ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Paperperson —

In my nascent days of system administration, one of the highlights of my job was the opportunity to name new machines as they joined our legion of servers. Eventually, of course, my highlight was being able to write a script that would enable me not to be at my job while it happily chugged away and earned my salary. But in the days when I showed up early and left very late, the Naming of the New Box was paramount.

The company I worked for was in the process of moving away from VMS machines and starting to integrate UNIX into their environment, and I was lucky enough to be the sprout they reached out to to help with the transition. The manager who oversaw the VMS and UNIX administrators had an additional requirement in his hiring process that other people in his position might not: he didn’t want freaks.

Even though everyone in our group was technically proficient (except me, by comparison), you would have been hard pressed to know that they were system administrators and not, say, bartenders, busdrivers, or cooks. Regular folk, able to interact with their co-workers or outside parties and be regarded as just another person in the chain, not an ivory tower monarch or bucket of tics and snorting high-pitched whine. While they could tell you, if you wanted to know, why the I/O slowdown on writes in your disk array could be better improved with proper regard of their distance from the bus, they could also control themselves to NOT tell you if that wasn’t at the top of your priority to know. Dig?

Our manager prided himself on this. To weed out freaks, he had an interesting approach to a “trial period”. He would hire new folks as consultants, giving them a 30 day contract at a sizeable per-hour fee. Both sides won; the new recruit got fat bags of cash every week for a month, and the manager got to see them in action to know if the group was going to accept this new cog in the machine or reject them like a bad kidney.

This early warning system got tripped with the addition of a new admin into the group, who got through the interview process through some means I still do not understand. In her first day (her first day!) as a consultant, she sprayed into the organization all the true attributes of UNIX freakdom:

  • Interrupted the General Manager during his “welcome to the company” meeting to correct him on points she disagreed with;
  • Refused to sit in her cubicle until her desk was disassembled and reattached so the screen was no longer facing the opening;
  • Demanded to go through the company’s inventory of chairs until the right level of back and arm support was found (this took some time);
  • Spent her time while waiting for her cubicle/castle to be built to her liking to walk around and CORRECT EVERYONE.

This last bit can’t really be emphasized enough; her base state was that of talking to you and correcting you, telling you flat out in a conversation (which she started more than not) where you were wrong, uninformed, or lacking the basic facts to make an assessment. She also had some sort of throat issue that would cause her to look away and make a sound not unlike a cat ejecting a hairball. It was strange the first time, troubling the second time, and a circle of Hell by the third.

Our manager obviously knew, and let us know in various meetings, that the consultancy of our newest addition was to be the full term of her employment. But work needed to be done, scripts needed to be written, and meetings needed to be held, so the weeks dragged on.

Her style of UNIX freakdom came out all the time; rewriting scripts she was asked to fix minorly so only she could understand them; writing everything in lowercase, scripts or letters; going from zero to screaming hatred talking about things only she cared about, whether it was a network setup approach or the choice about how much swap space to add to a machine. We cringed in our cubicles as she berated coworkers on minor points, spoke on the phone about the most useless inanities with fellow freaks in lands unknown, and the snorting; always the snorting……

Somewhere in the depths of this dark age, our Usenet News Server needed to be replaced. This was in the days when a News Server was something you built with pride for your internal network, and not something you immediately outsourced to a professional firm to deal with the unending headache. In a percieved version of overkill, we had a nice new machine, disk array with 80 gigabytes of space, the whole kit. Again, however, the most important aspect to me was the naming.

My suggestion, PORNFUNNEL, was immediately vetoed.

Still, we went back and forth about possible names, and the cutest one to place on the machine was PAPERBOY. Delivers the news, right?

You can imagine my horror, to my innocent ears, when our new consultant, hearing of our planned name, said “You can’t do that name; it’s sexist.”

Sexist! Keep in mind that as a young person new to his job, I had not actually encountered such a corrective mindset, but only heard about it as one hears about many mythic fools and freaks in the world. I had assumed this was just a stand-up joke, a threat that parents whispered to their children at night to make them study harder in school! And you can imagine the topper for me when I asked her what her suggestion for a better name would be:

“Paperperson”.

Fear gripped me as we attempted to continue a civil conversation about the Naming of the Usenet Server with this new blanket of limitation on the process. Bland names were put forward and we came dangerously close to implementing the actual name “news”. How dull. How silly.

But then it hit me. Glancing around with the best poker face I could muster, I said “How about…. page 3?”

The lead admin in the group, a man born in England, started to show glee, then quickly hid his emotion and said “yes, that sounds acceptable”. We both looked at the new admin and she paused, before saying “Sure, that’s good, I guess.”

For the folks at home who might not have read newspapers in the UK, a number of the London Tabloids had taken to including topless pictures of women in their pages, each presented smiling and tits to the wind, with a little blurb about their jobs and thoughts on the world beneath them. It was, essentially, using sex to sell more newspapers, in what would be considered a pretty crass and cynical manner.

Because there was still some amount of division between newspapers and adult publications, the photos of these fair, topless lasses were put on page 3.

And that’s how PAGE3 was born. As expected, the new admin worked out her contract and was not offered a permanent position. PAGE3, however, worked on for years after her, happily serving its role in life as a porn funnel.


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4 Comments

  1. Ron says:

    Ah, yes. I remember the days of having to deal with people who were not mature enough to be living outside of their parent’s house (let alone working with other people).

    I feel lucky that I only have to deal with 2 persons like this now.

    The .Com bubble burst did have some advantages: namely those people who got into IT because it paid and not because they liked it or had a talent for it, got layed off.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    I agree with you about the bubble burst knocking out pure money-oriented folks, Ron, but this isn’t really the case with this person.

    I would say that the needs of an industry for people who were talented with specific subject areas while being otherwise complete failures in running the human race have significantly reduced.

    I don’t even know if maturity is the core value being subjugated in such a personality type… maybe it’s self-awareness?

    I see a lot of it, still. I just don’t have to work with it.

  3. Tom says:

    You do have the knack for telling a story well jason , now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my very first proper IT job as a junior deputy sub-assistant something or other, where the first thing I have to do is a psyc test. Looks like someone else is trying to weed out freaks :)

  4. Rick Almeida says:

    That is a truly great story. PORNFUNNEL, indeed.