The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Director's Commentary for “More overheard technical support phone call conversations”

Hi. This is Sean Conner, director of “More overheard technical support phone call conversations” and you are listening … well … reading actually, the director's commentary.

The intent was to start in medias res with a tech support call I had to make to The Monopolistic Phone Company. The situation is that The Monopolistic Phone Company was blocking one of our client's email servers from sending email to their customers at There was every indication that The Monopolistic Phone Company was simply dropping the traffic as an anti-spam measure, since other servers we had could send mail to users of The Monopolistic Phone Company. This is my second attempt at resolving the situation.

We begin after I placed the call and the phone is answered.

Compuer: “Your call may be monitored for quality assurance. The expected hold time is currently 1 minute. Please wait for the next available represenative.”

Bob: “Hello, this is Bob. Not the same Bob as you called yesterday, but still, just call me Bob. [I should mention this was a very perky Bob. —Editor] How may I help you?”

For this version, I'm including who's doing the speaking. Originally (in my conceit) I had thought that who was speaking would be apparent, but if you scan the entry too fast it might not be apparent.

Also, the “Bob” I spoke to was female and very chipper.

Why are tech support reps called “Bob?”

All tech support personal are called “Bob”. (Female support personnel have an option on “Bobette”, as they feel appropriate). This has nothing to do with “Bob”, the Divine Drilling Equipment Salesman and the Church of the SubGenius. Nor it is “Brother Of BOFH” (although that's smart sidewise thinking, which is good). The real story of Bob can finally be revealed …

The time: August 1995. The place: Demon Internet, Support Department. A large number of new victims|Wrecruits were due to arrive, and it was observed that there would be much duplication of names. To ease the confusion, it was decided that all support techs would henceforth be known as “Bob”, and identity badges were created labelled “Bob 1” and “Bob 2”. (No, we never got any further).

The reason for “Bob” rather than anything else is due to a luser calling and asking to speak to “Bob”, despite the fact that no “Bob” was currently working for Tech Support. Since we all know “the customer is always right”, there had to be at least one “Bob”, just in case.

Just a little sillyness, but it snowballed. Shift leaders and managers began to refer to their groups of ‘bobs’. Whole ranks of support machines were set up (and still exist in the DNS) as bob1 through bob[lots].

Then came a.t-s.r, and it was filled with Demon support personnel. They all referred to themselves, and to others, as ‘bob’, and after a while it caught on.

Just one of those strange things, I guess … support.recovery FAQ (acronym expansion and links added)

Anyway, back to the film entry …

Me: “I'm calling in reference to ticket number ‘tango mike papa charlie zero zero zero six six six zero zero zero foxtrot uniform.’”

Bob: “And whom am I speaking to today?”

Me: “This is Sean.”

Bob: “Okay, Mr. Sean, if you can please hold while I review your ticket.”

Yes, she kept calling me “Mr. Sean” throughout the rest of the conversation. It weirded me out a bit as “Sean” is my first name, and it just sounds wierd to be called “Mr. Sean.”

Me: “Okay.” (cue FX of Girl from Ipanema)

Bob: “Thank you for holding, Mr. Sean. I didn't understand a word that Bob wrote yesterday but I gather it has something to do with sending email.”

Me: “That's the gist of it.”

Bob: “Can you please send an email message to [garbled]?”

Me: “What was that?”

At this point in the conversation I was in the Data Center near the back where the three A/C units are stored. I am unable to log into the server from my desk, due to the say sshd is configured on this particular server so in order to at least half-heartedly carry out her instructions, I need to be logged in. It's quite loud in the back of the Data Center room, and the headset isn't making matters better.

She's trying to spell out the email address and for the life of me, I couldn't tell if she was saying “tee” or “dee” or “Zimbabwe.” I kept having to ask her to start over.


(cue montage of Sean roaming around the office looking for a quiet place to write down the email message—many minutes go by while this happens)

I ended up leaving both the office and Data Center before I could decypher what she was trying to spell. Now, remember, in the original version, I didn't include who was saying what, hoping that it would be self-evident.

Guess not.

Me: “Oh! It's!”

Bob: “Yes Mr. Sean. From that the email company department can diagnose what happens.”

In reality, the “Bob” of yesterday made this mistake, not today's “Bob.” I know for a fact that The Monopolistic Phone Company's business webhosting is outsourced to Negiyo, so it's not a far stretch to assume that their dialup support is also outsourced.

I should also note that my short term memory is very bad and that I have taken some liberties with the conversation here.

Me: “Please hold on a second, I can test this right now.”

Bob: “Okay.”

Me: “Yup, just like I said, it won't get through because your The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server is dropping the connection from this particular server.”

Bob: “So it's a networking issue?”

Me: “No, because I can get to The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server from other computers.”

I think I actually said something like “there's no connection made, so therefore the email isn't sent and therefore it makes it a moot point to ask the email department [at The Monopolistic Phone Company] to check the email for an error.” I think she was realizing that the scope of the problem was way beyond her abilities to handle.

Bob: “Oh. Well then, just send a message to explaining the situation and they'll be able to handle it.”

Me: “Okay, can I include the ticket number?”

Bob: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, thank you.”

Bob: “You're welcome Mr. Sean! Thank you for calling The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Support Line.”


And thus the end of the call.

As Spring and I were discussing this last night, she asked of the email I sent to included traceroute output and I said no, why should it? The Monopolistic Phone Company is obviously blocking the server as an anti-spam measure. But Spring said that the admins at Negiyo would turn this case down due to lack of evidence. You apparently need not only a smoking gun, finger prints and a bullistics match, but a signed confession to boot before they would grudgingly work on the case. So why would the admins at The Monopolistic Phone Company be any different?

“More overheard technical support phone call conversations”


Sean Conner


Sean Conner

Oh, I see the credits are rolling. I'd like to thank Spring for the inspiration to do this commentary track and for feedback, and you, for taking the time to listen read this.

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