“Hey, can you give me a hand? This computer I built won’t boot.”

Alexander sighed, and went to see what Nicholas had done now.

Only a few weeks before, around the start of the year 2001, Alexander was full of hope and optimism for the new century. He and his co-workers called themselves the “AnyKey Men”: they fixed and built desktops, fed the printers, and showed the users how to find the “any key”. Alexander had a great IT manager, and some great co-workers, and was happy with his job.

Then his manager left. Alexander had been his right-hand man, and assumed he would be promoted. As much sense as promoting internally might have made, the job went to Nicholas.

Nicholas brought with him a raft of certifications purchased from a local training company. More important, he was the owner’s cousin. And more important than that: Nicholas’s mother assured everyone that he was very good with computers.

Nicholas believed his own hype, and came in the first day full of swagger. He didn’t understand what a command-line was, made a racially offensive “whooping” sound when Alexander mentioned Apache, and needed help finding the “any key”. Each time Alexander had to correct something or fix some mistake Nicholas had made, Nicholas hated him a little bit more. Alexander tried to explain to the owner that Nicholas wasn’t actually qualified, but simply got scolded for his “negative attitude” and his “sabotage” of his new boss.

And now, Nicholas was actively seeking out Alexander for help. He must have seriously screwed up this computer.

Alexander started by pushing the power button, just to see what happened. The fans spun up, but nothing else happened- no POST beeps, no blinkenlights, nothing. Alexander popped the side of the case, expecting to see something horrible and obviously wrong, but at a cursory glance, the only thing wrong was the sloppy cabling. He traced, disconnected and resat all of the key cables. The green LED on the mainboard lit up, indicating it got power.

That still didn’t fix anything. Alexander checked a few more obvious things, then reached in, past the rat’s nest of cables, to pull the heat sink from the CPU. It slid right off into his hand, because it wasn’t properly seated. There wasn’t a drop of thermal grease, either.

“You really need to put thermal grease on here.”

“I totally did,” Nicholas protested. “I used a bunch.”

Alexander ignored his obvious lie, and reached in to pull out the CPU . It was a Socket-A style mount, which had a lever to release the chip. When Alexander pulled on the lever, it refused to budge. The CPU wobbled in the socket, something that the Socket-A mount was supposed to render impossible. It either was seated or it wasn’t.

Alexander put a little more force onto the lever, and after some unpleasant crackling, the socket slid open. The chip practically jumped out of the socket, overjoyed to be free of its restraints. A glob of thermal grease jumped out from beneath it. Nicholas hadn’t been lying.

Socket-A mounts, like most CPU mounts, were designed to allow a chip to enter one way. When the chip was oriented correctly, it would simply slide into the mount with no friction. Any other orientation would refuse to let the chip in. It was essentially fool-proof.

Everything is fool-proof until they invent a better fool. When the chip didn’t slide into place, Nicholas slathered an inch of lubricant on the pins and then jammed the chip into the socket like it was going into the backseat of a Volkswagen.

“Can you fix it?” Nicholas asked.

Alexander looked at the bottom of the chip. Pins were bent and a few were broken. By rights, the ceramic base should have given out with that kind of pressure, and it was only because fate loves idiots that the chip wasn’t broken into a pile of shiny pieces. “No.”

This wasn’t just any desktop that Nicholas had ruined. This particular computer was bound for the owner’s desk. Nicholas had proudly ordered the best parts available, and had spent weeks bragging about how awesome the computer would be.

The computer was broken, and Alexander was the last person to touch it. Nicholas cried to his cousin, who screamed at Alexander. Threats of unemployement flowed freely. Frustrated, Alexander returned to his desk and checked his email.

There was a note from his old boss. A new position had opened up, and he wanted Alexander to apply.

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