BOFH: The back-up backdown smackdown

And that's what happens when you don't listen to your friendly BOFH

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Episode 6 "So is all the data gone?" the voice whimpers over the hands-free.

"Did you take a backup like I told you?" I ask.


"Then yes, it's all gone," I say. "You either put a backup client on your laptop and back it up to the backup server or connect an external disk and use that - but if you use nothing..."

"I don't understand how this could happen. The laptop's less than a year old!"

"Age is no guarantee of reliability. Just look at senior management."

"Yes, but you only mentioned that I should take a backup two days ago!"

Call me a little sensitive but I get the feeling that my user is trying to put 2 and 2 together to get 73.

"What are you suggesting?" I ask.

"I... nothing."

"Oh. I thought you might have been suggesting that this was part of the Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities."

"The negative quantum law of what now?"

"The Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities."

"What's that mean?"

"It's a simple law which basically states that the moment you talk about something bad happening the likelihood of it happening increases. "

"So why's that quantum?"

"Because, like quantum physics, where the act of observing affects the thing being observed, the act of mentioning a bad event affects it's probability."

"I don't think that's a real thing."

"How often," I ask, "have you mentioned that you hope it doesn't rain because you left your umbrella at home? And it has subsequently rained?"

"That's just coincidence!"

"Really? So how often have you said that you hope that you will find a fifty quid note on the footpath – and it hasn't happened?"

"Fifty quid notes aren't that common."

"Okay 20 quid – no, FIVE quid?"

"That's not the sort of thing I hope for."

"So instead you're hope that it'll rain or that your hard drive will fail?"

"I was hoping that my hard drive wouldn't fail."


"I didn't think it was that important."

"I told you it was making clicking noises and was on the way out!"

"Yes, but you didn't say SOON."

"And you obviously hadn't heard of the Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities at that stage."

"You're just making that up!"

"I could think of three things, RIGHT NOW, which would happen if I said them – within the next three days."


"Okay. 1. I hope your printer doesn't run out of toner."

"Printers always run out of toner."

"Let me finish! Run out of toner AND STOP. Not just stop waiting for Toner, but stop dead and require an engineer."


"2. I hope the wireless network doesn't let people associate but not get to the internet."

"That happened last year!"

"Yes, but I've said it now so it'll happen in the next three days.
3. I hope that the Boss doesn't come through the door and complain about some bloody user who claims we've insulted, assaulted, or pepper-and-salted them."


"I couldn't think of a third thing. But you get the picture."

"Yes. Well. I..."

"Hmmm?" I challenge

"Well, from all I've heard, I rather thought one of the things was going to be a threat about ... uh.. me.. having an accident."

"Now why would you say that?"

"Well, I mean I've heard the stories."

"No, I mean why would you say that after I've just explained the Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities."

"... oh."

"But I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear anything – because if you're not careful you will trigger the Exponential Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities."

"The Exponential Law? What's that?"

"That's where my assistant overhears something negative that someone says and makes it so. For 5 quid. He has a very low bar."

"I don't know what that means."

"He will do most bad things for a fiver. It's probably index-linked to the price of a pint at his favourite drinker."

"Where the hell is he buying his beer?"

"That is irrelevant. Where's just trying to keep you on the safe side of the Law - because if I mentioned within his hearing that I hoped that, for instance, you didn't get punched in the face for not backing up your hard drive it would almost certainly occur."

"But you're not going to do that."

"No, because if I did the chances of it occurring within the next three days would be exponentially higher with every day that passed. In fact exponentially higher with every MINUTE that passes."

"I hardly think you can apply that >CLATTER<"

...two minutes later...

"That's 15 quid you owe me," the PFY says, laying half a mutilated toner cartridge and a wireless access point patch lead on the table and rubbing his knuckles.

"Make that 20," he adds moments later as the Boss stalks in to Mission Control. "Did I mention how good that cellphone baby monitor app is?" ®

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