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Wheely bad things are afoot

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Episode 35

When you've got a problem it's always good to have a couple of bastards to call upon in times of trouble. Sadly, Brand and Ross aren't taking calls at the moment, so I have to call upon a fellow IT bastard, Jerry, for his thoughts...

"So how big is this pile of monitors?" he asks.

"180 last count," the PFY says.

"And you don't just dump them because?"

"He told the boss they cost five quid a pop to dispose of - because of the mercury."

"And the 900 quid?"

"Has been drunk," I admit.

"So you've got a basement full of old monitors that you want to get rid of?"

"Yes," the PFY says. "Soon, because I just bought a billiard table on eBay and I need the space."

"Right. And the monitors were replaced with?"

"22inch LCDs - 240 of them - or 265 including shrinkage," I say, pointing at the PFY.

"Right you are. 240 - A few Tasmanian desktop upgrades during the move?"

"Yes."

"OK... OK... Let me think... 180 CRTs, 240 LCDs, dumping cos... goddit!"

"What?!" the PFY and I ask.

. . . The next day . . .

"So walk me through this again," the new Boss says. "We have to get rid of all of the new LCD monitors because they don't have... Lead free solder?"

"Exactly," the PFY says. "We were running out of IT fitout budget because people were buying new office furniture and saying it was an IT expense simply because their PC sat on it. Or they did - to use their PC - in the case of new wheely chairs."

"And so one of your predecessors decided to buy monitors in bulk, direct from an overseas manufacturer - not realising that the EU restrictions about importation of products with lead based solder?"

"And," I add "It turns out that these monitors have lead in them."

"So if there's concerns about lead in solders why are companies still using it in manufacturing?"

"Because some places in the third world don't have these restrictions" the PFY says "Like Africa, Bangladesh... Alambama..."

"...Luton," I add

"Who's going to know?" the Boss asks, in a rare moment of pragmatism.

"Obviously we'd be obliged by our professional ethics to let someone know," the PFY says sadly. "but no one wants to be a whistleblower."

"So what do you suggest - we tell our users that their monitors contain lead - making the company potentially liable for prosecution?"

"Goodness no," the PFY says. "95 per cent of them wouldn't care anyway. No, you've got to make them want to replace their monitors."

"Which is where this comes in," I say, handing over a glossy sheet of paper.

"What's this - a recall notice?" the Boss asks.

"Yeah, we printed it up this morning" I say. "The PFY's going to Chunnel to Belgium in the weekend and send about 20 of these to random people in the company. Then, in a couple of days we'll go and collect them in a suspicious manner saying that there's been some misunderstanding and that it's nothing to do with these monitors and that they're perfectly fine."

"But like you say - who'd care about lead?"

"The recall's about the hideous amounts of radiation they don't emit."

"They don't emit?"

"Yeah - if you make a particular point of saying they don't emit any, people will be sure they do. And they weren't made in that factory in Ukraine that used to be a power station. We also say it's merely a precaution and completely harmless so long as the minimum safe viewing distance is observed."

"What's the minimum safe viewing distance?"

"There isn't one - which will make them even more suspicious."

"Then there's this," the PFY adds, holding up a box.

"What's that?"

"A Geiger counter," the PFY says, "with the guts removed and a tiny circuit that just makes the occasional crackle and moves the needle randomly at the low end of the scale."

"Why?"

"Because sooner or later someone will hold it up to their ancient radium dial watch and notice that it doesn't crackle any more or less than it does any other time."

"Then they'll open it up and find there's no workings inside apart from the tiny circuit and some old batteries wrapped in insulation tape to give the unit some weight - and be positive there's a problem," I add.

"Then I'll go round assuring everyone that things are OK and the only other options are some old CRTs..."

"After shaving off small chunks of his hair," I add.

"I... do you think it'll work?"

"Hell yeah. Half of them will be off sick with headaches within the week and we'll swap CRT screens in while they're away,"

"But didn't you dump the old screens?" the Boss asks

"I did, but I'm sure we can pick up some here and there for... I dunno.. 10, 20 quid apiece."

"So what are we looking at?"

"Maybe a couple of grand?" the PFY says

"Plus the dumping fee for the LCDs - another two and a half," I chip in.

"I thought it only cost five quid?!"

"Five quid for mercury, but it's ten quid for radiation because they have to ship them to Liverpool - where birth defects would largely go unnoticed."

"And premature death is a blessing," the PFY adds.

. . . The next day . . .

"Jerry" I say "I've got those 240 LCD screens you were after - what did we say, 50 quid apiece?"

"Forty."

"Forty-five."

"Deal. Now, got any wheely chairs? The company's looking for about 100 or so..."

. . . That afternoon. . .

"Did you know that the gas piston in wheely chairs can explode?" the Boss whines, as an ambulance bears a poor unfortunate from Beancounter central away...

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