BOFH: Defusing the enthusiast

We don't need Linux's best-kept secret


Episode 2

Isn't it always the way that at the beginning of the year, when your enthusiasm for work is at an ebb, that the Boss decides it's a good time to get someone in to talk about some piece of software that you just don't want to use?

And isn't it also always the case that when you get someone in to talk to you they're not only an expert in the product but also (sadly) a complete enthusiast who would quite happily adopt the software's illegitimate babies and raise them as their own in a silicon paradise - if only they had a chance?

And even worse than that, when you get the enthusiast in they've had hours and hours to think about the long and involved ways to tell you about how they optimised the application so as to get a teensy weensy bit more performance out of it by converting the raw code into processor-specific code by removing all the #IFDEFs and maintaining an ever-increasing number of branches of the same code?

And they can still remember (and will recount to you in excruciating detail) EXACTLY what they were doing the MOMENT they heard that version 2.7 of the software was released...

...and be slightly offended when your response is "Probably drinking at the pub".

And the problem with enthusiasts is that they simply cannot understand how it is that you don't want to sell all your worldly possessions and come join their roving band of software improvers and make the world a better place... This is made worse when they appear to be the only expert in the country and are desperate to get someone else enthused so as to form a pressure group for the adoption of the application...

. . .

So it is that the Boss has lined someone up to tell us all about how we're going to install an application which will link our websites, calendars, email, financials, HR, etc, etc to one clearly understandable homogenous mass with some new software that has just been released into the Open Source world.

Moreover, the Boss is not at all impressed at our protestations about the robustness of the software development and release lifecycle of this project which, from the look of the webpage, consists of someone saying "I've got a good idea!!!"

And so it is that a conference room is booked, audio visual gear is installed, biscuits purchased and a server machine configured to the exacting requirements of our expert.

Of course the true horror is revealed when we discover that the required OS is such an obscure version of Linux that it probably only has one contributor (to match the Google result when we go looking for it). The install notes describe the branch as "Linux's best-kept secret" - and once the PFY and I finally work our way through the convoluted install process we agree to keep it that way.

And of course no enthusiast is ever going to use the release version of any prerequisite software when there's a beta version that's been available for at least a day, so the PFY and I waste another couple of hours trying to nurse the install script to life under the new version.

Several emails later we have the system up and running and let our expert know that he can come in an do his demo any time...

...which is when the Boss tells us that he's sold the idea to senior management and that once the explanation and three-day tutorial is over we'll start running up the software in the company...

"Did he say three days?" the PFY asks, gnawing on a knuckle. "I thought you said it'd be half a day tops if we agreed with everything he said, didn't ask questions and erased the server as soon as he'd left the building."

"I admit I made a slight miscalculation on the amount of our time that might be made available to him, but I'm sure that as software experts with a history of successful open source installs in the past we can lock him in the basement until the whole idea blows over."

"Ah yes," the PFY says. "In fact, I think that's where we installed the server."

"B2, over in the far corner room."

"The electrical plant room with the dodgy light and even dodgier bus-bar cover?" the PFY asks.

"The very same."

. . . One day later . . .

"Where the hell is he?" the Boss asks. "He was supposed to be here two hours ago! I bought biscuits."

"I shouldn't worry, I'm sure he'll be here eventually," the PFY says, just as the lights dim slightly.

"Then again, perhaps we should flag the whole thing?" I add as the basement smoke alarm beacon illuminates on our building monitor.

"But what will I say to senior management?"

"Just tell them you're doing an analysis of needs and that you'll need each of them to fill in a quick 20-page questionnaire... no one will ever mention it again."

"I... OK then. But I'm keeping the biscuits."

"What biscuits?"

Sigh.


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