She wants it. She needs it. Shall I give it to her or keep doing it by myself?

Those backup passwords aren’t for everyone

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “Give it to me pleeeese!” she begs, staring longingly into my eyes. “I’m desperate and will do anything.”

It’s 5:30am and we are the only people in the office.

I stutter that I’m not at liberty to satisfy her demands right there and then. It’s too early for me. Could she wait a while?

She takes a step towards me and begins fluttering her eyelids. Oh yes, that old trick.

“Hang on a sec,” she says. “I’m got something in my eye.”

Several contact lens drops later, she turns to face me again and I note that her tone is no longer one of pleading but of rising panic with a hint of anger and a soupçon of implied violence.

“I need access to the backup login NOW or we’re totally f*cked."

My claim to be ignorant of such things isn’t convincing her.

“And…” she muses, toying threateningly with an electronic stapler that was supposed to be a desk toy but had recently been demonstrated to be about as harmless as an industrial nail gun, “…if we’re f*cked…”

Now the problem is that not only am I not supposed to be handing out the keys to a fragile backup server to unauthorised staff, I am not actually authorised to have them myself. So, as David Byrne once famously asked, how did I get here?

At no point in my career have I ever been an IT Support Engineer Customer Delight Implementation Executive but I came close once many years ago by default. It was back in the day when IT managers didn’t want to have anything to do with Apple Macintosh computers. And this is how I ended up being Mr Popular when fellow staffers were too panicked to await the attentions of a qualified support bod.

These were the days when Macs were regarded as frankly bizarre devices to have in an office, with their SCSI ports, one-button mice, digital audio and peer-to-peer networking built-in as standard.

By comparison, these were also the days before Microsoft introduced all those invaluable contributions to the modern world such as a word processor that crashes every time you run a spellcheck or the concept of stopping a computer by clicking on a button labelled "Start”.

There we were in the early 1990s, incongruously using Macs to produce big, fat magazines for PC users. But only those of us on the subbing and design desks had Macs: everyone else had a PC. Some were even running Windows and possibly one or two had OS/2 but that might have been a malicious rumour.

I remember the head of a large PC software company being led on a tour of our offices around this time, during which he expressed loud surprise, and some offence, that PC magazines should be using Macs at all. Quick as a flash, one of my colleagues, a certain Guy Kewney, pointed out to him politely that professional-class DTP software existed only on the Mac platform and that the important visitor was welcome to address this imbalance at his earliest opportunity.

Being Mac users put us out on a limb when it came to IT support. But not to worry, we never needed any. Sure, those Mac II/fx boxes would crash about ten times a day, but then they’d just start up again.

Once the IT manager had connected them to the servers (via Token Ring!) with the assistance of sticky tape, a claw hammer and a box of Swan Vestas, the Macs just ran without further intervention. And if anything did go wrong, it was easy to fix yourself with a gentle sprinkling of a disk utility and a light dusting of ResEdit.

Our PC colleagues, on the other hand, were constantly calling for assistance with one thing or another, from suicidal hard disks to those shitty little drivers that PC peripherals used to need. The IT manager and his PFY would spend day after day inserting floppy disks with Taiwanese labels into users’ PCs simply in order to get their same-branded keyboards to work with the PCs they were supposedly designed for.

It was on a rare visit to the IT manager’s office to borrow his spanking new optical drive (30MB! Just imagine!) that I asked if it was OK for me to set it up myself because “it’s just SCSI”. His relieved response was that I should go right ahead, and this led to an admission that he was happy to let the Mac users fix their own computers without asking his permission as long as we knew what to do.

At this point, he gave me the keys to the Kingdom of Backup.

I have a vague notion that the password was presented to me on a red velvet cushion accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and the release of 100 doves, but it might just have been scrawled hurriedly on a Post-It note, I’m not sure.

I only ever accessed the backup server twice. Unfortunately, I only needed to use it once. The second, regrettable occasion was at 5:35am on that morning for the benefit of my desperate colleague with the fluttering eyelids.

Ignoring my advice to check file dates and test the quality of the backup by restoring one small folder to begin with, she carpet-bombed the paddy field of her entire production desk with the metaphorical napalm of a complete restore.

“All my files have gone!” she wailed about an hour later.

No, no, I replied helpfully, look, you can see them there.

“They’re last Friday’s files! I don’t want last Friday’s! I want yesterday morning’s files! Now I don’t even last night’s! How do I get them back?”

Well, just copy over your local backup of those folders. You did make a local backup before you ran the Restore, right? … Ah.

Inevitably, I was the one grovelling an apology to the IT manager when he walked in to find one of his users had rolled back the company’s entire bank of servers to how they used to look a week ago.

He was, of course, a pro about the whole thing. With barely a raised eyebrow, he told me not to worry about it and walked leisurely towards my frantic colleague’s desk at the other end of the office.

As he made his way over, he casually picked up the electronic stapler…

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He apologises for the historical and purely anecdotal nature of this week’s column but he wants to escape 2016 for a brief respite from the relentless onslaught of unmitigated arse that the year has turned out to be.

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