BOFH: The admin gene

That mysterious gift


Episode 24

"Woah!" the PFY breathes, looking up quickly.

"Woah what?" the Boss asks, looking around cautiously, as I re-enter the room from the passage to the server room.

"Nope, it'll be OK," I say to the PFY, ignoring the Boss for a moment.

"What'll be OK?"

"Are you sure?" the PFY asks. "It was quite noticeable."

"What was noticeable?"

"Yeah, but it was quick. Ten quid says it'll be fine."

"WHAT WILL BE FINE?!"

"I'll take that bet!" the PFY cries, before turning to the Boss. "We're talking about that power glitch."

"What power glitch?"

"The one a couple of moments ago."

"When?"

"When the lights dimmed briefly."

"The lights didn't dim!"

"They did," I counter.

"They most certainly did not!"

"I beg to differ," the PFY snaps with a measure of self-satisfaction. "Behold!"

Following the PFY's finger I note a couple of red icons where green switches should be.

Bugger. That's a tenner down the gurgler.

"I didn't see any power glitch!" the Boss says.

"You wouldn't," I say. "You've either got it or you don't... and you don't."

"Got what?"

"The admin gene," the PFY explains. "The ability to recognise things that users don't. A slight flicker of lighting, a whiff of hot component in the air, a fractional change in the pitch of a cooling fan - all of which the garden variety user misses in the headlong rush to read their email."

"Well, it can't be that good if you can't agree about whether the glitch you saw would have any effect or not."

"There's miles of power and data cabling in this building, a large transformer in the basement, UPS in the machine room and smaller UPS units in the comms rooms. Predicting the effect of a power glitch here is about as easy as predicting the landing of space debris."

"Yes, but anyone could look at a monitor and notice a red icon," the Boss comments.

At this point I realise that our Boss will never care that both the PFY and myself can extract, over the top of meaningless conversation, aging air-conditioning, canned music and fan hum, the muffled urgent tones of a piezoelectric beeper warning of a hardware fault - from three rooms away.

"It's not about seeing a red icon," the PFY says patiently. "It's about knowing a red icon is about to light up or sensing that something is wrong. You can't teach someone that."

“It’s hearing a subtle change in the hum from a UPS and knowing that it needs a coolant top-up,” I add.

“And you get all this from the admin... gene?”

“Oh yes,” The PFY says. “If you’re born with the admin gene it’s just... instinctive.”

“And I don’t have that gene?” the Boss says.

“No.”

“So what do I have instead?”

“I dunno – what’s the one that causes Asperger's?” the PFY asks unkindly.

“So tell me more about this gene then,” the Boss says dryly. “You make it sound like a superpower.”

“Well, in a way it sort of is,” I say. “There’s no seeing through walls or anything but there’s a lot of that sixth sense stuff.”

“I find that very hard to believe...”

“It’s true,” the PFY says.

“I...”

“He’s right,” I interject. “It’s just an inbuilt ability to KNOW things – like when to put a cleaning tape into a drive before it tells you.”

“Or how hard to hit a stuck hard drive to get it moving again...” the PFY says.

“...without breaking it completely,” I add. “But it’s not just about systems – it’s also about the environment.”

“Like when not to answer the phone.”

“Or when to hide behind the door.”

“And how to tell when a door handle might be electrified,” the PFY continues.

“Not to mention the computer suite environment,” I add. “Like when it’s 17.8 degrees instead of 18.”

“Or 60 per cent humidity instead of 45.”

“Anyone can do that,” the Boss snaps – obviously feeling left out. “You never know – I might have the gene and just not know it.”

“I doubt it – but we’re happy to test it if you really think you have what it takes.”

“I DO!”

“Okay then, go into the server room and tell us what the humidity is – without looking at the aircon unit.”

“You’re on.”

“How’s he doing?” the PFY says, as the Boss stalks down the corridor to the computer room.

“Well... he’s just about to fail the electrified door handle test.”

“Woah!" the PFY says, looking up quickly.

"Woah what?" the helldesk supervisor asks, walking into the room.

"Nah, it'll be OK," I say to the PFY, ignoring the helldesk supervisor for a moment.

Well, it passes the time, doesn’t it?


Other stories you might like

  • AI tool finds hundreds of genes related to human motor neuron disease

    Breakthrough could lead to development of drugs to target illness

    A machine-learning algorithm has helped scientists find 690 human genes associated with a higher risk of developing motor neuron disease, according to research published in Cell this week.

    Neuronal cells in the central nervous system and brain break down and die in people with motor neuron disease, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the baseball player who developed it. They lose control over their bodies, and as the disease progresses patients become completely paralyzed. There is currently no verified cure for ALS.

    Motor neuron disease typically affects people in old age and its causes are unknown. Johnathan Cooper-Knock, a clinical lecturer at the University of Sheffield in England and leader of Project MinE, an ambitious effort to perform whole genome sequencing of ALS, believes that understanding how genes affect cellular function could help scientists develop new drugs to treat the disease.

    Continue reading
  • Need to prioritize security bug patches? Don't forget to scan Twitter as well as use CVSS scores

    Exploit, vulnerability discussion online can offer useful signals

    Organizations looking to minimize exposure to exploitable software should scan Twitter for mentions of security bugs as well as use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System or CVSS, Kenna Security argues.

    Better still is prioritizing the repair of vulnerabilities for which exploit code is available, if that information is known.

    CVSS is a framework for rating the severity of software vulnerabilities (identified using CVE, or Common Vulnerability Enumeration, numbers), on a scale from 1 (least severe) to 10 (most severe). It's overseen by First.org, a US-based, non-profit computer security organization.

    Continue reading
  • Sniff those Ukrainian emails a little more carefully, advises Uncle Sam in wake of Belarusian digital vandalism

    NotPetya started over there, don't forget

    US companies should be on the lookout for security nasties from Ukrainian partners following the digital graffiti and malware attack launched against Ukraine by Belarus, the CISA has warned.

    In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said it "strongly urges leaders and network defenders to be on alert for malicious cyber activity," having issued a checklist [PDF] of recommended actions to take.

    "If working with Ukrainian organizations, take extra care to monitor, inspect, and isolate traffic from those organizations; closely review access controls for that traffic," added CISA, which also advised reviewing backups and disaster recovery drills.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022