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After ranting at inordinate length about things only nerds (and a specific kind of nerd at that) would care about, the temptation was strong to do it again. Today I’m going to talk about envelopes.

When you have a lot of computers (or even just a few) that are important for whatever it is that you do, it’s important to have a plan for when they fail — because they will. For software this usually involves some sort of access to support (which might involve patches — we know what can go wrong there).

For hardware, this usually involves access to spare parts. If you pay them (‘them’ being the vendor or some sort of third-party company)  a lot of money, they’ll send someone (who might be named Mike) to your place with a spare part and a tool kit and he’ll replace it for you. (If you pay them a truly staggering amount of money, they’ll send Mike at any hour of the day or night.) If you pay them slightly less money, they don’t send Mike — they’ll just send the spare part. You get to replace it and, when done, you get to send the defective part back to them.

I am not a trained technician. Genetics has blessed me with more than the usual number of thumbs and I spent more than a decade studying mathematics and theoretical physics — not anything practical. I can roll dice (and type if no one is watching) but delicate work? Not really my forte. And I have a long history of dropping screws where they’re really hard to get at. Despite all this, I usually managed.


More to the point, in order to do this, you need paperwork — various forms, shipping documents, that sort of thing. At the time of this story, these documents were sent with the spare part in a separate envelope. For reasons that I’ve never really understood, the envelopes were always blue. So when a spare part arrived, it arrived with a blue envelope either in the box or taped to it. Everything was addressed to “Rose Glace, Building named after a dead guy, The University.”

One day things changed.

Clearly The Vendor had made changes to their parts delivery procedures. I’ve always assumed that some fat guy in a suit made Recommendations to ‘improve efficiency’ and ‘streamline processes’ and ‘reduce costs’. I suspect that customer satisfaction didn’t rate particularly highly on the list. What happened is that I ordered a part (maybe a tape drive — I don’t remember for sure; it’s been a long time) and they sent it to the wrong building. The blue envelope? I never saw it. It just vanished.

Interestingly, the package was addressed, not to “Rose Glace” but to “The Vendor” (and, of course “Building named after a different dead guy”). The return address was given as “Vicky P—, The Vendor” .

Fortunately for me, I used to work in the building named after a different dead guy so, when confronted with a package with my name on it (though they had to look for it — the vendor had hidden it), they called me: “Is this box yours?” All I had to do is walk three-quarters of a kilometer and hope the box wasn’t too heavy. (Fortunately, it wasn’t. But an eighty pound trinitron monitor arrived the following week. That required more than just a modest hike.)

So I replaced my part, but that’s where it stopped — without the blue envelope, I couldn’t return the defective hardware. So I phoned the vendor: “I didn’t get my blue envelope. Oh, and by the way, you sent my box to the wrong address.” “We’ll send you another one. And we’re sure it won’t happen again. Promise.” Yah, right. But I waited and after a couple of days — no envelope. I phoned the other building named after a dead guy — nothing there, either. That they knew of. At least not the person I talked to but over a hundred people work in that building. Any one of them could have received it.  I phoned the vendor: “No envelope.” “We sent it. Honest.”

My theory, of course, is that they sent it to the other building named after a dead guy where the recipient, confronted with a blue envelope full of forms, just threw it out: “What fresh hell is this?” ‘Pitch.’

So a new cycle started: every couple of days I’d phone and ask for a blue envelope. Every time they’d guarantee that one would be sent. And every time it’d vanish into the aether. And, of course, other things continued to break (like that 80 pound monitor I mentioned earlier); the replacements all went to the other building but I got them all. Eventually. Just not the blue envelopes.

Which meant that I had a growing pile of broken hardware in my office. (In time, it grew to be rather taller than me.) That’s about when things escalated: one of the ‘rules’ was that defective hardware had to be returned within a month. So after a month I started getting phone calls from the vendor’s Customer Attitude Readjustment department: When could they expect their parts to be returned? What exactly was the holdup? Could they dispatch a guy named Mike (at extra cost, of course) to expedite matters? I explained the situation as best I could — which meant that I had two groups mailing me blue envelopes that never arrived every couple of days. And the pile kept getting bigger and bigger.

A key to all this seemed to be the mysterious Vicky, whose name was on every waybill (at least, the ones that I saw. I have no idea whose name was on the waybills that I didn’t see). Could I speak to her? No I couldn’t. Could I send her email? Uh-uh.  Could someone go to her office/cube and take away all of her waybills? Don’t be ridiculous.  I was advised that I should just wait; that this would be sorted out in no time if I would just be patient.

Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. My pile of unreturned parts continued to grow. The temper of the folks in the other building grew steadily more frayed. Heck, my temper grew steadily more frayed — I even plotted the violent dismemberment of everyone with the initials ‘VP’. The carefully-crafted politeness of the vendor’s collection folks grew more and more strained.

Eventually, I managed to get a blue envelope: If I recall correctly, I managed to sweet-talk someone (“This is highly irregular.”) into shipping one to Mike, the service technician that had nothing whatsoever to do with this problem. At that point, I could drive over and pick it up, which in turn meant that I could start getting rid of the junk in my office that by that point was threatening to block the doorway.

I never managed to get the shipments to the incorrect address stopped; I had to wait until the vendor had another ‘streamlining’ of ‘process’ that put things back to the way they had been.

I never did find Vicky.

And I still get stressed whenever I see a blue envelope.

The Author

Rose Glace is the pseudonym of nobody important.


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