On Call Phew, March is over. Everything will be OK now, right? Right? Oh well... join us in nervously welcoming April with another tale from that special breed tasked with answering the phone, even when the subject matter is perhaps less than savoury.
This week's protagonist, assigned the sobriquet of "Sarah" by the Regomiser 6000, tells a story set in modern times, although in the pre-COVID-19 era.
Those with a nervous disposition might want to look away now.
"I work as a consultant," Sarah told us, "mainly advising the customers of our agency on system setups and custom build, specialist software applications."
Having been sent to the German city of Cologne to assist a client with a project involving a software giant located near the city, she'd been instructed to make an unscheduled Paris visit by a boss clearly not blessed with a strong grasp of European geography.
The Paris client was, however, hugely important and she'd dutifully agreed. Naturally, her boss didn't bother with fripperies such as transport arrangements or details of what she'd actually be doing other than providing a bit of moral support for the desperate customer. She was also tasked with selecting the most "efficient and economic" mode of getting there.
Over a few beers in her Cologne hotel, she found a train that would take her directly to Paris faster and cheaper than flying. Oh, and it was a First-Class ticket too. Clickety-click. Sorted. Time for another beer to celebrate.
The train was delightful. Punctual in a way that users of Blighty's network could only dream of. The seat was huge, with acres of legroom. There was even Wi-Fi for her devices. She sat back in her seat, perhaps a little sleepy from all that good German beer the night before.
Two hours later she was abruptly awoken by a trilling from her phone and found herself the subject of angry glares from her fellow First-Class residents. The thing had been bleating nearly continuously and showed more than two dozen emails of increasing urgency (to the point of shouty capitals) from a chap we'll call "Jerry".
Jerry was close to securing a huge contract and had a final presentation to make to his customer. He'd gathered data from the team, pasted it into a PowerPoint document which he'd promised to email ahead of the meeting. But, for some reason, the email "did not go through."
We've all fired up an email client after a period offline (either physical or digital) and seen escalating panic from the Jerrys of this world:
"This is company CRITICAL!!"
"REPLY!!! WHERE ARE YOU!!!"
"CALL ME NOW!!!!"
It took Sarah all of three seconds to diagnose the problem. She'd been cc'ed on the original message with the presentation, and she could see the PowerPoint file was over 15MB.
Fixing the file might be problematic; Sarah ran Xubuntu on her laptop and while Impress would open it, saving it might break some formatting. But booting back to Windows 10 was also not going to be ideal; she hadn't used it for two years and Windows does love those updates.
Before doing anything rash and Microsoft-based, she opened the file just to check it out.
"I flipped through the presentation," she said, "expecting to see 693 slides for a presentation of one hour. But I'm proven wrong. Only 23 slides, including the title and 'Any questions?' slides."
She then scooted through the presentation and used the compress option on any suspicious pictures or crusty old stock imagery. But all was well. With Windows 10 looming and a mere 25 minutes before she arrived in Paris, she had one last throw of the dice.
"I renamed the extension of the file to .zip and took a look inside."
And there it was. A hulking great 6.5MB image file. Wondering how she could have missed it in Impress, Sarah opened it and... oh.
The image was a simple black and white technical line drawing of the client's production line. She'd missed it since, in Impress, it was just a 2-bit image. Tiny, right?
However, what had happened was that Jerry had nabbed this from a previous presentation, which he had simply opened and taken a screen-shot of. He then shoved it into PowerPoint in such a way that only the line image was visible.
However, the full image contained everything that had been on his super wide, 3840 x 1600 pixel desktop at the time as well as the source presentation.
Including a browser opened to something called "dirtyroulette", a chat system in which the participants appeared to have adopted a more, er, casual approach to video conferencing (for "casual" read "naked and a bit excited.")
"Jerry," sniffed Sarah, "is a misogynistic runt," but she was a professional and called him as she headed into Paris for her meeting. She ended up speaking to his wife.
The conversation went a bit like this:
"Hi, this is Sarah from the agency. Can I speak to Jerry please?"
"Can you call back later? He's in the shower right now. But I think you have to be quick, because he's on his way to a meeting with an important client."
"I know, that's why I'm calling"
"Oh, OK. So can you call back in say, 45 minutes?"
"Well, that's going to be rather difficult, since I will be with a client myself, here in Paris."
"Oh. Is it really important? Can't it wait? I mean, I know he is super hyped up about the meeting with this client. He hasn't slept because he has been working on his presentation all night."
Sarah pondered what to do. The woman sounded pleasant enough. Perhaps now was not the time. Instead she explained that she knew that Jerry's contract was one of the biggest the agency had ever scored, but this was rather important, so could Mrs Jerry pass on a message?
A bit of fumbling later and she was ready to take down Sarah's message.
"OK, just tell him that I assume he didn't succeed in sending his presentation to our client. Tell him that is very good."
"Tell him that it's OK to take the presentation with him and present it to the client."
“But please tell him also that he, under no circumstance, should not leave a copy of the presentation with the client. Did you get that? No copy. Ever."
"He can only present it from the drive he takes with him."
"Not unless he wants to change contracting this client into one big... dirty... roulette... game."
"Did you write that down?"
"Yes... big dirty roulette game."
"Perfect. Cheers. Have to go now!"
As she headed to her own client in Paris, Sarah took a look at the last of her emails in the hope of something, anything to tell her what she was actually supposed to do in Paris. Nothing from her boss.
Ever saved Sales from themselves? Or left a little something in a screenshot that maybe you shouldn't? We're still traumatised following a Tiny Elvis incident back in the day. Email your telephone-based tales of woe to On Call. The Regomiser is waiting. ®
Sponsored: Webcast: Ransomware has gone nuclear