James Bond comes to my rescue in Alabama
“There is no evidence is of any fault that we can find – as far as the diagnostics are concerned, everything is working completely normally”.
The clinical director looked far from convinced. I looked around at the rest of the team he had assembled to hear my analysis of why my company’s equipment had taken down their medical records three times in the last week. As a group they were demonstrating the full range from blank looks, through furrowed brows and deep frowns to outright disinterest and done. Clearly, I had not convinced anyone with my assertion that the problem was not my fault. But then I would probably have felt the same if I were in their place. I would be less sleepy, however.
Thirty hours ago, I had been tucked up in a nice warm bed in Hampshire, when an early morning phone call from my boss had informed me there was a big problem at the Tuscaloosa Methodist Children’s Hospital and we needed to get on site and fix it as soon as possible. Of course, he did not mean ‘we’ - what he really meant was ‘you’. Having given me the details, he rang off and presumably returned to bed for another forty winks as a reward for his five minutes work. What it meant for me though, was a taxi to Heathrow and my deep disappointment as I bought my plane tickets that although Tuscaloosa sounded like it ought to be near a nice beach in Hawaii it was in fact buried deep south of the United States, somewhere in the depths of Alabama. I doubted the natives would be friendly. Actually, it did not really matter where in the States it was, because all I ever saw on these trouble shooting trips was a hotel and the customer’s computer machine room.
There was a long silence in the room while we all pondered what I was going to say next. I was sure my company’s equipment was working correctly. They were certain it was not. As it turned out, I did not have to say anything, as first one pager beeped into the silence, to be joined almost immediately by another half dozen.
The clinical director looked me straight in the eyes and paused for dramatic effect.
“The systems down again – that must new definition of working normally you are using then”, he said.
Since I was standing up and he was seated, I felt I still had the high ground. I looked straight back and said, “Right, you’re with me then”. Then, to everyone else in the room, I said. “Everyone else stay here please. We’ll only be five minutes”.
I led the way to the machine room, the clinical director following behind. He had to use his security badge to gain entry and I slipped in behind him. We went over to the large cabinet containing the storage system that my company made. That was where the research records where kept for all of the clinical director’s medical trials. The red fault light was blinking furiously on the front of the cabinet. I pressed the reset button to restart the system, fully expecting it to spring back into normal operation, just as it had done three times before. While it was rebooting, I took the clinical director by the arm, and guided him to the back of the cabinet. I opened the cabinet doors and took a magnifying glass out of my pocket.
“Have a look at the memory card in slot 3A”, I said. The clinical director gave me another one of his direct looks but did as I suggested.
“Can you see the human hair stretched over the mounting post?”.
After a moment, he found it and said, “Yes, I can see it – but if a human hair is causing your system to fail then I’ll be asking for more than a refund – in fact, maybe I’ll be calling a lawyer or two”.
“Bear with me”, I replied. “Have a look at the same place on memory card 3B – can you see a similar hair?”.
“No, I can’t”.
So then I told him I had put one of my hairs across the top of each memory board, stuck down with a little saliva, in such a way that if the board was removed the hair would be dislodged. (I remembered this trick from a James Bond story I had read as a child). So that was proof that someone had physically tampered with the card, thus bringing the system down. I felt rather proud of this ruse as I would be able to tell everyone back in the office that this had been such a difficult problem to solve that I had literally been pulling my hair out before I found a solution.
I had no idea who was defeating the computer room security systems and tampering with the equipment. Perhaps it was a member of another department with some sort of grievance. I didn’t really care. There was no software or hardware fix that my company could provide to fix the problem. I was back in my bed in England the following day. Or was it night – it’s hard to tell after a lot of this sort of thing.
I found out a few days later that the problem stopped happening. There was a hardware fix after all – one supplied by the Hospital itself. They had put a 7x24 security guard with a gun on the machine room door...