Photo Credit: 'glass window' @ FlickrFlash back to the early 90's when Remy P. was working as a system administrator for a major oil and gas company. Getting his hands dirty on a mix of Windows, VaxVMS, Alpha, and Solaris servers, Cisco routers, and even an old Xenix box that everybody prays never crashes, things were never dull, and today was certainly no exception.

Scratching his head the whole way down the freight elevator, Remy and two strapping lads from building services were to fetch the old, retired Data General server that once ran the old legacy accounting database before being replaced by a Dec Alpha and Oracle database from the server graveyard in one of the dimly lit storage rooms. Once in place and he would then play Doctor Frankenstein with it so that it may fulfill one request - print out all of the financial records that could be restored from tape backup for none other than the almighty Internal Revenue Service.

The missive to retrieve the server and bring it back to life came during a high-tensioned conference call earlier in the day with corporate headquarters. As the VP nervously detailed the request, Remy imagined a room of IRS agents wearing dark sunglasses and dark suits, scowling with arms folded making sure every word came out just so.  Someone suggested copying the old server's backup tapes and sending them to the IRS.  "No can do", was the reply, "We only want hard copies of all of the financial data. There's no way that we can trust that some cosmic ray won't ruin the data in transit and screw us more than we already are."

Now, one might think that Remy's bewilderment regarding the request was because he was bring back to life an ancient server that had cost a pile of cash and a ton of man hours to replace.  No, in fact he saw this task as an interesting challenge.

Instead, Remy's confusion stemmed from the fact that he, his office, and the server all resided in the UK.

Safety First! (Especially for Interns)

After getting the monolith back in operating condition, Remy consulted with the accounting department who showed what to print - all told, they were going to need to print off and ship out complete financial records going back 6 years. A quick calculation estimated that this would take months on a single top-end laser printer.

In an effort to be done by the end of the decade, the plan was set up a surplus Sun box that was lying around and station it in an ad-hoc "print room" with 10 HP Laser printers, extra paper trays and LOTS of paper at the ready. After a test print run showed that they were primed and ready to provide all the information a shadowy government agency across the ocean could ever want, one thing was remaining. Somebody had to babysit the printers.

The good news was that help was at hand - it was the beginning of summer and one of the managers was able to negotiate his 17 year old daughter a summer internship...who had previous experience working as a babysitter.

Admittedly, it was stereotypical intern drudge work, but she did a good job getting started in her windowless office with workstation, 10 printers and paper. This lasted a day before Health and Safety arrived. The HSE is a diabolical organization who occasionally inspect companies and insist on draconian safety procedures. After failing an audit for the new printer room (lack of ventilation, the toner dust is carcinogenic etc.), they gave a list of (mandatory) recommendations, most notably to the dress code while working in the print room.

This meant the manager's daughter had to wear a combination of the company dress code plus 1 full face gas mask with chemical and dust filters, and 1 pair of rubber gloves until the printing had been completed for 8 hours a day.  Surprisingly, she didn't complain very much and it was slightly amusing, albeit somewhat creepy, when she would neglect to remove the mask between trips to the canteen and restroom.

Finally Finished! Right?

After three full months as an office hazmat worker and sucking air through a gas mask, the intern happily stacked the last ream of paper on the now gigantic pile of paper and resigned immediately thereafter.  Just as Remy was considering posting a "Mission Accomplished" banner, one of the guys from building services strolled by and noticed their impressive feat...and launched into a frenzy.  As it turned out, the collection of output was so massive and concentrated that it had caused the floor underneath it to buckle.  In a panic, everyone on the floor rushed to transfer what must have been several tons of paper to the basement so as to avoid a disaster.

It was right after that the news came in - corporate management had jumped the gun - the IRS wasn't interested in the financial information that had been printed as the business in the UK was not under their jurisdiction.

This delightful turn in events left Remy and his crew two dilemmas to clean up. The first, and easiest, was what to do with all that (now useless) paper.  The corporate office gladly approved the funding to rent the services of a mobile paper shredder...for a week.  The second dilemma was more of a curiosity - now that the old financial database was back online, the financial department wanted it left up and running just in case, you know, someone needed a financial report from 5 or 6 years ago.