Linux-loving lecturer 'lost' email, was actually confused by Outlook

And had suits savage an utterly innocent sysadmin for his own ignorance

On-Call Friday means a few things at El Reg: a new BOFH. A couple of beers. And another instalment of On-Call, our weekly column in which we take reader-contributed tales of being asked to do horrible things for horrible people, scrub them up and hope you click.

This week, meet “Newt” who a dozen or more years ago worked at a College that “decided to migrate from a Linux system to Microsoft Outlook with an Exchange back end.”

“Part of that process was to pull all the mail from the Linux systems and then inject it into Outlook” in the form of a .pst file. “This was a slow process that was done manually for each user,” Newt told us. And one of the users to whom he was assigned was “a lecturer of 30 years service who was also a published author in the world of psychology.”

Newt says said lecturer was “normally a placid nice guy who I had helped on many occasions.”

Newt did the job without incident, showed him around Outlook, made sure his email archive was intact and, having done so, headed off for a two-week vacation confident all was well.

And all was, until about ten seconds after Newt returned to work. Which was when “my assistant manager" immediately collared me and gave me a hard time about my lack of customer service etc.”

“The lecturer had phoned saying all his emails were gone. Years of work lost and it was all my fault. Apparently he was so angry that no one else would go down to even check out the situation.”

Newt rated his superior as “one of those managers who should never have been one: no training and no leadership skills.” Newt pushed back, insisting that “before he opens his mouth he should check first because I know the emails were there when I left and had confirmed it with the user.”

That little exchange ended with Newt going to visit the lecturer and copping another rant along the lines of “All my work has gone it's your fault, this never happened with Linux ... this should be dealt with formally” and so on.

Newt waited until he'd run out of steam and asked him to boot his PC and open Outlook.

By this time, Newt says the lecturer's antics had attracted a crowd of other academics who fancied seeing the IT guy taken down a peg and muttered remarks about how unfair it was to make them learn a new email system when they were only five years away from retiring.

The PC and Outlook booted while all that was happening, and half a heartbeat later Newt diagnosed and solved the problem.

“I could immediately see his folder tree had been collapsed,” Newt wrote. “So I made a big deal of asking him to click on the "+" sign in the corner and sure enough all the folders dropped down full of all his emails.”

“He did the usual clicking around in a vain attempt to disprove they were all there, then came the dawning realisation he had just been vile to someone out of panic and made threats including me losing my job.” Maybe the lecturer's refined understanding of the human psyche had finally filtered through all his rage.

Newt says he just stood there, silent.

Eventually the lecturer said “ "I suppose you think I am an idiot."

“I paused for effect,” Newt wrote, “and then replied. No. I don't think you're an idiot.” And then he walked away.

The lecturer apologised for his behaviour a week later. Newt says he saved his anger for his manager, and colleagues who didn't visit the lecturer while he was on holidays.

Have you found something a user swore was lost? If so, write to me and your old grudges could get an airing in a future edition of On-Call. ®

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