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BOFH: Stick this

Extinguishing stupidity, one skull at a time

By Simon Travaglia • In BOFH • At 11:02 GMT 12th June 2009

Episode 8

"You've got to think of it in terms of sticks and carrots," I say to the PFY, "because users are complex - but stupid - stubborn animals, like donkeys."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning they respond to both rewards and punishment. So what you've got to do is find a balance between rewarding them for good behaviour - like not calling you and not playing with their desktop configuration... and punishing them for bad behaviour - like calling you or playing with their desktop configuration."

"I'm not sure I follow. So what you're saying is that no one method will guarantee good users?"

"Exactly. I mean you could use the stick all the time - because after all there's no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Users. And you'd probably get reasonable results."

"But.." the PFY prompts.

"But in practice you can't use the stick all the time. If you want a user to do something you must choose whether the correct method is to encourage them to do it with the carrot, or compel them to do it with the stick."

"What's the difference?"

"How they feel about you at the end of the process."

"Again, what's the difference?"

"Perhaps you should just give it a go - you might be surprised how users respond to a positive rather than a negative," I say.

. . . An hour later . . .

"How did that go then - did you encourage our user to empty some of the crap out of his mailbox?"

"Uh, not really. He just said we should buy bigger hard drives for the server."

"Really? How odd, I was sure he'd resp... I... You offered him a real carrot, didn't you?"

"That's what you said to do!"

"I meant FIGURATIVELY! A figurative carrot. Not a real carrot, but something like a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate."

"Oh I see - so not a carrot, but some other form of food."

"Something like that," I say. "I'll pop down and see him and see if we can reach some amicable solution."

. . . One ambulance later . . .

"So was that a figurative stick?" the PFY asks.

"It was a fire extinguisher, so technically, yes it was."

"And how is this different from what I usually do?"

"Because we tried the carrot approach - you with a carrot and me with a couple of lagers at the pub before we tried the stick approach."

"Yet neither worked," the PFY observes.

"The stick worked," I counter. "His mailbox is empty."

"Only because you deleted it."

"So I used two sticks. However, the point of the exercise is not about sticks but that people can sometimes respond to the carrot - and they should be given that option!"

>CRASH!<

"What the hell happened in finance?!" the Boss fumes. "They say you hit someone with a fire extinguisher!"

"I didn't," I lie. "I was talking to one of their users about reducing the size of his mailbox when an extinguisher fell off the bracket, bounced off his desk and hit him in the head."

"The size of his mailbox! You hit someone because they wouldn't empty their mailbox"

"Like I said, the extinguisher fell off the bracket, bounced off the table and hit him in the head. And his mailbox was huge - it took up 98 per cent of the mailstore and was mostly funny movies."

"Why didn't you just make the mailstore bigger?"

"Because the recommended size for mailstores is..."

"Who cares about the recommended size of mailstores?! Just buy bigger disks!"

"Bigger disks don't help - there's plenty of space on the existing disks but the recommended size of the stores is..."

"So if you've got spare disk space why don't you make another mail store?"

"BECAUSE... HE'S... USING... 98 PER CENT... OF... THE... LARGEST... POSSIBLE... MAILSTORE... SIZE."

"Then just make the mailstore bigger!"

"Perhaps I can help," the PFY says, stepping in before something really bad happens.

"We have a number of mailstores, all at the absolute maximum supported size. One of our users, who has been collecting video funnies for many, many years has been storing these movies in a folder in his mailbox. This mailbox has now grown so large it has pushed all the other users out of the mailstore and so we asked him nicely to remove some of the data from the mailstore and put it somewhere more appropriate - like a desktop folder or portable hard drive. He refused my request, so Simon went to show him the options available to him as far as storage goes - during which discussion the faulty bracket dropped a fire extinguisher."

"You expect me to believe you can't make a larger file!" the Boss says. "A bloody monkey could make a larger file..."

. . .

"Hang on," the PFY says, a couple of seconds of silence later. "I've got an off the wall idea."

"Yes?"

"Would you like this carrot?"

"What? No!"

"Oh, OK, suit yourself..."

. . .

>CLONG!<

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