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Build a business case: developing custom apps

Episode 29

"What's the timeframe on the install of that videoconferencing device?" the Boss asks, bowling into Mission Control, dressed, as the saying goes, like a pox doctor's clerk.

"Yeah, good," the PFY says looking up from the assorted pieces of hardware on his desk.

"No, I wanted the timeframe till it's in place, not a status."

"Oh right. Well I guess it'll be sorted inside of a week"

"A week?! But I was told it'd arrived yesterday!"

"Yep, so it'll be all installed and configured in a week."

"But you told me that it was a turnkey device, all you'd need to do is give it a network address?"

"Uh-huh, and we'll do that when we rack it up."

"Can't you rack it up now?"

"Not really. I mean it's going to take at least a day to put it back together."

"Put it back together?!" the Boss gasps. "Why? What was wrong with it?"

"Nothing," the PFY says. "We just wanted to see how it works. It's quite good too - it boots off >tap< >tap< this hard drive here, but it's also got a slot for a flash card if you want to make it truly solid state. The kernel's a tiny Linux jobby that does a stack of sanity checking before handing off to the application. You can also set a jumper on this >tap< IO Card to tell the box to silently encode all conferences to one of the two drives in this >tap< >tap< media bay. AND it's got three NICs with inbuilt spike suppression, truly redundant power and the ability to battery backup to RAM >tap< here to hibernate the device should you wish to move it and boot it quickly in a portable configuration!"

"You... took it to bits?!" The Boss finally gasps.

"Yeah, but we take all new kit to bits!"

"But it says 'no user serviceable parts inside'!" the Boss says, pointing at a small label on the lid.

"Yeah, that's just what they tell you to keep you stupid," the PFY responds. "Besides, we're not users."

"But you've voided the warranty!"

"Nah, they'll never know we've been in there, we'll rivet the case back up when we're done."

"Rivet?"

"Yeah, we drilled the original rivets out - they tried to make it tamperproof."

"They'll know you drilled it out!"

"No they won't, it'll look mint!" the PFY says, brushing some metal shavings off the case.

"There's a great big gouge out of the side!"

"Yeah, I sent a complaint in to the vendor saying it came like that. That way if it claps out we'll just claim it was damaged in transit."

"They'll check the box!"

"This box?" the PFY asks, pointing at a box with a large number of boot marks in it.

"But they'll still know you opened the machine!"

"Nah they won't. The final assembly work is performed in Leeds - probably so that the company can bypass some import tariff or the other - so all we have to do is make it look like the last person who had it open was from Leeds."

"And how do you propose to accomplish that?"

"Smear the lid with lardy fingerprints and drop a couple of chips and some pork scratchings inside the case."

"I..."

"Oh, I almost forgot. I'll slip a bootleg of some blurry porn into the DVD drive."

"Uh... why?"

"That way they'll know it's been inspected by quality control."

"You can't seriously believe..."

. . . A week later . . .

"And so we took it out of the box and it's a complete DOA," the PFY says to the engineer, as the Boss looks on nervously.

"Let's just have a look at it then," the engineer says. "It's probably just a power supply fault."

>rattle<

"Have you opened this case?" he asks suspiciously.

"You can open it?" the PFY says. "How?"

"No, no, you can't open it, it must have got damaged in transit," the engineer says.

The PFY points to the Box and the engineer nods.

"It's the shipping agent we use in the factory up north," he says, shaking his head. "Used to be a baggage handler at Heathrow. Okay, lets just open her up."

. . . a couple of drillings later . . .

"Ah, it's the daughterboard," he says, pointing. "It's plugged in one row of pins to the left of when it should be."

"What's that for?" the PFY asks, pointing at a chip laying in the case.

"I... uhhh, that's just some packing," the engineer bluffs.

"It looks like a potato chip."

"Yeah, but it's not. It's one of those enviro carbon things. They're made out of... biomass and hexofibre - good for the atmosphere. And there's another one."

He dumps the food into his pocket, shuts the lid and plugs the unit into a tiny debug console he's brought with him.

"Righty-ho," he says. "Let's see how she goes."

>click< >whirrrrr<

An image promptly appears on the debug device and a self test starts.

"All looks ok," the engineer said.

"So how did it get out of the factory like that?" the PFY says. "Isn't there supposed to be some form of testing?"

"Yeah well, there should be, but it's possible this one got overl..."

He stops abruptly as a flabby backside wobbles its way across the screen...

"...might have just been damaged in transit," he says, pushing the eject button hurriedly.

"So we're all sorted then?" the Boss asks.

"Yep, all up and running."

"Can I get you a coffee?" the Boss asks, as the device is powered down.

"Why not?" our engineer says.

. . .

"So have you learnt a lesson today?" I ask the PFY once they've both gone.

"I have," the PFY says. "Engineers get the best toys. That debug device of his is fantastic."

"It is," I say. "How do you think it works?"

"Only one way to find out!" he snaps, reaching for the drill...

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