Adventures in social networking

A couple of years ago, I was involved in an EU-funded project that was trying to do interesting stuff with Semantic Web services. My bit of it revolved around building infrastructure, namely a special-purpose distributed database. I had a pretty clear idea of where I was going to go with this, and a research assistant to do the bulk of the coding (as an investigator, I was down as only 10% FTE, which is not really enough to do any substantial programming).

We had difficulty appointing researchers to the project, and the RA I had, while a nice enough chap, was not quite up to scratch and the coding was taking significantly longer than I’d hoped. Some of this was due to family – his wife had just had their first child, and he was pretty distracted.

Just as he was getting up to speed, the RA’s laptop – on which he was doing all of the work – was stolen from his desk in the lab. He turned out to have been lax on his backups, despite my repeated insistence that he use SVN. He also lost all of the photos of his child’s first year, which had only been on the laptop. By my estimation, we probably lost about four months of his work, which had been none too fast to begin with. The theft was put down to an opportunist theft by someone who had tailgated into the lab (it’s open plan, with well over a hundred people from several research groups), not least because there had been a spate of similar thefts over the previous months.

We tried to recover from this as best we could, and I wrote an apologetic letter to our project officer in the EC to explain why we had to slip the schedule on our first deliverable and scale back the second deliverable.

About a month after this, the RA came to me with a surprising announcement: he had seen his laptop on the desk of one of the overseas postgrads in our lab. He was pretty certain that it was his (the case had a distinctive scratch), but had no conclusive proof. On the pretext of trying to track down some spurious networking problems in the lab, we got Systems to check the laptop. Sure enough, the MAC address matched that of the machine that had been stolen. The postgrad was summarily called in for a stern talking to.

At this point, I was no longer involved, so everything hereon has reached me second-hand. To begin with, the postgrad insisted that he’d bought the laptop in good faith on eBay. When the unlikeliness of this was pointed out to him, he admitted to taking the laptop ‘in a moment of madness’. And then methodically wiping the machine, before being stupid enough to bring the machine back into the same lab from whence he had stolen it (to put this into context, his desk was about 5m from the RA’s desk). “Don’t shit where you eat” is apparently not a common saying in his home country.

As far as I am aware, no charges were ever brought against him; the University quietly hushed it up, and he was given the honourable option of withdrawing from his studies with an MPhil and returning to his home country.

And now the wee thieving gobshite of a failed postgrad has had the fucking affrontery to try and friend me on Facebook. It’s just as well that he hadn’t done this on LinkedIn, because I would be sorely tempted to write him a brutally truthful endorsement.

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