IT pilot fish gets tapped for the job of setting up equipment for a brand-new retail store. It should be pretty straightforward, because all the equipment is new: new PCs, printers, servers, switches and bar code scanners.

But fish is taking no chances. Two weeks before the scheduled installation date, fish gets the instructions for the installation and studies them. He roughs out how long everything should take to install and figures it'll be a full day but he should get it all done in the time allotted.

Then comes the big day. "I head out at 5 a.m. to be on-site by 7," fish says. "I arrive to see a huge semi and all the employees unloading it into the store. I find the manager and introduce myself and ask where the PCs and other IT gear are.

"The manager responds, 'I thought you had it.' "

They start making phone calls. Fish's boss says the equipment should be there. The manager's supervisor says the same thing. But where?

"Oh yeah, we find them," says fish. "Nearly two hours later -- in the front of that semi."

Then fish goes to work setting up the point-of-sale stations and server according to his instructions. But the equipment doesn't match the instructions, which are four years old and were written for a store that opened four years earlier.

The computers and scanners are slightly different. But the biggest change is that instructions don't say anything about installing the satellite communications system.

Back to the phone, this time with calls to the national help desk. Fish eventually deciphers all the changes, gets everything set up and is ready to leave -- almost.

"The national help desk wants me to test the satellite by running a sync program as a test," sighs fish. "It doesn't connect. I ask national if the satellite is connecting. They say yes.

"I tell them it's raining hard and that the satellite probably isn't connecting. National says it's my issue and that I broke it. This goes on for an hour.

"Meantime, I reset the satellite receiver a dozen times. I watch the lights. I see that it's not receiving enough signal. National won't let me go without testing and ensuring the satellite is working.

"Finally, three help desk techs, my two supervisors, two help desk supervisors and about three hours later, the decision is made."

And that decision is? "That it's raining too hard for the satellite to work."

All my exes live in...

Database consultant pilot fish gets a panicked call from a colleague. "He had just replaced me at a client site," says fish, "and a user had come to him with a problem.

" 'Oh, you're new, I see,' she told him. 'When I had this problem before, the previous guy used to give me the four exes, and that fixed the problem. Can you give me the four exes immediately so I can start work?'

"My colleague had only been on site for two days and -- not surprisingly -- did not have a clue what to do."

But fish does. He knows that users are forever forgetting their passwords on that system. When they do, the standard procedure is to reset the password to "XXXX," then set the "expired" flag so the user will be prompted to change it at the next log-on.

Once fish explains the mysterious 'four exes,' his replacement quickly resolves the situation. "Not to the satisfaction of the user, however," fish says. "She lodged a formal complaint about lack of IT responsiveness and how she had been prevented from working for a full 30 minutes.

"Needless to say, we included a section on 'How to Resolve the XXXX Problem' in a prominent spot in the next release of our site hand-over documentation."