Fifteen Minute Repair

One of the problems with being self-employed was you are never really off-duty. Problems happen any time, day or night, and they need to be dealt with. I carried a pager all the time. I had a phone in my bed's headboard, and a phone in the bathroom.

However, after a few quick jobs on weekends and late evenings, I realized it would make sense to put some minimum billings on odd-hour on-site work -- two hours minimum after normal business hours and four hour minimum bill for weekends.

I had a client that I "shared" with a person I'll call Nancy. She mostly did accounting software, but she envisioned herself as a "all around" computer support person. I have no problem with this, I wanted my customers to get their support from whomever they were comfortable with. All that mattered to me was that things work for them.

This customer told me they would be relocating into a new office soon, so I told them, "please call me to test the cabling infrastructure before you move in" -- it would be a simple one hour test to make sure their network cabling did what they needed it to do when they moved in, this would make it a "plug in and go" when they actually did their move.

So...right after I implemented this four hour minimum weekend bill, I got a call from this customer on a Saturday afternoon. "We have moved to our new office and the network isn't working!". I explained the four hour minimum, and told them it would probably be a fifteen minute diagnosis (repair? Depends on the diagnosis, of course). They assured me that it would take some time, as Nancy had been working on it for three days, and they absolutely had to be up and running Monday.

So, I drove out. I pulled out my diagnostic "lunch box" computer, which was a full computer, but in a portable case. It was configured to be both a Netware server and a Netware workstation, depending on how I booted it up, and I kept it in a "definitely working" state, so I could quickly identify problems. I walked out, and in a somewhat unprofessional bit of attitude, I said, "Start your timer, I should know what's wrong within 15 minutes".

So first, I set it up as a workstation, and could not see their server. I then flipped it over to be a server, and their workstations could not see my system. So -- I've (for the moment) vindicated both their workstations and their servers, there's something wrong with the network wiring itself (which is what I suspected).

Next step, pulled out my cable tester. It quickly told me there was something wrong with pin 1 on the cable I was testing. That would explain it. Tested another drop, again, pin 1 was bad. Huh. Ok, so probably a systemic wiring error. Pulled the wall jack out, it looked good. Looked at the wiring at the patch panel, it also looked good. At this point, I start thinking I'm about to look like a damn fool, this isn't looking like a simple error after all.

I look closer at the patch panel, and I see the problem.

The patch panel had obviously been used elsewhere before it was put in place here -- their wiring company recycled it. Really not a big deal normally, but apparently the previous users had plugged four pin RJ-14 plugs into the patch panels 8 pin RJ-45 jacks. NORMALLY this isn't a problem, but the RJ-14 plug has two bits of plastic where the RJ-45 has pins, so the contacts in the jack ended up pushed out of the way, and this particular patch panel, they got stuck -- pins 1 and 8 of each connector were pushed out of position.

I pulled out my pocket knife, put the contacts back where they belonged, plugged the cables back in, went over and looked, and their workstations now saw their server.

"Time?"
"fourteen minutes", he told me.

And then the humor started.

Nancy was there, she looked at my cable tester. "I have one of those!", she said.
"Why didn't you use it in the LAST THREE DAYS?"
"The battery was dead"

Nancy had managed convenience stores in a past life, she knew were to get 9v batteries. But she spun her wheels for three days rather than getting a $2 battery to diagnose the real problem.

The owner of the company grinned a "ok, next time I call you first" grin, and looked at my lunch box computer. "That thing is pretty cool"
"Stupid investment on my part", I responded.
"Why's that?", he asked
"Nancy's been billing you for three days. I spent a lot of money on this to reduce my billable hours"


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