of the thick red
"The one going to the power supply?"
"Yep, that's it"
"....Hey, isn't that the li... >kzzzzt!clunk Another call solved by the
helpdesk from hell...
The Bastard Operator from Hell #13
I'm busy with my new shell replacement login script, and it's almost
foolproof. Let's just say it pops up with:
"Yes means No and No means Yes. Delete all files [Y]? "
upon login. I'm really starting to worry about the number of account
breakins we've been having recently.... The manager isn't though. His main
concern appears to be the number of computer-related fatalities on campus.
Funny world, isn't it?
I flip the excuse card. "DOPPLER EFFECT" Sounds implausible enough that it's
plausible - with a little work of course.
The phone, the bane of my existence, rings.
"Hello, Computer Room" I say, being helpful
"Is this the Technicians?" The caller asks.
Amazing the number of deaf people that use these things. What the hell, I'm
"Yes it is" I lie (Nixon would've been proud)
"I've got a problem with my floppy drive, it doesn't seem to be reading all
"Hmmm. How old is the drive?"
"About a year.."
"And it sometimes fails and sometimes works, but it's starting to fail more
"Yeah, it's the Doppler effect of magnetism.."
"I thought that only happened with light and sound?"
>Bullshit mode ON "Yes, well it's been found that on a spinning surface,
like a disk, the particle's magnetic alignment changes, especially when the
head is stationary and slightly magnetised in respect to it."
"Duh. Oh" >DUMMY MODE ON "So, what you need to do is to demagnetise the
head. Have you got a disk head demagnetising loop?"
"OK, we'll have to do it the hard way. Have you got your original diskettes
for your software?"
"Right, chuck them in the drive, one by one, and format them."
"Don't worry, it won't work - remember the drive is failing. All that
happens is that the virgin magnetic field of the disks realigns the magnetic
field of the head, because they weren't written by a doppler effected
"So, when it gives you a write error and asks if you want to continue, you
say yes. Do it with all your original diskettes, then, to complete the
demagnetising process, run a head cleaning diskette through the drive as
well, which will pick up the stray magnetic particles clinging to the
"Oh. Ok. Thanks"
"Don't thank me - IT'S MY JOB!" I say, hearty in manner.
I put the phone down, it rings again. It's the big boss.
"Simon, could you come to my office please?"
>ALERT! Quick as I can, I press the panic button on our LAN-Analyser, or to
be more precise, the "Generate 90% random traffic" button
"Sure, would you like me to come now, or..
The other phone rings. I chuck it on hands free
"Hello, Computer Room, Simon Here, How can I help?"
"THE NETWORK IS DOWN, ALL OUR PCS HAVE SHIT THEMSELVES!" the voice on hands
-free screams into the mouthpiece of the other phone
"I see" I say calmly "Yes, our Monitor shows it up, it looks to be a bad
segment of thinwire - please hold the line while I unplug it"
I press the "I just got a raise" button (AKA "Stop Traffic Generation") on
the Lan Analyser, and almost immediately the user shouts back "Excellent,
it's working now, thanks"
"That's ok, don't mention it. Have a nice day"
The big-boss has been listening to all this, so I reckon that the trip to
his office won't be so bad after all. I tell him I'll be right down as soon
as I secure the net and hang up. On the way down, I invent a new buzzword
which always keep management happy. Complete Transient Lockout. Sounds much
better than pulling the plug. Like Master-Reset sounds better than
I get to his office and the staffing officer is there too. Uh-oh.
"Simon - How would you like to be our System Manager?"
"Well... I don't know, I like that hands on.."
"Extra 10 grand a year, Varisty Car.."
....And so ends the saga, as it should have at #10.
[Stay tuned for the BSMFH ... -psl]
© 1996 Peter Langston