Bastard Operator from Hell, 1996 Vintage, Part One

Congratulations Reader
In this, the second chapter of "How to make a fortune by torturing neighbours pets", we look at the uses of the common garden spade, the 2-Iron golf club, and the Delicatessan-Issue Ham Slicer.

Now, for those of you who've followed the step by step procedure outlined in chapter one, you should now have in front of you a large pot full of animals slowly coming to the boil.. To continue from here, all you need is some cayenne pepper, a mallet, and an extra-larg..

Especially with chips and Salad....

The Bastard kicks in the New Year with a few sex aids ...

It's a very sad time of the year. Having spent the Christmas period in the office, neatly combining the filling in of a timesheet liberally scattered with numbers in the 'overtime' column with the avoidance of certain members of the family, it's terribly irritating to see all these hung-over employees dragging themselves miserably back into the office with the sole intention of breaking my network.

You see, during the shutdown period I received not one single support call, confirming my theory that my network is indeed perfect, and that all faults are user-inflicted.

It would seem from the system logs that I wasn't the only one in over Christmas: looks like the head of engineering has been around, faxing out dozens of orders for bits and bobs to put in the new shake-test line they're hurrying to build down in Quality Assurance.

The gossip around the office, though, is that the CEO is really mad - the line was meant to be running in time for the New Year, and from all accounts, it's nowhere near completed.

The most interesting snippet from the network fax log is that the software patch I installed on the server seems to have kicked in for at least one outgoing call ...

It's an entertaining little patch, and fixes the most common problem with all networked fax systems around the world - the fact that they're terribly dull.

The update in question is simple, yet brilliant: the network manager specifies search and replace filters for outgoing messages, which can brighten up messages immensely if used properly. You can even program it to divert faxes to a different country according to your own parameters ...

The phone rings.

"Good morning, you're the first caller of the year, how can I help you?" (Sometimes, my charm surprises even myself)

"Chief engineer here. Is the fax system working?"

"Certainly is, in fact, I've just been checking it a moment or two ago. Why? Are you having problems?"

"Yes. I ordered some kit for the new QA line before the break, but the supplier reckons the fax never arrived. Can you check it out for me? I sent it on December the 22nd, and it claimed to get there OK. The purchase order number is PE4456."

A quick 'grep' on the fax log turns up the fax in question.

"Well, it's here in the system log, and it certainly went OK. Quantity 48, product description 'Vibrator (three-phase, heavy-duty)'. Perhaps your supplier is trying it on."

"Yes, that's probably right. Many thanks."

"You're welcome".

I wonder ...

The phone rings. CLI says it's Goods Inwards.

"Machine room."

"Goods Inwards here. We have a delivery with no contact name. The supplier says it was ordered by fax - can you find out who sent the order with that fancy gadget of yours?"

"Sure, no problem. What's the order number?"


"Let's see ... Yes, that was ordered on the 22nd of last month, by the head of engineering."

"Thanks mate."

I'm sure I hear sniggering as the phone is put down.

Time, and several levels of Doom III (beta, naturally) pass uneventfully before there's a knock at the door. Deftly switching Doom to 'Boss Mode', I motion the chief engineer to enter.

"Something's wrong with your fax system," he blurts.

"Really? How come?"

"You know that fax I mentioned? I just tried to re-send it, but it hasn't got there."

"Well, let's test the system."

I compose a quick fax on my PC, plug one of the old fax machines I've got lying in the corner into a spare line, and click 'send'. The machine springs into life, faithfully reproducing the test message.

Well, it would, wouldn't it - I didn't put the word 'vibrator' in my message ... so it didn't get redirected to Siggi's Sex Emporium in Rotterdam ...

"There you go," I proudly exclaim to my spanner-wielding colleague. "Nothing wrong with that. You'll have to tell your suppliers that their machine is on the blink."

"Oh well, thanks for checking."

Serves him right for doubting my systems.

The phone rings again.

"Machine room, BOFH speaking."

"CEO here. Tell me, have you seen Bradshaw from engineering? They tell me he was on his way to see you about a system problem."

"Yes, he just walked out of the door. Why?"

"Oh, I'm just wondering why Goods Inwards have brought me a box containing four dozen three-speed sex aids, as ordered by our engineering friend from Siggi's Sex Emporium in Rotterdam. Don't suppose you can shed any light?"

"Well, I can certainly go through the fax log for you - it's all here in black and white ..."

The Bastard has an appraisal meeting ...

It's a nippy afternoon when I get to work to find an e-mail memo indicating that the computer has randomly selected me for a supervisor appraisal scheme. My supervisor is especially surprised because he distinctly remembers having my name removed from the list. "Random" can be such a misleading word.

Late in the afternoon I get to the interview with one of the senior execs and a Mr Grey (by name and nature) from a staffing resource company. The interview kicks off with:

"Simon, I believe you're aware of the purpose of this interview?" Grey smarms.

"Yes, where you discover that my supervisor ALMOST has the technical competence to remember his phone number if prompted eleven times."

"I don't think it's quite that bad" Grey chuckles..

The exec looks slightly uncomfortable.

"His HOME number. His office number is 4 prompts. That's only an extension."

"Yes. Well, he must be technically competent to be in this position!"

"Or be related to the CEO or the CEO's wife. Or plays golf at the same club. Or knows someone who plays golf at the same club. Or knows what a golf club looks like ..."

"I take it your opinion of your supervisor isn't particularly high?"


Exec looks distinctly uncomfortable now.

"For what reasons?"

"Well, let's be honest. Prior to this position, my supervisor paper-shuffled in a large factory known for its baked beans"

"I see. His network experience?"

"..resulted from him being the CEO's wife's second cousin" I reply.


"In all honesty, the guy couldn't examine a litter and find a runt, let alone a network. When I told him we should consider getting ATM in the Computer Room he ordered a new Barclaycard. I told him we had an internet firewall and he asked about extinguishers to go with it."

"I see. Perhaps his knowledge is more the planning field, as expected from a supervisor?"

"Possibly. Still I wonder why, when I suggested a heavier move to fibre he thanked me but said he was quite regular as it was."

"Ah. Well, what do YOU expect from someone in that position?" Grey asks

"The ability to add, subtract, read and write without having to stick his tongue out. The sense to sign his name to everything I put in front of him no matter how controversial it might appear"

"So you envisage that he is nothing more than a 'yes man'."


"Well, We'll perhaps agree to disagree on that one. Surely you can't expect him to sign anything without a thorough examination; after all, a delay of a few days is not likely to inconvenience anyone. As to your relationship, whilst it seems apparent that your supervisor is not optimum for the position, your opinion seems stunted and mostly reprehensible"

"Hmmm." I say, feigning concerned thought, "I see that we've probably reached an impasse" then I get up and leave.

On the way out I hear Exec warning Grey not to use the lifts or get into any computer controlled access areas. For that he shall be punished ...

. . . .

I'm watching the closed-circuit-tv at 6:17pm when a shadow detaches itself from the others and breaks for the doors ...

A quick >clickety< >click< on the keyboard and the revolving door halts mid-spin as the security alarms activate.

I wander downstairs 20 minutes later as if to exit via the doors. A crowd has gathered to watch security attempt to free Grey from inside the door. I smile benignly as Grey catches my gaze.


"Armour Glass" a guard chips in. "Have to put a car into it to break it - wouldn't do him much good"

"There's always the emergency override" I add helpfully

"Something went wrong. The whole panel's dead"

"Really?" I say, looking at Grey. "Well, the maintenance contract was part


The guard mumbles. "We thought if we cut the wires to the locking plate it would release"

"If it were that simple any burglar could get in." I say, "NOW IT'S ON AN INTERNAL INDEPENDENT BATTERY. TAKES 48 HOURS TO DISCHARGE!"

"What can we do?" the guard asks.

"Well, Taco Shells and cheese slices sound like a good idea"



Life can be so cruel especially when you're trying not to think about things ...

The Bastard educates a PFY ...

It's a quiet Monday morning as I wander into my office and make for my desk, only to discover its pristine surface has been taken over by what can only be described as a Pimply-Faced-Youth.

"Hi!", the PFY gasps ", I'm the new network trainee you organised last week"

Instead of stopping, I drop my case and about-face to the Boss's office. He informs me in no uncertain terms that the salary review he suffered after my report to the supervisor review last week has in no way contributed to what might appear to the casual observer as a vendetta. Pure coincidence.

He also informs me that the PFY is not only here to stay (at his appointment), but might even stay longer than myself. I'm to train him to the point of absolute confidence ...

Sadly, there's only room in my office for one, but that can wait.


"I've been answering the phones while you were away!", PFY cries as I return, brandishing a huge wadge of "While you were out" messages.

I decide to give every impression of complying with the boss's wishes.

"OK, file them then look at this", I say, switching on the network monitor.

"Where should I file them?"

"The filing cabinet", I say.

"But I can't see a ..."

"The round one ..."

"... on the floor ..."

"... IN THE CORNER !!"

"One was important!", he gasps.

"This is networking, they're all important. Now, it's imperative to be able to recognise important users when they phone".

"Oh. How do I do that?"

"You don't, it was a joke. This is networking, remember? They take what they get and are happy with it or they get an 'upgrade' to a 150 baud modem on an unfiltered power supply".

"How've you managed to stay here?"

"Hmm. A clever mix of superior intelligence, indispensibilty and ruthless blackmail where required. Hasn't failed me yet. Now, I'll wager my next pay cheque that 90 per cent of those complaints you took this morning were from the payments department - am I right?"

"Yes! Is their network faulty?"

"No, it's more of a protocol problem".

"What, protocol as in TCP/IP and stuff?"

"No, more like protocol as in 'When Simon asks to be reimbursed for some technical manuals, reimburse him straight away'. True, it's mostly undocumented, but around here it's pretty much a defacto standard".

"So what do we do about the errors?"

"Nothing. We mention that it's a network error we haven't seen before that's probably described in a technical manual somewhere, then we implement the 'never-fail network error resolution technique'".

"What's that?"

"We solve all problems with a 'Router Reset'"

"I don't understand ..."

"Simplicity itself!! Someone calls up with a 'networking' problem; you go and power-cycle their router. Then you wander round their department and say that you simply had to do it because the person concerned had an urgent problem that couldn't wait. You'd be amazed at the departmental hostility you can generate in just one week. If you really want to stir things up, do it 10 minutes prior to lunchtime - no-one saves their work before then so applications hang and people lose everything".

"What happens then?"

"We're 'just doing our job', of course! But up in the departments it becomes a demilitarised zone! Things start disappearing, lunches start getting doses of cayenne pepper, then, slowly but surely, the calls stop. If someone has an outage, they won't dare call us, they call the helpdesk."

"And what do they do about the errors?"

"They write out a 'while you were out' message".

"And then?"

"Then they pass them on to us".

"And we ..."


"What do we do for the rest of the time?"

"Monitor how the network is REALLY working, where bottlenecks are occurring, and also plan for upgrades in the next budget round"


"Don't be stupid. You any good at Immortal Kombat?"

"I'm OK.."

"Right, doubles. Winner does the next reset, loser buys the doughnuts".

It's a tough life at the top, but life is what you make it ...

The Bastard meets his match, but keeps a hold ... just ...

Things seem to be working out OK with my pimply-faced-youth trainee, surprisingly enough. He's keen to please, but I'll cure that in a couple of weeks after exposure to some of the more demanding clients ...

Speaking of exposure and clients, one of our more annoying ones resigned recently after some rather personal images were left in the memory of the "loaner" digital camera. It's all very strange too, as the erase function was working perfectly when I 'serviced' the camera a week ago. The incident would've been less severe had the finder of the images not downloaded one into the Windows Start-up Screen of everyone on his floor. The victim claimed in his defence, of course, that the image had been touched up, but consensus of opinion was that it wasn't the image that was getting that treatment. Dirty sod.

PFY is concerned, and obviously needs counselling about it.

"What's the problem?", I ask.

"Well, it's just that I don't understand how the image could have got onto all those PCs".

"I see. I guess someone managed to break into the application server and forced it to upload it to certain desktops".

"But the server is protected by a password and so is the version control program, so how did they get in?"

"Someone must have found out the passwords", I reply, waiting for the inevitable.

"But only you and I know the passwords, and I only found out yesterday".

"Did you write the passwords down?"

"Well yes, but they're locked in my drawer".

I shake my head sadly. "And who has keys to your drawer?", I ask.

"Just you and me".

"And did you do it?"


"Then, by a process of elimination, it must have been me that opened your drawer, read your passwords and logged into the server as you".

"You did it?!"

"Of course. You don't think anyone else in the department could, do you? Hell, the only other person with overriding access is the system manager, and he's so slow he needs a tow-rope!"

"Why did you do it?"

"Because you needed to learn the value of security. I'm sure that piece of knowledge will serve you well in your next job which will probably start sometime after tomorrow".


"No use butting".

"But, I was going to say that surely you're not going to make me tell Uncle Brian this was my fault, are you?"

Warning Bells On!

"Uncle Brian?"

"Uncle Brian, you know, on the 6th floor. The big office with the leather furniture. I'd hate to disagree with your report to the CEO".

UNCLE Brian ... Uncle Brian, the CEO. I should have known that this wasn't a run-of-the-mill shafting. This was big-time.

"Well, perhaps it's best to put it down to some outside hacker", I say, in what I believe to be a kindly manner.

"Or some inside hacker ...".

PFY smiles, looking menacing.

The sneaky bastard! Perhaps he has potential after all!

"... like our Boss", he adds, letting me off the hook entirely.

There but for the grace of god ...

"OK", I say, seizing the opportunity before he can realise the enormous potential of blackmail. "You tell Uncle Brian and I'll slip your keys into the top desk of his drawer".


Ten minutes later we watch on with interest and sugary donuts as yet another boss is escorted from the hallowed halls of hell.

"You realise he was the one that got you this job", I say.

"Yeah, but no point in being sentimental", he replies.

Definite Potential.

"Right, what shall we do now?" he asks, keen to learn.

"Well, I think it's about time we pull the plug on a remote site, then phone them to tell them it's because the labels on their EPROMs have expired and they need to remove them in a well-lit area, like some bright sunshine .".

"Won't that ...?"


"Let's do it".

You can't PAY for a job like this ...

The Bastard won't stand for interference with his printing systems ...

It's a pleasantly cool morning as I lie back in my armchair and plot the next surprise in the users' lives. Well, it's pleasantly cool for me, anyway - due to a tragic error in the air conditioning system, every other room in the building is alternating between temperatures more normally associated with the arctic and the tropics.

Some of the brighter staff tried jamming the stairwell doors open until a fire alarm was strangely triggered there a couple of times in succession, and security arrived to ensure that their smoke-stop capability wasn't being impaired. It's for their own good.

Because of all this activity my room, which is normally very busy at this point in the publicity year, is fairly quiet right now. Amazingly, my pimply-faced trainee has turned out to be a fiend with a scarcely human face. He's managed to 'persuade' the personnel manager to send him on a 'First principles of management' course... in Paris. Not bad for a non-manager and a newcomer - could it have been something to do with the e-mail filter he placed in the human resources department? Tut, tut - all those young secretaries.

I'm thinking that my whole day will pass by peacefully, without being disturbed by pointless queries. Touch wood.

Too late, the phone rings. It's a user.

"Hi, I'm writing this program to poll our printer to see if ...". I hang up.

It rings again: "Hi, I'm writing ...". I hang up.

Once more it rings: "Hi, I ...". I hang up.

The learning curve of these people is so near to horizontal you could play bowls on it, so I leave the phone off the hook. Ten minutes later the geek's knocking on my door. I just have time to replace the phone on the hook before he comes in.

"Hi, I was trying to ring you but your phone must be broken ...".

I point at the "Console of Hell" and shake my head. "It's the console," I say quietly. "It never breaks."

"Oh, well, then it ..."

"Your phone", I continue, "has a life expectancy of three to five years, but this will be here on judgement day. It'll still be taking calls from dumb users, too".

Geek is momentarily stumped. He manages to recollect his thoughts. The phone rings. "See what I mean?", I say, lifting the receiver.

"My PC's crashed again. It does it every time I try to access my network disk", a user sobs dejectedly.

"Ah," I say, flicking up today's excuse on the calendar. "That'll be TRANSIENT NODE DUPLICATION."


"Well, your machine's crashing because it's seeing duplicate files on the network file server and on your machine".

"Oh. What do I do?"

"Well, your best bet is to just login to the file server and do a remove-rename."

"Oh. How?"

"Do an rm -rf. Which means remove minus rename files. Any non-duplicates won't be renamed."

"Oh. OK, thanks".

"That's OK," I hang up. Geek is still here. "I'm writing a program ...", he retries.

"... to poll the printers", I finish.


"MY printers", I state.

"Ah ... yes".


"Well, I thought that I could poll them every second to see what jobs they were printing and how fast their throughput was".


"To see if there are any network bottlenecks ..."

"Like, for example, a bottleneck caused by a printer having to respond to an 'intelligent' poll once every second?"

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that being a problem".

"No, I didn't think you had", I say, changing the stairwell temperature to zero and cranking up the humidity. "But you've been running your program on the system already, haven't you?"

"Well, maybe once or twice".

"No, more like ..." (I count the red dots showing on the print queue monitor) "17 times by my count. You talk to a printer with a poorly parameterised SNMP message, it doesn't answer you, so you go and run it again on a different printer".

"I ... well, I might have done ..."

"Now MY problem is this: who should I choose to pass YOUR problem on to? Maybe my borderline psychotic trainee, who has been taught to hate unnecessary traffic more than he hates re-runs of Emmerdale Farm? Or perhaps to the programmers who hate cowboys more than they hate working when the pub's open? I tell you what, I'll ask them both".

He's made it out of the room and is planning that six-month holiday in Spain before I've even managed to lift the phone off the hook.

I watch the monitor as he rockets to the stairs to make clean his getaway. Sadly, an amount of condensation has built up on the lino floors of the now chilly stairwell and he slips, bumps and rolls down a couple of floors on his way out of the building, knocking down a group of salivating bean-counters hungry to get back to their sums.

As he limps his way out of the building a thought occurs to me: you just can't plan job satisfaction like this. Well, I guess you can really ...

The Bastard gives a helpless salesman a run for his money ...

So I'm sitting in the office when I get a call from a salesman trying to flog me some ATM kit. He got my name from one of those magazine 'free subscription' forms a couple of months ago, which contains information inaccurate by a factor of 10, (except the 'Spending Authority' which I inflated by a factor of 100). A little white lie never hurt anyone and periodically dispels the rumour that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

I mentally switch to junket-mode, and tell him it's the technical manager he wants to speak to and can he hold. Two seconds later he's talking to my party-stopping imitation of one of our better-known technical managers.

"I'd like to come and meet with you to discuss a future-proofed network solution, if that's at all possible", he gushes.

The last thing I want him to do is come to the office and ask around for "the technical manager", so I go for the quick junket.

"Well," I say, "I'm a little tied up with some equipment reviews this week".

He's pausing a little too long for my liking. This probably means he isn't fully committed to crowbarring open the expense account.

I turn up the heat a little.

"Then I've a budgeting meeting next week to earmark spending in the next quarter, so I'll be busy preparing for that as well".

He smells dosh and goes for it.

"Tell you what - how about meeting for lunch - you've got to eat, right? No obligation, I'll just outline our products and I'm sure you'll see the advantages for yourself".

"Well ...", I stall.

"Luigi's, 12 on Thursday?"

"I, ah ...", I burble, playing hard-to-bribe.

"OK, I'll make the reservations", he closes, like a true sales champ.

I get into our electronic meeting planner with the manager's password (his wife's name - I mean, if they're not going to try to be secure ...) and make the entry for Luigi's. I make sure to select 'Hide Appts' option, as three can be a crowd.

Thursday rolls around and I show up at the bar at 11.30am and work my way through 'imported spirits' while the tab's open. By the time the sales guy gets there, I am, as we in the Ethernet trade say, in a promiscuous mode. I will buy anything. Or at least I would if I had any money. Which I don't. However, I do have several of the manager's business cards and a fairly acceptable version of his signature down pat.

The next three hours whirl by as I look through several catalogues of shiny, beta-tested, 'top-of-the-line' hardware, drooling as only a technical manager can, and dropping comments like: "nice lights". By about 3pm I feel it's time for the stress period, so I tell him that there is no networking budget for the year as I spent it all in advance last year.

He starts crying in an attempt to make me feel guilty. I pretend to fold and tell him to order me a truckload of goods which I'll fake as last year's order.

"Will it work?", he sniffs.

"Of course ...", I say. "Now, you go and clean up, you're a little bit of a mess".

He exits for the bathroom, and I quickly check his wallet. There's about 70, so I remove about 40 of it - I don't want to leave him totally broke. While I'm at it, I remove his last payment method by jiggling my trusty permanent magnet around the magstripe on his credit cards, then make my way to the bar to order another drink.

I talk to the barman till the sales guy returns to the table.

"Well", I say. "I have to get back to the office".

He eyes me suspiciously.

"Tell you what", I say. "How about I sign an order form and you can fill it in back at your office?"

A salesman's dream.

Just time to whizz through the manager's signature, pocket the dosh and I'm halfway back to work as the police roar by on their way to Luigi's.

Obviously their treatment of defaulting clients hasn't changed recently. With any luck, it'll just be the one kneecap - unless, of course, the chef's throwing arm is back in ...

The Bastard brings his boss crashing down with a little bribe ...

It's a quiet morning recording calls to the medical officer when I get a call from reception asking where I want some new equipment delivered.

It takes me a couple of seconds to remember the meeting with the salesman in Luigi's and a few more seconds to contemplate the talking necessary to get the ATM guy out of Luigi's when he didn't have any money. Mind you, his two front teeth were gold-capped, so perhaps they worked something out. Or possibly pried something out ...

This probably means that my boss now owns some extremely dodgy hardware that's likely to destroy anything it's placed into.

As I have no idea what's been ordered, I ask them to send it all up to the boss.

"There's quite a lot of it ...", security informs me.

So it was both teeth then ...

"... would take up the whole of the lift, I'd guess".

And perhaps some jewellery ... retrieved post-amputation ...

I tell them to send, then prepare to meet my boss's doom.

Five minutes later the goods lift wheezes up with hundreds of shiny boxes of various sizes.

The boss looks confused. With a budget that would run to a couple of packets of networked crisps, he's a little concerned by the arrival of lots of shiny new kit. Especially as he's the only one with spending authority.

I wait till he gets the invoice with attached order. From his expression he has, as we in the trade say, rapidly downloaded some brownware.

"There must be some mistake!", he burbles, just as a particularly troublesome auditor enters, inventory register in hand.

"This the new stuff?", he asks.

"Apparently so,", I say. "But haven't we run out of money?"

"We have!" the boss bleats.

"Then why", I ask, pointing to 'his' signature, "did you order it?"

"I didn't!" he backpedals, at 28.8bps [backpedals per second].

A crowd has gathered, so I appeal for calm. "And after you turned down the request for better air conditioning too!"

Mumbles of dissent indicate the level of support the boss can expect at this stage. (A large number multiplied by nil.) This hostile audience isn't going to be receptive to denials, especially after the past years' weather extremes.

His razor-sharp vision spots a saving straw: "hey! this order is six months old. I wasn't even here then!", he cries. "Pre-dating orders to escape the Inventory System!", I cry.

Brown-nosing auditor's eyes light up like a Christmas tree as he contemplates the kudos from discovering this fraud.

"But ... I ...", the boss pleads.

I spot a box and wind the heat up a little.

"Hmmm. ATM cards for XT compatibles. How useful".

The dissent grows in volume. The boss gives up all pretence of innocence and tries for a plea bargain.

"We have a lot of legacy equipment!", he gasps.

"The card could run DOS faster!"

He's completely cornered with no escape. I know it, he knows it. The staff know it.

"What on earth is that?", I ask, pointing at the back of the goods lift.

The boss rushes in, hoping to disguise further implication.

"What?", he asks as I catch up.

"Oh nothing, just all this. The auditor, the staff, the useless kit. Everything. It's not good for a career man you know".

"But I ..."

"I mean when your boss finds out about this ..."

With his vocabulary bucket empty, the boss just stands there.

"Unless, of course, it were to all just simply go away ..."

A gleam of hope registers.


"Like a bad dream".


"Well, you give me the invoice then sign this Course Approval Form".

He examines the form:

"But it's a two week course in the States on basic networking. You know all that stuff!"

"Then I'll have lots of time to revise, won't I?"

"But ..."

"Oh. Isn't that a Commodore 64 ATM card?"

"All right, all right!"

He autographs my form and we exit. I put all the kit back into the lift, walk back to my room and give reception a ring.

"Something's wrong with the lift", I say, as I use its service console to wind the acceleration way past the red line.

Popping back to the lift, I see that the auditor is not letting go on this one.

"You think that's bad", I say. "You should see everything at reception!"

The emergency stop goes off with a click as he goes to investigate.

Exactly 23 seconds later the building resounds with the impact of a fully laden goods lift striking the bottom of Basement Two at high speed.

As the ambulance siren approaches, I start looking through travel brochures for good places in the States to do my "revision" and ring corporate insurance about all that top-of-the-line equipment that just got destroyed ...

The Bastard makes sure everyone else feels the heat ...

I'm sitting in my office listening to my personal stereo when a co-'worker' from a few offices along pops into my doorway.

"Mmm?" I say, looking up.

"Ah. Could you wind your stereo down a couple of decibels - I'm trying to get some work done and it's difficult to concentrate."

Without thinking, I reach for my soldering iron and flick it to 'paint-strip'. I pause mid-'scorched earth policy' and reconsider. He's new, he deserves a chance.

"Sorry", I say, seeing what it feels like, while turning the volume from 11 to 2.

He wanders off happily to the astonishment of the others in the department who have already rung personnel to advise them of the vacancy.

The Boss pops in to make sure that I'm really in the office and has a look around. As he exits I notice a hint of a smile on his face.

Five minutes later he's back asking me to help him install the back-up program on his laptop. For some reason, instead of copying the DELETE.EXE file to BACKUP.EXE I actually load the backup software ...

Something's wrong, I'm sure of it now. I call my fiend-like pimply-faced young assistant over and ask him how he is.

He tells me that today he's solved a couple of users' problems and helped repatch an accountant's machine after a move.

Now I'm worried. Something's definitely wrong! He used the 'a' word (rather than bean-counter).

The next day dawns and I start out with a couple of random telephone repatches, but my heart's not in it. By mid-afternoon I've patched them back and apologised for the inconvenience. The boss is still smiling.

I've been careful and not eaten anything, so it's something else. Something insidious. After a long battle with my conscience, I look into the recent purchases authorised by the boss, telling myself I'm doing it to check that all the orders total-up properly.

I find what I think I'm looking for in the form of 10 'ultra-positive' ionisers recently installed into the air conditioning system. I can't yet bring myself to do anything about it, so I stand in the printer room, air-conditioning off and laser printers full-on. Half an hour later I'm almost normal. I break for home to make my plans.

Next morning I rise early and slip into work unnoticed in half-scuba paraphernalia.

First stop, the air conditioning tower on the roof. I locate the offending units and reprogram them repeatedly with a claw hammer.

Next stop, the CEO's office with a similar ioniser of my own design. I hide it away then wander down to the telephone operator's room, divert her line directly to the CEO, then lock-out her console.

Down in the comms room I fashion a trip-wire out of the power cables to the main database applications and network servers. Back in my office, windows open, I await the start of work. Nothing happens till 9:45 when the CEO, after 15 minutes of phone calls and exposure to my positive ion generator, calls the boss. I watch and call him immediately the boss hangs up.


"Yes sir, I know that", I say, all kindness and understanding. "I just noticed that your phone seems to be receiving all the calls for the telephone operator and her console appears to be locked. She's been acting a bit strangely the last couple of days - well, as a matter of fact we all have I suppose. Now I'll pop into the comms ..."

The boss, in panic mode, sweeps through my room and rams the comms door open, ripping the power cables from the servers.

I flip a quick cheesy grin at the boss as he looks in horror at what he's just done.

"Home Team ONE, Your Future Job Prospects, NIL", I call out with my finger on the mute button. "Oh dear", I utter into the unmuted phone. "The boss has just had a little accident ..."

The Bastard won't stand for poseurs in posh cars ...

I'm in the workshop when the boss comes in with a perplexed look on his face. Discarding the thought that he might have found a higher meaning to life than taking the world record for impersonating a paper-weight, I decide to see what's on his mind.

"Is there a problem?" I ask, appearing concerned with his welfare.

"Well ... no. No problem. Just having some trouble with my car as it happens".

"The royal blue monster in the basement? Not starting then?" I prompt.

"No, no, starts well, runs well. Too well in fact. That's the problem".

Knowing what's coming, I prompt yet again. "Too Well?"

"I got another speeding ticket this morning".

"Really? How many's that in total then?"

"Three. But the strange thing is, the car was on Cruise Control and well under the speed limit. Yet when I looked at the speedo later on, I was way over the limit".


"Yes. But the really strange thing is that the radar detector noticed nothing".

"Well, the police do switch bands from time to time to defeat the detectors", I say, trying to ease his curiosity.

"But I've only had it a week! If I didn't know better, I'd swear the car picks the worst time to accelerate. As if cruise control and the radar detector are working in cahoots!"

"Out of the mouths of babes ..." I mutter. "Pardon?"

"I said, the police must be hiding out of the way".


He wanders off contemplating life without a licence while I pop down to the basement and swap my recently created radar peripheral into the pimply-faced-youth's car. He's been getting complacent recently, so it'll do him good to get a small reminder of what life on the edge means.

With that little trick nicely transferred to the next recipient, I head back to the lift. I am suddenly assailed by twin-tone air horns at close proximity. Behind me, a sporty red convertible and owner are impatiently awaiting my progress. The name on the car park plaque is transferred to long-term memory in an instant.

Back in the office, I realise I've been neglecting the education of the PFY and decide to rectify this forthwith. I recount to the PFY the events in the basement concerning the rather too impatient sales manager in the sporty convertible.

"Shall we disconnect his line?" The PFY asks, keenly interested.

"No, no", I reply. "This is a special case calling for a special measure. Grab that book over there".

"The one with the metal covers?"

"That's the one".

He grabs the book, lifts it and falls to the floor. Seconds later he regains consciousness.

"What happened?" he asks in a daze.

"The oldest trick in the book. 'Which book?' you ask ... the Bastard Operator Guide. The Tome of Hell".

"But what happened?"

"When you picked the book up, the microswitch in the basement activated the chunky inverter which supplies a healthy dose of voltage to the covers. You can't be too careful with the Book".


He's not happy, but good education has never been cheap.

"OK", I say. "Grab some rubber gloves and turn to page 43, bottom paragraph".

"This it? About Internet news?" he asks.

"The very one. Now, perhaps you can help me compose the message that our friend will be sending to a large number of sex-based newsgroups. What sort of perversion will he be interested about in hearing from people?"

Five minutes later we have a virtual masterpiece, guaranteed to appeal to a large number of the strangest people on the net.

"Shall I post it now?" the PFY asks.

"Not quite yet. You realise that this is going to generate an enormous amount of e-mail that will flood the server, causing the system administrator, a man with all the discretion of a loud hailer, to investigate?"

"You mean he'll tell?"

"We can't rely on that. Make the return address the head telephonist. It'll be round the building before someone has the guts to tell him!"

"You really are a complete bastard!"

"In the flesh, on the keyboard, and wading through people's personal lives!" I reply, with a measure of pride.

Later that day, I pop down to the basement to watch a figure emerge from the lift and slink to the little red convertible. From the look on his face, the propositions haven't only come from external sources ...

As he rockets off for a long memory-obscuring holiday, I head back to my office to finish the day's labour, pausing but momentarily to drop his sump plug into the rubbish bin ...

The Bastard experiences his very own Black Wednesday ...

It's a fateful Wednesday when I'm called into the boss's office for some important news. Present are a technical manager and the department's personnel manager.

A collection of three like-minded peers one might say - or five, if we were to count the paperweight and rubbish bin, which do more work and provide far more value for money to the company.

"We've, err ... decided not to renew your contract", the boss blurts out after a couple of seconds of tense silence.

The technical manager and personnel manager have suddenly found interesting things to look at on the roof and floor. Meantime the boss, by the looks of it, is making an attempt at the world mass-sweating award. He's expecting the worst, so I let him have it.

"Okay", I say quietly. "I leave four weeks from tomorrow, I believe".

"Ah, well, we've decided to pay you off for the last four weeks of your contract", the boss fawns.

"In fact, you can leave right now if you like. Actually", he blurts, "we'd prefer it".

"Sure", I say. "I'll just get my things and be off then".

"Ah, we've had security do that just now", the boss says, waiting for the eruption. "There's a box outside".

"Okay then, I'll see you around", I say, step outside and grab my belongings.

In the lift on the way down the pimply-faced-youth is astounded.

"What are you going to do?", he asks, shocked.

"Me? Take a holiday, read some books, no plans really".

"No, I mean about being let go".

"Oh that! Nothing really. I'm sure you'll cope without me".

A grin slips across his face as he contemplates the future.

"I'll see what I can do ..."

Three days later the phone rings. It's the boss.

"Ah, just ringing to see if you could take your contract back", he grovels.

"Why, surely my trainee's doing well?"

"Ah no, not really".

"Strange, I taught him everything I know", I reply, keeping the ball rolling.

"Yes, that's what we were afraid of".


"I don't know. He just keeps making mistakes. At least he says they're mistakes".

"What sort of mistakes?"

"All sorts! The other day he 'repaired' an 'unusual' temperature control setting on a probe in the boardroom and boiled the CEO's tropical fish in their tank; his 'Lift Maintenance' had myself and one of the managers riding between floors three and four over the lunch hour; the share-price monitor only picks up Dutch porn channels; the security doors keep locking people out of the toilets - except on one occasion when it locked a particularly nervous secretary in - and one of the board member's hearing aids fedback so badly when he went near the sixth floor comms room he was clinically deaf for four days afterwards!"

"Well networking is a touchy business and he is still learning I guess".

"Yes, yes, but can you come back and fix things? The network server passwords expire every day and the minimum password length increases with it. By the end of the week it'll be 15 letters, and you know what the big boss will say about typing his initials five times".

"Well, I don't know ...", I say, holding out for the inevitable.

"An extra 5,000 a year?"


"Okay, ten!"

"And I never did like that personal liability clause".


"True, but it gets to you after a while ..."

"All right, all right, it's a deal. When can you start?"

A day later the status quo is restored. The PFY gives me a quick run-down on what happened in my absence. Apparently the turning point was after an accident on the mezzanine escalator involving the boss's wife, his surprise birthday cake, the CEO's suit and a sudden change of escalator speed. An extraordinary coincidence ...

The phone rings and, as I'm in such a good mood, I pick it up.

"Is that the networks guy?" a voice asks.

"Yes ..."

"I've got a problem with this new machine and the network".

"A pentium?" I guess randomly.


"Uh-huh. The manufacturer faxed us about an electrostatic build-up problem".


"To fix it, just slide the lid open ..."

"Okey dokey".

"Pull the network card out ..."


"... and put tin foil along the edge connector to ground static charges".

"Oh. Okay".

"Now plug the card in and switch her on".

"Okay. I'm switching it".



It's funny how you always miss the good times ...

The Bastard and partner take revenge for stolen comms space ...

"There he goes ..." the Pimply-Faced-Youth mutters as the department's latest programmer sneaks out of his room and goes off home. The poor guy's got a persecution complex which has absolutely nothing to do with his office being constructed from an area stolen from the comms room by the bosses.

Sadly, I didn't get to the plans before they left the drafting machine, but the PFY did manage to 'recalibrate' the builders levels and cable detectors. Funny how the walls seem to lean inwards and every time the air conditioner comes on the door handle heats up.

In the spirit of re-use, the boss had trolled all the offices for unused furniture prior to the programmer's arrival. From us he scored the drawers of death. Previously used to hold the bean-counter back-ups, the drawers of death look like an ordinary set of drawers, and even behave like an ordinary set of drawers. Until they're closed.

That triggers a five second hummm. Moments later, the programmer finds all his work for the day has been mysteriously wiped out; amazing how small you can make a bulk eraser ...

The remote control on his gas-operated chair was the PFY's idea. The chair plummets to the bottom of its movement at irregular intervals, and the poor guy has since developed a bit of a limp. Probably a lumbar problem.

The boss realises something's happening - as he should, considering he masterminded the room seizure. I'm sure he thinks of that every time he changes the bandage on that nasty doorknob shaped burn on the palm of his hand ...

After a heart to heart session the programmer had with the boss, that the PFY and I accidentally overheard because of the microphone pickup inadvertently cabled onto the redundant UTP connection, the programmer asks us to stop by, obviously believing the scandalous mistruths passed to him by a soon-to-be ex-boss ...

"I hear you're responsible for all this", he says.

"For?" I ask innocently.

"These annoyances! And I want them stopped. I'm working on an important project and I will not tolerate interference".

I'm not a hardline fan, and by the looks of it neither is the PFY.

"Do you know how much I get paid?" he continues.

"Not a clue", I lie, so that I don't have to pretend not to be annoyed that he's earning more than the PFY and I put together.

"But I'll tell you what - you share your good fortune with us and we'll see what we can do. A couple of hundred quid a week, each. Call it Comms Room Rental",


Meeting at a close, the PFY and I wander off. Two days later, following a minor first caused by some faulty wiring on his desk lamp (I blame cheap imports), we're invited back.

A generous donation to the Operators' Christmas fund later, we return to our office.

Sometime later, the programmer again asks me and the PFY to stop by his office. He has that smug look that can only mean some form of trouble is brewing.

"I'd, ah, like my money back please", he says, striving to appear nonchalant.

"Sorry", I counter, just as calmly. "It's been invested in operational expenses."

"Well, perhaps you can uninvest it. Unless of course you wish this to appear on the CEO's desk".

He clicks on an icon on his screen and a recording, obviously made by his laptop's vidcam attachment, pops up on the screen. A recording of our last encounter, sound and all.

He smiles.

I smile back. And nod to the PFY.

One standard issue, trip-on-the-floor-mat later, the programmer's machine lays in ruins on the floor, with a large heel mark decorating the hard drive.

"Woopsy", the PFY gasps. "Must have low blood sugar or something".

"A good attempt", he sneers. "But not good enough. I have back-up tapes".

"I see. Aren't you a little concerned that I'll get to the tapes somehow?" I inquire, trying to sniff out their location.

He chuckles.

"Not in the slightest. Not when they're safely locked away".


A five-second hum and chuckle later the PFY and I are heading back to our office to resume normal life.

"Shall I crank up the voltage on the doorknob?" the PFY asks.

"All the way! Oh, and that desk lamp looks a little dim while you're at it ..."

With initiative like that, he's bound to go places ...

The Bastard verges on the edge of insanity but the PFY steps in ...

It's a quiet day in my office when the boss trundles in with a bundle of official looking papers, which can only mean one thing - he's trying to get rid of me again. A great personal tragedy is about to occur. To him.

"Simon, glad I caught you!"

Considering it's 2.30pm on pay day and a mass of expensive hardware that would fit rather well into my briefcase has just gone missing, his surprise and gladness are faked.

He's trying to cover up an ulterior motive.

"I've just had a directive from the top about staff appraisals. The Big, Big Boss wants us all to go through personal interviews this year prior to any increases ..."

Dangling the 'increase' carrot has been used before, and usually precedes an attempt at a monumental shafting. However, a raise is a raise, so I just nod.

The boss takes strength from getting this far and continues.

"Yours, if it's OK, is tomorrow at 10am. Could you make that?" he says, all sugar and spice.

"Of course I could", I reply, smiling with Bambi-like innocence.

The boss thanks me and wanders off, barely suppressing a smug grin. Yep, it's a shafting all right ...

Next morning dawns and I'm in at 9am for a change, watching the entranceway.

Time ticks by and it gets to 9.48 when my suspicions are proved. A pale, emaciated figure, sporting a thoughtful beard, glasses and medical issue white-collar shirt with non-threatening tie, wanders in.

A plain-clothes psychologist if I am not very much mistaken.

I get the PFY over for a quick gander. He nods. Not a word is spoken as he logs into the various control systems, shaking his head.

At the interview, it's the usual psych-type thing, Ink Blots, stories about childhood, recent dreams, and so on.

I decide to go for the high score, and find lots of witches and murderesses in the ink blots, 'remember' some disturbing incidents from my childhood, and tell him that all my recent dreams involve axes and guns and things.

An hour later, he's appearing calm and smiling a lot, but his eyes never leave me for a second.

I smile back.

"Coffee?" I ask.

Afraid to refuse, he nods.

Barely a minute later the PFY brings some coffee in and raises an eyebrow to see how it's going. I keep smiling to maintain my power base.

A couple of security guys pop in mid-coffee and I realise it's the full 101 per cent shafting and they're not only trying to lose me, they're trying to have me committed at the same time - probably to secure the PFY's loyalty in my absence...

It looks like speech time, by the expression on psych-guy's face.

"Simon, I find you to be what we clinically refer to as a sociopath. You have some deep-set adjustment problems that I, as a government appointed health counsellor ..."

Government? The Bastards!

"... am duty-bound to relate to the proper authority, as I feel you may pose a danger to yourself and to others".

He's quick isn't he?

He's also starting to look a bit uncomfortable, which is not surprising considering the strength of the laxative that the PFY put in his drink, but there you go.

Losing his great mental struggle to stay and see this out, he breaks for the toilets, only, if I'm not mistaken, to find them locked.

Strange that, the only key that locks them is the building master, and that's kept in the security's hi-tech safe (three turns to 37, two turns to 12, one turn to 45) which no-one has the combination to.

While he's hitting the stairwell at a run, the boss comes in and grabs my psychiatric evaluation with an evil grin. He wanders back with me to the office to gloat, but I'm too busy watching the closed-circuit TV screen over his shoulder to pay much attention. Psych-guy makes for the quickest source of toileting in a building like ours - the floor below.

It too is strangely locked ....

The door on the floor below that, which doesn't have a lock, is blocked by eight large boxes containing 28-inch boardroom-style video monitors which weigh about a ton each and require a trolley to move ...

He knows he's not going to make it back up the stairs in time, but then he notices a shining beacon presenting itself to him in the form of a rubbish bin at the cafeteria freight entrance.

His relief is immense, but not shared by the cafeteria storesperson who emerges at a bad time, nor by the boss when my moral obligation prompts me to point out the CCTV screen to him.

"Ahem. So good to have a profile of your employees done by a fellow of such discretion and taste", I chirp, as I nudge my profile from his hands into the bin that it can now call home.

The Bastard sings tunes to melt his boss's ears ...

The boss has become a liability. Sad, but true. Still, it's all part of the Pimply-Faced-Youth's training, so it has to be done.

He knows something is up, and is trying to ingratiate himself with me by asking for technical advice all the time and thanking me profusely for it. In other words, sucking up.

On the ingratiation scales, it's right up there with hitting an alligator's snout with a stick to make it friendlier. If I'd wanted work, I'd have left the phone on the hook in the first place.

The final snout-rap came when he brought his home stereo in for some installation advice. I don't know why, but he seems to believe that simply because I do some work at the nuts and bolts end of the computing spectrum, I'm bound to know about everything from the rating of the third fuse to how to program a Beta video to get Coronation Street in the least amount of tape.

I give it a quick once-over to see what's wrong with it, noticing almost immediately that the tape IN and OUT leads were the wrong way round.

"So what's the problem?" I ask.

"It's the tape," he whines. "It stopped working after we moved the stereo into the drawing room. If you turn the volume all the way up, you can just hear the sound of the tape".

"Hmm", I murmur thoughtfully. "We'll probably need the speakers to get the complete picture".

"I'll get them at lunchtime", he enthuses.

Three hours later we have the little beauties on the desk. I jam the overload cutouts closed while the PFY puts the bags of isopropyl alcohol and ignition circuits into them. Half an hour later we have a masterpiece and sneak off into hiding, priming the halon system before we go.

Fifteen minutes after that we're playing poker in the storeroom when we hear the first strains of a Neil Diamond number thumping. I look to the PFY.

"The loudness switch should do it", he murmurs, taking his electrical apprenticeship quite seriously.

Scant seconds later there is a >Crump!< from the control room as Neil fires up not only a guitar solo, but also a very expensive pair of speakers.

The PFY and I can hear the beeping of the Halon warning, which means that the boss has to make a decision - save the speakers and be suffocated, or watch them burn and live.

The silencing on the warning tells us that the boss has subscribed to the motto "Choose Life".

We give him a couple of minutes of respectful silence then grab some equipment and wander back, pausing only to knock over a huge box of thinwire terminator.

"Woopsy," the PFY mutters. "We'd better pick those up ... later".

By the time we locate him, the boss is sobbing into an oxygen mask in the sick bay as he recounts the horror of it all.

"It just caught fire", he bleats, "and then those job sheets caught light, then those folders, then the wooden door wedges stacked on top of them like kindling, then ..."

A thought crosses his mind, watches for traffic, and seeing none, crosses back. He stares at us both.

"You bastard!" he utters in a state of shock.

The PFY and I exchange shocked glances.

"We were in the store!" I cry, lamb-like innocence.

Tossing the mask aside, he makes a break to verify this.

And that's not the only break of the day. An arm and a clavicle follow in short order as he rockets across the floor on terminator rollers into the poorly loaded paper shelves, which promptly fall on him.

Nasty. We tell the officer that when he comes to investigate. (The boss's new corporate policy requires all incidents to be reported to the police.) Fitting that he should be a test (and basket) case. The officer sadly takes down the details, then goes to get a statement from the boss. Two hours later he discards the pages of notes in favour of a "Workplace Accident" verdict and leaves with an expensive speakerless stereo that we had no need for. On the way out he pauses.

"You're a computing guy?" the Cop asks me.

"Yep", I reply, nodding.

"You know anything about Beta videos? My wife likes ..."

Hanging's too good for 'em ...

The Bastard counts on the fact that managers never remember ...

It's quarterly budget time again and I'm trying to convince the managers that we should upgrade the thin wire Ethernet in one of our remote offices. An hour into the meeting the conversation goes something like ...

Manager 1: "So basically you're saying that 10 million of these 'bit' things EVERY SECOND isn't fast enough?"

Me: "No, not really."

Manager 2: "He's right you know, I've been to that office, the network speed is abysmal!"

Manager 1: "It just doesn't seem possible! Hell, I can't even manage TEN bits of stuff a second."

Me: "That doesn't surprise me."

Manager: "Pardon?"

Me: "I said the numbers really surprise me. Too, I mean..."

Manager 1: "Oh."

Me: "You see, when my predecessor put that net in, he did it on the cheap. All the devices were connected to the same piece of net. It's like everyone using the same road to get to work."

Manager 1: "But we paid a PREMIUM for that network!"

Me: "Four years ago. Cabling was more expensive then. And...."

Manager 1: "And?"

Me: "And the original spec was for individual segments."

Manager 1: "So?"

Me: "Well basically, everyone was supposed to have their own network 'road'."

Manager 2: "What happened?"

Me: "Well, it was probably a combination of financial and distribution considerations."

Manager 2: "Meaning?"

Me: "He daisy-chained one segment through all of the offices, sold the remaining cable off, and charged you through the nose for labour."

Manager 1: "Really?"

Me: "Yes, it happens with the less reputable network engineers."

Manager 1: "I find this all extremely hard to believe. There must be some mistake. He assured me that it had been done."

Me: "Ah, he probably assured you that YOU had been done."

Manager 1: "No! I'm sure he wouldn't have taken advantage!"

Me: "I see. Tell me, what money was he earning back then?"

Manager 1: "Seven fifty an hour."

Me: "And the car he drove?"

Manager 1: "Mercedes convertible."

Me: "And how did he dress?"

Manager 1: "Nicely - Italian suits."

Me: "Are things becoming a little clearer?"

Manager 1: "You mean to say..."

Me: "I do."

Manager 1: "He..."

Me: "He did."

Manager 2: "How bad IS this?"

Me: "At the time it wasn't bad, but with all client server upgrades, staff are wasting valuable time waiting for networks."

Manager 3: "What should we do then?"

Me: "Well, as you see in front of you, I'm recommending UTP to the desktop, Cat 5 so that we can upgrade to ATM when it becomes a more widespread and viable technology. This will save you the expense of having to recable in a couple of years."

I pause in my delivery to let their minds recover from acronym overload.

Manager 1: "How much will it cost?"

Me: "Well, it won't be cheap. However if you look at the cost over five years, it's fairly small, if, of course, you accept that the cabling will be done out of hours by me and my pimply faced youthful assistant at the standard double-time overtime rate. We could get a contractor in, but as you can see on the paper in front of you, it would be about three times as expensive and only slightly quicker that way. And, given that we will have laid the cable and are likely to know more about it if problems occur in the future..."

Manager 2: "We get your point. Well, it seems that you've covered all aspects of the problem, I for one agree. Everyone else concur?"

Two weeks later, the PFY wanders out to the site and starts the job.

"So we change the existing UTP patch cables to a new colour, drop some Cat 5 off-cuts on the floor and kick a hole in the plasterboard every few offices or so?" he asks.

"Yup! For a week or two."

"Won't someone find out?"

"Well, they WOULD if there was any documentation saying that there was Cat-5 to the desktop here already, but unfortunately that information accidentally fell in the shredder this morning," I reply.

"So we really ARE just changing the patch cables to a new colour?"


"How's that going to improve performance?"

"It's not. But switching off the traffic generator in the 2nd floor comms cupboard which has been increasing its traffic by one per cent a week since the beginning of the year will."

"So we're just screwing them for lots of labour."

"And those drums of premium Cat-5 which have excellent re-sale value."

"You bastard!"

"Hey! I was this close to charging them for new network cards too, but I relented."

"So that stuff about your predecessor was all lies?"

"No. He did all that, just to some of the other offices..."

The Bastard senses something fishy and casts his net ...

Something's a little fishy in the department. I recognise the signs when I reach my floor - the air of restrained anticipation.

First stop, my internal mail slot - bombshells usually get placed there by the boss prior to him scuttling to the relative safety of his office. Naivety knows no bounds.

Sure enough, there's a bombshell measuring on the red-tape Richter scale.

In an effort to standardise a coherent future direction, the bosses have decided to appoint a 'Director of Future Planning'. Couldn't be fishier if it came with tartare sauce.

Sure enough Jeremy, the appointee, has all the initiative and forward thinking of wheel-clamps, and was recently responsible for purchasing 10 multi-mode analogue recording devices for a bargain price of 6,000 quid. The most expensive box of pencils in the history of the company ...

Unless I'm very much mistaken this is yet another salvo in the 'bean counters versus techies' war. I read further and discover that all purchases have to be approved by the DFP to ensure that they conform to the direction the company has chosen for its future ...

I get two weeks' respite before the you-know-what hits the fan with a knock at my door. Jeremy enters.

"Ah, Simon, just a couple of points," he says. "This wireless LAN stuff. You realise that we're not equipped to deal with this just yet?"

"In what way?" I ask. "Not having several open-plan work areas that are hell to cable - you know, like the WP pool, the PR offices - or not having a single free AUI connector unless we unplug the unused terminal servers?"

"Oh. Ah. Well, no, not that exactly, it's just that according to my calculations ..."

He bashes a couple of figures into his personal organiser, an item that appears to have been distributed far and wide amongst the upper echelons, a move no-doubt designed to cover up for the stupidity of a prior purchase.

"... we would be spending almost 300 quid per multi-peater more than we need to if we buy from our current supplier."

"Ah. Our current supplier of ... analogue recording devices?" I ask.

He pretends to ignore me. "No, our current supplier of personal organisers. And we have the added bonus of being able to transmit and receive information from the organisers through them which is not available on any other equipment."

He toddles off leaving me feeling that the outcome was: "Future Planning, 1, Simon, nil", so quick as I can, I bash out a memo about the potential security implications of uploads and downloads taking place from these devices. There's a rumour of a takeover flying about and the last thing we want is sensitive data being intercepted.

My warnings fall on deaf ears, the marketing has already been done in secret and accepted as gospel. Not good.

The kit duly arrives and I reluctantly install it. However, the manual is most instructive on the upload and download features, and to remain an interested party, I read it ...

A week later I'm listening to a boardroom conversation, as is my wont. It really was an amazing coincidence that a couple of highly sensitive microphones ended up being placed near the panel when the room was recabled recently.

"Well, quite frankly, I'm tired of it all," a manager whines.

"Why?" Jeremy asks, a little stress registering on my accompanying voice analysis software.

"The bloody thing keeps turning itself on in the middle of the night and ringing an alert for my wife's birthday, which was three weeks ago. I can't put it in the lounge because it switches my TV on now it's learnt the controls like you suggested. And, if that's not bad enough, it keeps switching the bloody thing off just before Inspector Morse finds out who the killer is!"

"Mine does that too," another boss adds.

"Mine added one to the street numbers of all my addresses," yet another voice announces.

"You think that's bad," another sniffles, "mine rang an alarm and displayed 'Dinner with Trudi' with three stars by her name one night when my wife was using it. I don't even know a Trudi!! But I've got plenty of time to find one now!"

"These are obviously teething problems," my ex-nemesis oozes.

"I'm sure it's just some redundant information"

I tap away at my keyboard and a chime is heard from the boardroom.

"Good Lord!" a voice exclaims. "Mines just told me to ring the doctor about the HIV results!!"

"I think we've heard enough," the CEO interrupts.

"Until further notice, we're withdrawing these devices from use. Thank you gentlemen. Jeremy - a word."

I listen on while Jeremy is promoted to another position of responsibility - head window cleaner. Only, we have contractors to do that ...

A pity really. Still, it doesn't pay to dwell.

The Bastard sets about averting a company takeover bid ...

I'm barely into work when the boss and CEO crash the door, looking worried.

"We're in trouble," the boss says.

"We're being taken over," the CEO interrupts, slipping past the boss.

"Why tell me?" I enquire, innocence oozing.

"Because you have a way of 'fixing' things ..." the boss hints.

"Routers?" I respond, all innocence.

"No. You know what I mean!"

"Networks!" I cry, happily.

The CEO starts getting agitated so I put him out of our collective misery.

"OK, who is it?"

He spits out the name of our hated rival. Later, behind closed doors, the PFY and I form a plan, then invite the boss et al back again.

"Step One: Fire the PFY!"

"How? Why?" the boss blurts.

"Embezzling something."

"If that were grounds for dismissal, you would've been ..."

A stony gaze at the boss silences him and I continue.

"Step Two: I have lunch with one of their network guys and on the way out I drop (in front of their security cameras), and then quickly hide in a suspicious manner, a data tape with their company logo on the front.

Step Three: The PFY, invaluable in the future plans of our takeover because of his intimate knowledge of the way we work, steps into a recently vacated network guy position."

"Sounds good," the boss chirps.

Three days later we're set. I'm making our company look an unattractive investment by falsifying memos about future criminal liability from defects in the furniture production line, then leaking them to the press.

Of course, no pressman worth his salt substitute would believe the memos without proof (being men of integrity), so I sacrifice a couple of bean-counter limbs for the purpose of, "Stress Testing Production Line Furniture," ("the cause") and make sure the papers are on hand to see the ambulance being loaded.

Meantime the PFY is stepping through the entire first three chapters of the Bastard Manual, wrecking havoc all round. The oxy-acetylene in the halon cannister was a nice touch, and took out half a warehouse before they realised what had happened and switched the automatic extinguishers off. A simple typo on a refill form can make such a difference ...

His technical advice appears to be second to none judging by the continual arrival of replacement equipment and deskside fire extinguishers.

Meantime their Fire Alarms have been used more in last three days than in the previous two years and the route to and from the Fire Station has a 24-hour parking ban.

I tried calling him but due to a wiring maintenance mix-up people are too scared to answer the phones. Must be the stigma attached to electrical burns. Page 73 if memory serves me correct.

I'm continuing as normal, repatching a repeater when the boss comes to see me.

"It's about these accidents," he says.

"What accidents?" I ask

"You know what accidents. They have to stop. Why is the equipment being sent to the accounts department for testing anyway? We've got a perfectly capable testing team."

"Yeah, but they're all good sorts," I reply.

"What?! Well, I don't care, it has to stop! There are only three accountants left!"

"No ..." looking at my watch, "... there's ..."

A thud and a muffled scream from the floor above punctuate my sentence.

"... Two. I'm guessing the wardrobe and drawer unit he was looking at did not pass the 'heavy weight placed in an elevated position' test.

Speaking of heavy weights, you haven't seen the large box of full-height hard drives normally in my office have you?"

He trundles off without a word to rest in his office ...

I get to my office and the phone is ringing. One of our equipment suppliers wants a site visit with a prospective customer. What the hell, it'll kill time till the real action starts...

The phone rings and as I'm in time-kill mode, I answer it.

"My phone's broken!"

"Then how are you calling me?" I ask.

"I'm using another phone, stupid."


"I see," I whisper, "and what was your number?"

He tells me. I look it up.

"Ah, Mr 0898"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Are you sure? I have several VERY PROGRESSIVE tapes here for you to listen to if you'd like."

"Err ... that won't be necessary."

"Are you sure?" "Yes, forget I called."

"Well I'd like to forget you called, but the only thing that makes me forget is a couple of bottles of single malt scotch. The good stuff, not that cheap crap they serve up at the bar ..."

"I'll drop them off shortly."

Ten minutes later the transaction is completed and I end the day by playing one of the tapes into his home answerphone. It was for the best, those calls were just a cry for help ...

The Bastard meets an unexpected guest - the opposition's BOFH ...

It's a calm morning network-wise when I arrive at the office to prepare for a site visit and to continue defending my company's recent bad name and business from the potential takeover.

I realise once more why I discourage site visits normally. Their only purpose is to pretend to a customer that the stuff really does work like it says in the brochure by finding a site that's worked out where the manual went wrong and fixed it.

If it wasn't for the free lunch and the chance to blackmail a good price for our next order, they'd never make the front door.

The visit should follow typical form: supplier lies to customer; I extort goods to support this flagrant misinformation; a walk-around tour; a free lunch, and promises from me to help out if they have any future difficulties.

In other words, a day that would turn Pinnochio into a kindling machine.

As 10am rolls around, I get a call from the front desk about my visitors.

A quick look at the CCTV shows me everything is as expected; our supplier with his customer. Except for one small thing; the visitor is none other than the head network guy of our rival company. Something smells a little rotten, and it's not the Danish cheese in the staff cafeteria.

I slip downstairs with the boss wondering exactly what the purpose of this visit is. Some show of strength probably, but what form this will take is unknown. Obviously a lapse in reporting on the part of the Pimply-Faced-Youth which I'll rectify with a cattle-prod at our next meeting.

The technical competence of my rival is identified when I notice his rubber-soled isolator shoes. The electric doorknob was a waste of time ...

... but then again, perhaps not, as the supplier gives himself a belt he won't remember in a hurry, along with his name and who he works for.

The opposition immediately identifies himself as a network professional by perusing the bosses swipe card PIN number, 'accidentally' shutting the bosses hand in a door - twice - then snaffling the access card while the boss is busy blubbing. Smooth - 11 seconds in total.

He flexes some more muscle by popping a couple of earth leakage detectors as he passes by some equipment. The old high-powered-transmitter-inducing-current-in-the-leakage-wire trick.

His attempts at conquering the comms room in the same manner fail dismally, though. I operate under the assumption that anyone who should be playing with electricity knows the dangers and wouldn't need safeguards anyway...

It's the price you pay for being good. And who'd lose a whole network just to save the mind of someone who's playing with something they shouldn't?

Getting to the point, my counterpart speaks in crypted 'NetSpeak'.

"What's that unit like?" he asks, gesturing at the supplier.

"A little 2400. No actually, this one's probably 300 synchronous. On a good day."

"Yeah, it was transmitting nulls earlier".

"Nothing a repeated Control-Alt-Delete wouldn't solve."

The boss returns in bandages for the free lunch. And over lunch, my counterpart and I talk turkey.

"I favour the previous configuration," my rival states.

"Yeah, a bit too much SNMP at the moment, but that's always been the case."

"Yeah, me too. So ... a reinstall of the original specs..."

Two weeks later the takeover threat is but a memory. I have a brand new Bean Counter department in the sights and am raring to go. Some of the upper middle management who favoured a protracted takeover as grounds for a pay rise took early retirement - the 40s are such a difficult time of life, especially when you find a photo of yourself in women's underwear (in the confines of a very progressive Soho club) in the top drawer of your desk.

I get a call from my counterpart on the secure line.

"All clear?" he asks.

"Yep. You?"

"Not a worry. Had to let your PFY go, you know how it is. A real pity."

"Not to worry, he's back at his desk, playing with the temperature of the fridge which is storing tomorrow's chicken lunches. I'll probably eat out..."

The world is full of networking victories - this has been one of them.

A brief Bastard Net Speak glossary ...
* 2400 - 2400 baud. 
* Slow300 synchronous - so slow he needs a tow-rope.
* Previous Configuration - the way things were.
* SNMP - stupidity of non-technical manager's proposals.
* Transmitting Nulls - talking bollocks.
* Repeated Control-Alt-Delete - lots of boots - a good kicking.

The Bastard involves himself with the CEO's pet project ...

The PFY and I are having a quick chuckle when the Boss is passing, so he stops in - probably to see who he should send the condolence card to.

"Is there something funny?"

"No, no, not really. It's this memo. For a minute there I thought it was a real one where you were asking for the root passwords of our machines."

"I did" he says straight-faced.

"Stop, you're killing me", I chuckle. "Why would YOU want the root password?"

"Why is irrelevant. Just do it", he snaps.

"You realise it's insecure?"

"I'll lock it in my personal document safe".

"You mean three turns clockwise to 37 ...", I say.

"... two turns back to 18 ...", the PFY chips in.

"... then back to 43", the cleaner finishes.

"Then scream in frustration and get your secretary to open it for you".

The boss does his impersonation of a stunned mullet then continues.

"Alright, I'll put a new safe in - and I WILL have those passwords", he says as he storms off.

That night we do some sneaky miniature CCTV installation in his office ...

The next day the floors groan as a huge grey monster is delivered to his offices. The boss himself supervises its placement.

"We can't see a thing", the PFY moans as the hidden camera gives us a view of the top of the boss's head.

"Not from that camera", I reply, "but from this one ..." >click< "... a full frontal!"

Sure enough, the boss's lamp-cam reveals all.

"So why did we put the camera in?", the PFY asks, perplexed.

"A decoy. The boss was bound to check the room after last time, so I wanted him to find that particular camera".


"Well, if you look carefully at his room, there's only one plausible place he could put the safe out of the camera's eye whilst maintaining the illusion that he knows nothing".

"Sneaky ..."

"Doubly sneaky", I add with a hint of mystery.

Pretending to fold, we give the boss the passwords, then the next day when he's checked they're legit, change them to something else. Raising the stakes, we deal ourselves into the CEO's pet video-conferencing project downstairs so the boss can't "call us urgently away" when he finds out ...

"How are things going?", the CEO asks benevolently.

"Great sir", the PFY gushes.

"We should be ready to go tomorrow", I add as I cable up the cameras to the video multiplexing unit - the device that cost a quarter of MY budget for the year - that the boss recommended after the salesman took him on a two day bender ending up in his arrest at a pub in Brighton for showing some women his rendition of Trafalgar Square's tallest monument ...

Bad thoughts aside, I run some diagnostic images through the machine and show the CEO how the pictures will look to our overseas offices.

"The images will be displayed across the screen like this," I say, "one for each person present. Sitting on a chair activates the camera".

"And this will all work straight off?" the CEO asks, barely suppressing his excitement at being on corporate TV.

"There might be a few teething problems, but I'm sure that my trainee and I will be able to go to there and sort them out. Most should go smoothly except perhaps for the Rome and Florida offices, which may have solar interference during the summer".

The CEO might smell a junket, but he's not going to risk delaying his baby. "Of course, I'll see to it that your Divisional Head is aware".

An hour later we're in the boss's office as he seethes with impotent fury.

"Oh! Did we forget to tell you about the password change? And the Video Conferencing? Take a note of that for the future", I mention to the PFY.

The boss seethes some more.

Three hours later we're knocking back a few lagers as we draw straws for vacations. I mean assignments.

Two hours after that, we're in the off-license purchasing two cases of gin which we slip into the grey monster later under the cover of darkness.

"What did we do that for?", the PFY asks.

I say nothing but jump in the air, landing heavily on the floor. A creak from the floorboards enlightens the PFY, and he joins me. Seconds later a sound not unlike a heavy safe falling through a floor greets our ears.

The next morning as we watch the boss pack up his things the PFY muses about the fickleness of life. "You know, he might've got away with it if the safe hadn't landed on the video multiplexer ..."

"Yeah," I reply, "what a terrible coincidence. It was probably the password book that broke the camel's back ..."

The Bastard finds there are 'mistakes in training' and 'training in mistakes' ...

I'm doing some important network response testing with the PFY when the phone rings. It's the PFY's line and it's never rung before, so he celebrates by unplugging it from the wall. While his attention is otherwise engaged, I shoot him a couple of times in the back.

Networked DOOM II is an excellent breeding ground for the Machiavelli in us all.

"That was the boss," I mention, easing the tension in the room somewhat.

"Contract Renegotiation Time," he says and trundles off to the boss's office. Five minutes later he's back with a not-too-happy expression on his face.


"He doesn't believe that I've the experience to warrant an increase in my hourly rate." This, I don't like - if it can happen to him it can happen to me, and I have an irrational fear of anything that looks like the thin end of a wedge.

I'm on the phone to personnel in a flash. "What do we have to do to prove that my assistant deserves a raise?"

"Typically there's a meeting with the head of personnel, an independent expert and the candidate himself. The idea is that the candidate's networking knowledge is put to some form of test."

I arrange the test for the next day and instruct the PFY to do his homework...

The next day dawns and at 10am everyone shows up for the main event. Except for the independent expert, that is. However, he's unlikely to be heard of for another couple of hours... providing the lift maintenance contractor is as slow as usual.

I offer my services as an independent expert.

"OK, a couple of questions," I say. "Shoot," the PFY responds.

"What criteria do you use when determining whether to remove a user's files?"

"How much sleep I had the night before?"

"Fair enough. When pushing a user's machine off a desk, what should you ensure?"

"That their keyboard is below."

"Half marks. Keyboard and a valued personal possession."

"Of course."

"When should overtime be scheduled?"

"When circumstances make an operation hazardous during normal hours."

"More information?"

"When I'm in a bad mood because I've run out of money that month."

"Correct. A colleague asks for your advice purchasing a machine for their private business. What do you recommend, Macintosh or PC?"

"Neither. I'd recommend the Commodore 64 with twin tape drives that I use as a doorstop - priced at 600 quid."

"And when it failed?"

"It wouldn't."

"More information?"

"It's rigged up to catch fire when it's plugged in. I'd claim he plugged it in wrong."

"Excellent. Phones are running hot with complaints that sessions on the 4th floor NT server are being lost randomly. What is the problem most likely to be?"

"The problem, as I see it, is that the phone is on the hook."


Half an hour later ...

"Well I'm convinced - he has learnt a great deal."

"And I am unconvinced!" the head of personnel cries. "This trainee was brought in to address the problems of poor service and lack of accountability that were prevalent in your reign of terror. Instead of doing that you've twisted him into a nastier version of yourself!"

"Yes, good isn't he?" I comment.

"NO! And if you think, even for a moment, that I'm going to OK this .. this TRAVESTY of skills evaluation, you are sorely mistaken. He STAYS on our trainee contracting pay-scale."

It's true, there is a tool for every job. Yet it still amazes me how many 'jobs' benefit from a little tweak with the 'blackmail' tool.

"Fair enough," I say. "You're probably right. After all, he is a beginner at this sort of thing and as a trainee I suppose you could pay him less as a result of the mistakes he's bound to make. You know the sort of mistakes I mean - like e-mailing personnel's international phone logs to the CEO instead of the head of personnel. How is your daughter Sir - still working in the Cayman Islands?"

"Ah. Well, on second thoughts I can see how his skillset might be more.."

"Mistakes like accidentally misconfiguring the network back-up server to restore pictures from the directory named SMUT on a personnel machine to.. say... the directory containing the slides the CEO will be using for his next talk to the board of directors."

In the international unit of operator success, Backpedals Per Second, the head of personnel is dangerously near redlining. Half an hour and a sizeable trainee-raise later, the PFY and I are sitting back in the office.

"What should I do with these phone logs?"

"Send 'em on."

"Head of personnel?"

"HELL NO! The CEO's office - you're a trainee - mistakes happen."

Needless to say, I believe my renegotiation will slip through without a hitch.

The South of France beckons for the BOFH under the guise of 'Network Professional of the Year' ...

It's a quiet day in the office. Perhaps it's got something to do with me relocating the helpdesk to the recently-vacated Boss's office and accidentally putting an axe fifty-three times through the phone cables down that corridor. Forget using pink noise tapes for relaxation, there's nothing quite like the distant sound of phones being slammed frustratedly into cradles to help a BOFH chill out. Our telecomms system is in a shocking state; must be down to all the users taking out their anger on the handsets.

I make sure the door's closed and electrified appropriately (in case any of the braver users get the rash urge to come round in person), and settle down with my reading material.

Normally, this is the time to catch up on those Dutch magazines that were inadvertently delivered to the back door a couple of months ago - and which seem to have been delivered equally inadvertently ever since. You wouldn't believe that the same mistake could be made again and again, would you? Someone, though, seems to have found my private stash, since it appears to have grown legs. I suspect it's my PFY, as he's been walking around recently with a knowing smile on his face. He'll soon learn the perils of being nosey when I've figured out just what do do with the electric stapler, though. Anyway, in the meantime, I'm stuck with reading networking magazines.

Pausing only to fill in a 'please send a barmy UPS salesman to see me' form in the name of the guy from accounts who cut me up in the car park this morning, I start to wade through the surprisingly tall stack of unopened networking mags. One item catches my eye, though: the Networking Professional of the Year award. I laugh inwardly - it'll probably be won by some sad anorak who spends his weekends up to his ears in UTP, spends his evenings retrieving lost files from users' PCs, and who earns crap wages and no gratitude. I read on, however : "... presented at a special ceremony at l'Hotel Ambassadeur in the south of France"

Ah, now, let's not be too hasty. There is, naturally, a lot to be said for the unsung heroes of the networking world. At least that's the line I'll use when I try to persuade the CEO to let me enter the competition.

Up in the CEO's office, the man himself stares at me glassy-eyed for about a minute. The words finally emerge in a croak. "YOU want to put in for the Network Professional of the Year?"

"That's right. Just think of the credit I'd bring to the company"

"I'm thinking of the bad publicity you'd bring to the company"

"That's not very nice!" I adopt my most aggrieved expression, combined with my most innocent tone of voice. "And after all I've done for this company, too"

"Don't you mean '_TO_ this company'?" The CEO looks at me and starts reading from the entry form. "Helpful to his/her superiors? You've gone through five bosses in the last year!"

"So I've had to cope with five different working methods - it's a much more demanding part to play. I think it demonstrates great flexibility."

"But you're responsible for all of them leaving!!"

"Coincidence... they all seem to remember another job offer somewhere else. Perhaps you ought to look at your working conditions and salaries", I suggest slyly.

"Perhaps I ought to consider whether I need as many support staff as I do"

Ouch. That was a little below the belt. Oh well ...

"Perhaps the Inland Revenue might find out about the secret account that was mysteriously set up on a computer outside the main system."

The CEO reddens and suddenly seems to find his blotter fascinating. He recovers slightly and reads on from my form.

"And what about this," the CEO is almost shouting now. "A good team player"?

"Yes. Naturally I'd expect my pimply faced assistant to be included in the entry. As a good team player, I'd expect members of the team to be included."

"But he's a psychopath!"

"So? Are you going to hold that against him? It's not very supportive of you. I personally think the climate in the south of France will do wonders for his temperament and the experience of going to such an event will do wonders for his social skills."

"There'll be a diplomatic incident!"

The CEO carries on reading. "Nominations for the awards must be accompanied by three signed endorsements by the nominee's colleagues." He paused; "There's no-one here who would agree to sign such a statement. They all hate you."

"So I can enter the award if I can get the form signed?"

"If you can find three of our employees who will sign it, you can enter. But I'm only saying that because I know nobody here will sign it". He exits, laughing silently to himself.

A miracle, eh? Nothing's impossible in the world of networking, as I never tire of telling users whose hard disks have been miraculously wiped clean. After all, who said getting someone's signature on a form actually needed them to write it ...

To be continued ...

It's the sweet smell of success for the Bastard Operator as he wins the day in France ...

It's a glorious day in the south of France, especially since my room at L'Hotel Ambassadeur managed to somehow get double-booked and they upgraded to me to a suite with more rooms than I've had bosses. Getting the signatures on my entry form for Network Professional of the Year was no problem - I knew that digi-sig faciliy on the network fax server would be handy for something - and so here I am to pick up my award. Okay, there are half-a-dozen other finalists, but I have this suspicion that there are numerous skeletons due for synchronised cupboard exodus very shortly.

Down at the awards dinner, with the sound of an alleged 'entertainer' rambling on in the background, I get talking to a rather nice PR bimbette, who is fascinated by the modern networking methods we use.

"So you've tuned the ATM backbone to 827Mbps?"

"Only on the test network of course, we couldn't use something that fas ... err ... early in development for the real users"

"Naturally. So how do you measure the throughput?"

"Doom II between half-a-dozen SGI Challenge boxes, of course. Comes out around 45,000pps"

"45,000 packets per second doesn't sound very quick". Hang about, a PR woman who knows how fast a network should go ... scary thought.

"No, it's points per second. You don't get packets for killing things in Doom, you know.

"Oh, I see. You must have a major budget each year, too, if you've got six Challenges on your test network alone".

"Ah, well, you see, they're eventually going to the CEO's pet videoconferencing project; we bought them with the insurance money after the Pentium 75's from the first project met an accident"

"That's some difference in cost"

"Well, yes, but we have a friendly insurance company". And a rather nice home video of their board at a conference in Amsterdam ...

"Nice one. So let me guess, you've had to clock-chip the Challenges and tweak their ATM cards, thus making them 'experimental' and giving them to you for a month or two for 'testing'".

This girl is on the ball ... I'm almost impressed.

"Well, yes, but it's a complex job so testing will take a bit more than a couple of months ... 2004 would be a good year, I reckon".

"You're a bastard, aren't you?"

Catches on quick, this one. As we're chatting, some TV personality (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) is introduced and given a shiny gold envelope to open. This he manages without needing to read the instructions, though only just.

"And the Network Professional of the Year is ..."

Later in the "winners' enclosure" I again find myself chatting to my PR friend; it's terrible, this animal attraction I seem to have. She appears surprised at my victory.

"So how did you manage to pull that off? I must admit, I wasn't exactly expecting you to get it, given your apparently unconventional outlook on network management. Did you hack the entries computer or something?".

Hack? She must be an oldie - nobody with any self-respect would ever call themselves a hacker these days, unless they owned a seriously bad anorak. I call for more drinks (the expensive stuff, naturally - I already have the root password to the hotel's systems, not to mention the room number of the old goat from the telly who bored us so much over dinner), take a deep breath, and explain.

"No, I didn't _hack_ ..." (it takes all my effort to say the word) "... anything". Anyways, the shortlists and stuff were all done in hardware and weren't possible to access over the hotel LAN.

"In hardware?"

"With a biro and a piece of paper. These judge types have trouble with technology"

"Ah, _that_ hardware"

"Yup. Anyway, I didn't have to hack anything; all but one of my competitors pulled out at the last moment. Well, actually some of them didn't, if the polaroids they received in yesterday's mail are anything to go by".

"What, they were _ALL_ having a bit on the side?"

"Two of the six were - it's a side-effect of having to spend so much time in hot countries at networking shows and conferences"

"What about the ones that weren't?

"Simple. One of them works for the company that's sponsoring the awards, so the small print got to him before I could. Of the others, one now has a photocopy of a vehicle registration form and the other was fired inexplicably after an anonymous, untraceable phone call yesterday afternoon and had his nomination withdrawn by hix now-ex-employer". I must put the PFY in for a raise - he did that phone call business without me even asking.

"I see. What's this about a registration form?"

"Oh, just something about a vanishing company Rolls and a known black-market car trader"

"I see. You really are a bastard, aren't you?"

"Naturally. Though it's taken me a while to perfect, of course."

"So what about the one competitor who didn't withdraw?"

"Oh, I beat him fair and square; the directors' words of recommendation on my entry were far more flattering than those on his". At least they were _after_ the form got switched in the chief judge's briefcase on a train to Doncaster last week.

"So what's next?"

"Back to work, a nice pay rise as thanks for raising the company profile, thank the temp for keeping the users on their toes while I've been away, then the occasional after-dinner speech with a five-figure fee".

"What if someone blows the whistle?"

"Oh, I don't have to worry about that"

"Don't you?". I don't like the look in her eye, or the tone of her voice for that matter. "What would you say if I told you I taped this conversation?"

"I'd point out that the dictating gadget in your top left pocket has no record head, so you've got a blank tape. As we're on the subject, what would you say if I told you that the phone in your your room was bugged? Now what were all their names ...". I pat my pocket, and hear the reassuring rattle of microcassette-in-plastic-case.

Sense of humour failure is instant, and she turns and wanders off to sulk.

My mother was right ... you should never trust someone in PR.

Onward to Part Two...