Reasonable Expenses

My boss assigns me to support a new department, thinking they might need some extra attention.  I get a call from a really, really nice guy having some issues.  Turns out, their whole office has been neglected for ages, they have issues with network connectivity and, possibly some malware.  I can’t be sure without taking a look myself, and I can’t fix anything without logging in as an admin.  I’m very eager to help.

“Yeah, I’m sorry to hear you haven’t had support for a while.  Honestly, in order to even get started, I’d have to check out this computer, run some tests, and if you don’t have the admin login, I’m going to have to be physically at the computer so I can override it.”

“Oh, that sounds great!  There’s just one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“The computer is in Rome.”

“… You know, I really think this constitutes a need for a company-paid trip.”

Of Course It’s My Fault

This story is far enough in my past now, I can finally tell it.  To give some background, I was working at a university doing desktop support.  THAT ALONE probably fills a few of you with dread.  But to be specific, I was working for the nice folks in Dewey Hall.  I say “nice folks” because they had the decency to hire me and set aside some of their budget for my salary.  The deal was, I worked for them, but if my schedule allowed, I was to help out at the neighboring buildings, Screwem Hall and Howe Hall.  Those buildings contributed nothing to IT and basically got free support.

I get a call over to Screwem Hall, and a tearful lady tells me that her “backup drive” isn’t working.  Because this isn’t technically my building, I have no idea what she’s talking about.

It turns out that, years ago, before my time, before my co-worker’s time, before my boss’s time, in fact, before anyone I knew actually worked there, someone had set this lady up with a four-disc RAID-1 array.  A bad storm had come through during the night, and this morning… it no workeez.  Bear in mind, at this point, you readers know more than I did while this lady is breaking into hysterics about her years of lost work.

“It was supposed to be automatically backed up!  That’s the entire purpose of that thing!  And it’s supposed to do it automatically, I’ve never had to touch it!  YEARS OF WORK ON THERE!  IF IT’S LOST I’M GOING TO COLLAPSE!”

Again, this is not my territory and in all my time here, no one ever alerted me to this drive’s existence.  So, I sit down and try to assess the situation… and as you’d all agree, the ideal time to analyze a system is NOT after it’s already had a massive failure.

…Turns out, this is a four-bay enclosure, with four 1TB drives, configured into a 2TB drive with a 2TB redundancy drive.     Obviously, if a disk failed, the data could be reconstructed from the redundancy drive.

…Except it wasn’t one disc that had failed, it was two.  So her chances of success now hinge on the failed drives NOT having the same data.  I decided to look into this possibility.

…Except that the array’s management software hadn’t been loaded onto this computer, since the array had been there so long the user had replaced their computer in the meantime, and no one but the original tech even knew the management software existed.  So I decide to access the menu of the drive directly.

…Except it’s a painful cluster of menus, and I’m afraid to even turn the damn thing off and on, for fear of making any data corruption worse than it already is.  The only thing I CAN tell is that it’s set to automatically rebuild, so if the data is all still on there, it’ll go into auto-pilot mode.

So I tell her the short version: that her main chance of success is to hope this thing works as designed.  I tell her to go buy me two appropriate-sized drives and let me install them.  She does so, I install them, and I get nothing.  No data comes back.

RAID LADY LOSES HER FUCKING MIND.  

There are words.  There are noises.  There are screams.  There are tears.  And that’s just for starters.  She calls my boss, reports me, announces a vendetta against our whole department.  Without even blinking an eye, I calmly list the following:

I had no idea this device existed in our environment, therefore, I had never been able to do any preventative maintenance on it.

Whoever set it up set it up in a highly questionable manner.  First, they did not put it on a UPS, which made the electrical damage from the storm that much more likely.  That was stupid.

Second, they used double the number of hard drives needed to achieve the space needed.  Even years ago, 2TB hard drives weren’t that expensive, least of all if you’re charging them to an academic budget.  By doubling the number of disks, he doubled the potential points of failure.  Stupid.

Third, all the hard drives were the same model and from the same batch, indicating if one had a manufacturing flaw, the others would suffer the same flaw, multiplying the potential for failure.  Stupid.

Fourth, all the hard drives were original to the installation.  None had been replaced proactively.  So all were out of warranty and well past their expected time to fail.  Stupid.

Fifth, the software suite which MIGHT have alerted this lady to the fact that her drives were in bad shape OR that her backups weren’t being done was never installed.  GOD DAMN FUCKING STUPID.

…But no, it’s apparently MY FAULT her data is gone.  Because I couldn’t fix the magic drive that was supposed to never break.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little was one of my most despised types of co-worker: the type that figures they can take a job that depends on constant computer use, claim they’re “not good at that stuff” and get paid to sip coffee all day.  Because why should you learn anything new just to cash a paycheck, am I right?

Anyway, she got her name because everything was a crisis.  She didn’t recognize her new homepage?  A crisis.  Didn’t know how to use a Word template?  Total meltdown.  I cannot count the number of times she stood in my doorway, halfway between screaming and tears, saying “I just don’t know what to DO!”

Gee, maybe if you consistently don’t know what to do at work, that’s a sign you should maybe do something else?  Far away from me?

So, there were two printers in our part of the office.  The main, industrial printer, which everyone shared, and a small laser printer which was connected to Chicken Little’s PC.  This printer existed so that she could print confidential stuff without having to let it sit in a public printer, and allowed her to print onto specialty papers without fussing with the large paper trays.  It was not, however, SOLELY her printer, and a few people such as myself mapped to it as a backup.

Chicken Little, however, always had it in her head that this printer was hers and hers alone, and would print off batches of address labels, leaving the rest still in the tray.  This would mean if I printed a report, I’d walk to her desk (knowing full well she wasn’t there and therefore not using her printer) and find it had been printed on address labels.  This would not happen once or twice, but in fact became a pattern.  And when she would discover the wasted labels, she would act surprised.

It got to the point where I would hear her talking with her co-workers at the other end of the building, decide to use her printer, and as soon as she heard the paper churn through, she’d be literally RUNNING down the hall (dress and heels, no less) screaming “NO NO NO WAAAAIIITTTT!!!!”  as if she expected the printer to listen to her.  Who knows, maybe she did?  And without even getting up, I knew I needed to (again) go change the paper back because she’d left the good stuff in the paper tray.

It was maybe six months before it was decided that Chicken Little needed to find another henhouse.

Lied on Their Resume

One of my biggest pet peeves:  People who take jobs like “administrative assistant” or “teacher”, jobs which in the 21st century are incredibly computer-centric, and don’t know even basic PC functionality.  Of course, they’ll have said during their interview that they’re experts, but when you sit them in the chair, they don’t know the difference between and URL and an e-mail address, or between Word and Excel.

So then what?  Do you fire them for not being able to do the job they said they could do?  Fuck no, it becomes my problem.  I have to train them to do what they should have known to start with… and really, should be able to do for 99% of the jobs in this day and age.

One of my favorite problem children comes and asks me for help.  Apparently, she has two spreadsheets full of customer information, both in different formats.  She’s tasked with combining them into one, then sorting them six different ways based on the needs of who is asking for the report.

First I have to explain how to make new entries into the spreadsheet.  Then I have to explain the difference between storing a date as text like “January 3” compared to actually having a date format like “1/3”.  Then I have to explain how to use a Yes/No box.  Then I have to describe for her the process of copying and pasting the two spreadsheets together.

As for sorting them?  Well, I know you can sort a spreadsheet, but when you’re looking at doing it as many ways as she wanted, I felt compelled to tell her that a spreadsheet was far from ideal for the task.  So, I had to work with her on converting the Excel data into an Access Database (it was a relatively small amount of Data, no need to reach for anything more sophisticated).  All this over someone whose job requirement is to know MS Office in and out.

Finally, I get her to the point where the Database mirrors the Excel sheet in format, so all she has to do is enter in the new data she has behind the existing data.  I show her how, now that she’s done this, she can sort any which way she wants all day long.  She smiles and seems genuinely happy.  Then she asks “So, now how do I get it back to the way it was?”

WTF??  YOU DON’T!!!  WE JUST SPENT AN HOUR AND A HALF TEACHING YOU HOW TO ORGANIZE THIS SHIT!  WHY THE FUCK DO YOU WANT TO REVERT IT BACK TO A SPREADSHEET FULL OF RANDOM DATA?

Lightweight

The lightweight makes a game out of trying to trip up techs, salespeople, and any other peons who make their living trying to keep them happy.  This can get them reasonable satisfaction when they’re trying to return a sweater or shake down a crooked mechanic, but it falls flat when they try it on someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Case in point:  Remember back when Intel started branding its Pentium-M chipset as “Centrino”, and kicked off what eventually became the ‘light and thin’ trend for laptops?  Prior to that, a “portable” computer had a realistic range of about two hours from an electrical outlet, if you were lucky.

So, the lightweight asks me “So what’s this ‘Centrino’ thing?”, implying that I have no idea, even though I’m paid to answer questions exactly like that all day, every day.

“”Centrino’ is a standard that uses a mobile processor to achieve lighter weight and better battery life.”  Please note that it made sense to omit unnecessary details when answering questions like this.  This is not the answer I would have given a fellow tech.

“WHAT?  Gimme a break!  What’s the processor got to do with the battery life?”  He must have been restraining himself from adding “Gotcha!”

I subtly slow down my speech, until I’m talking at a pace usually reserved for talking to Big Bird.  “A lower-voltage processor uses less electricity.”

“Oh.”

“Using less electricity, will use less battery power.”

“That makes sense, I guess…”

“Using less battery power, will generate less heat.”

“Yeah…”

“Generating less heat will require less fan power.”

“Okay…”

“Using less fan power also consumes less electricity.”

“Right…”

“And using less electricity will ultimately make the battery last longer.”

“Please… stop…”