As a freelance web developer, Erik finds himself doing all sorts of odd jobs. Fixing up an Access application here, installing a firewall there – he’ll gladly help his clients out with whatever they need, so long as they’re paying and he’s comfortable doing it.

His latest potential job, referred to him through a friend-of-a-friend, was at a small company that had a “simple wiring problem” with their network. Apparently, none of the local networking companies were willing or able to fix it, and Erik was their last and greatest hope. It was a rather high expectation for someone that had only set up one or two networks in his day, but Erik figured that he’d give it a shot. They were paying hourly, after all.

When Erik walked into his client’s store, the first thing that he noticed – actually, almost tripped over – were several cables strewn across the floor. Although they had been “secured” down with masking-tape, then scotch-tape, and then more scotch-tape, the cables were coming loose. Not the safest thing for a retail store, no less a network.

“Oh, I better tape those down again,” Steve, the owner and manager said as he saw Erik enter, “hey, any idea what’s the best kind of tape? We tried duct, electrical – but nothing seems to stick.” Erik shrugged his shoulders and opted for a brief tour of the place.

The front-end of the store was fairly small, perhaps 400 square feet. It housed some display cases of their work and all sorts of various brochures of their offerings. There were a few small tables with laptops set up that salespeople would discuss all the various options with their customers and a large front desk with a perky receptionist and a cash register. And everything had network, power, and phone cables going to and fro, taped down to the linoleum-tiled floor.

“So the problem we’re having,” Steve explained as they walked to the back room, “is that our Internet goes down several times a day. It doesn’t happen on all computers, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s a big pain. Our gals need to research and check with vendors, so when the ‘net goes dow—”

As soon as Erik got a glimpse of the back-end of the store, he just stopped listening. Time completely stood still as he looked around. Never in his life had he witnessed such an “office” layout. The area was much larger – perhaps 1500 square feet – and was divided into a warehouse/storage area and cubicles.

The warehouse area was pretty standard, but the office area was two stories. Someone, presumably Steve, had build a loft out of plywood and 4x4’s with about as much quality and professionalism as the taped-down cables. In fact, keeping with the motif, cables were taped and stapled to the 4x4 posts in order to reach the cubicles on the second floor.

“Pretty cool, eh,” Steve said, noticing Erik staring at the area slack-jawed, “talk about a good way to maximize floor space! Just, uhh, don’t tell oh-shaw. Heh, heh.”

Erik had to think for a moment exactly what OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would object about the most. Extension cables plugged into extension cables, carelessly laid across the floor? The searing heat from their windowless, airconditioning-less office? The rickety staircase/ladder used to access the second floor? The second floor itself?

“But anyway,” Steve continued, “without the ‘net, we can’t even process our credit card transactions. Speaking of which, maybe you can help with that too. Our credit card server is such a piece of junk. Actually, let’s go look at that first.”

Steve led Erik to the credit card processing server. It was an old Dell desktop computer running Windows ME that recently was moved to the front desk. “It’s more convenient this way,” as Steve explained, “because we have to restart it at least ten times per day.”

After dusting off the keyboard, Erik took a quick look: the “server” was completely overrun with spyware, viruses, and several instances of BonziBUDDY. Erik told him that it might be salvageable, but that they’d be best getting a new server or, at the very least, reformatting the computer. “Ugh,” Steve responded disappointedly, “I figured as much. Maybe we can do that later, then. Oh, maybe you can help with our backup server now, too?”

Expecting to find some ancient Packard Bell acting as a backup server, Erik was pleasantly surprised to find an actual server. A seven year-old server, but an actual server. The fix was incredibly easy: the server was not plugged in to the network. Steve knew how to handle this: he walked to the nearest workstation / computer haphazardly-placed somewhere, and yanked its network cable.

As for the “real problem” – i.e., the intermittent Internet – Erik had no idea where to begin. Cables were strewn all across the place and constantly walked over and run over with carts. A professional cable installer would have to come in and rewire the whole place. “They’re just damn cables,” Steve barked at Erik’s recommendation, “it’s been like this for years without a problem. I’m telling you, it has to be the router or switch.”

Erik explained that he had no expertise in diagnosing intermittently-failing network equipment, and stuck with his recommendation of rewiring the place and fixing the credit card server. Steve just shook his head and put Erik to work fixing up the server.

As Erik uninstalled, rebooted, registry-hacked, and tried everything he knew to bring the computer to a more stable state, he noticed yet another disturbing activity transpiring after the store closed. Steve grabbed from the closet a large bucket of water and a mop and sloshed it around all across the floor. The same floor with the network cables, the phone cables, and, dangerously-enough, the power-cables.

“Yah, it’s a dirty job,” Steve remarked as Erik gawked at the electrical hazard, “but someone’s gotta do it!” Steve took the mop in the back and proceeded to mop that floor as well, soaking it and all of the network and electrical cables strewn across it.

Erik quickly finished up patching back together the “server” and carefully stepped across the floor towards the exit. That was one odd job he won’t pick up again.

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