The Register


To escape the boredom of routine, the BOFH volunteers to man the Helldesk. But does he still have his special touch with the users?

It's a quiet afternoon when the boss slips in unobtrusively and shuffles over to my desk.

"Just want you to know that I sorted out that little Helpdesk roster mix-up," he mentions quietly.

"What little Helpdesk mix-up ?" I ask.

"Oh, some practical joker had written your name in the

roster to cover the Helpdesk during their team building week."

"Yes, that was me. Tomorrow from midday till five wasn't it? I'm quite looking forward to it."

"Ah!" the boss cries, no doubt ducking off to press the speed-dial button for the company's insurance broker.

The Pimply-Faced Youth is obviously confused about this - there's nothing in the Helldesk area left to steal because we did all that the last time security had its CCTV system repaired. The truth of the matter is that I'm bored. Bored, bored, bored.

Heeding the advice that a change is as good as a rest, I've signed up for a tour of duty at Idiot Central. Besides, I want to know if I still have what it takes to deal with users on a routine basis.

The next day dawns and after lunch I head directly to the Helldesk to do my best to, I mean for, the users. To be honest, it's not half as bad as I'd expected - things are pretty quiet.

In the end I put the phones back on the hook, and three lines light up immediately. I pick one at random and answer it.

"Hi, look, my machine's smoking a little, and there's a burning smell. It was really noisy this morning when I turned it on, so should I turn it off?"

"No. No need to worry - we had a little bit of equipment fail in the comms room this morning, so it's probably just the smoke and the smell coming down the lines."

"Is there anything I should do?"

"Not really, I'd just shut your office door and go to afternoon tea early until the smoke clears - it'll probably take an hour or so."

"Hey, hang on, why isn't it affecting the other machines?"

"Because you're on the hot back-up server for your department, the one that got too hot, as it happened."

"Oh, of course I am!" he gushes, gasping thanks and ducking off for an early break.

Now that I'm on limited time (till the fire alarm and sprinklers cut in) I take the last two calls as quick as I can).

"Hi," a secretary from PR chirps, "every time I try to send e-mail my program comes back and says something about a DNS thingy."

"Was it something like 'DNS look-up error'?"

"Yeah...I think so..." she mumbles.

"Oh dear." I sigh. "I'm really sorry."

"What is it?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"No, what?"

"Well DNS stands for Database of Names and Salaries."

"I don't understand."

"Well, if it can't look you up to send your e-mail, it must mean you've...been fired. Or you're about to be."

"But I've only been here a couple of months!"

"Yes, and I bet you turned down your boss when he asked you out to lunch too, didn't you?" I ask, playing a hunch based solely on the fact that the guy concerned wears babe-magnet labelled clothes and drives a convertible. And he's a loud-mouthed flashy git at staff functions. Not that I'm jealous...

"But I couldn't make it because I had to arrange my bank payments!" she sniffles, falling for it hook, line and sinker.

"Well," I respond kindly, "for what it's worth it was good working with you...unless of course..."

"Unless what?" "Well, you could go and see the complaints officer in personnel and say that he threatened your job unless know."

"Unless I what?"

"Checked out his firmware, so to speak."


"Well it's up to you. If you wait till you're fired they'll just think you're making excuses. But if you pre-empt it, and mention nothing about the DNS stuff they'll think your accusations are true."

"Do you think it would work?"

"I would think so. It's happened before. You were just one of the lucky ones..."

"I suppose you're right. OK, I'll do it. Thank you very much for your advice."

"Don't mention it." I respond, moving on to caller three while gesturing to the PFY so he can record the head of PR's "resignation" later in the afternoon.

"Hi, my Linux box won't seem to mount a CD in it. It says that it must be mounted read-only. What's the parameter to tell it to mount read-only?"

"Ah Linux relies on hardware write locking. You have to write lock the disk itself."

"Huh? I've never heard of that before!"

"Most operating systems do it in software. It's because Linux has cache-based hardware architecture open compliance," I say, calling up as many buzzwords as possible to foil the Unix geek.

*Dummy mode on.*

"So what do I do?"

"Just make a 3mm hole - no larger - in the CD, right in the middle of the label, that's where it expects write protect. And make sure it's 3mm and exactly in the middle, or you might hit the Read Protect hole too."


He rings off without asking why the hell anyone would have read-protected disks, obviating the need for me to explain WORN technology to him (Write Once, Read Never - just like the floppies).

As the fire alarm goes, I total up the day: off work early because of fire, one less git at social functions, and one foiled geek.

Yep, I've still got what it takes!