Rants & Essays

How to Get Ahead

By Anonymous

If witnesses of crimes can have it tough in court, so can the victims. Bre Stevens, a former law student, recently experienced how the real-life justice system works.

How to Get Ahead

How to Use Technology to Get Ahead, Torture Your Enemies, and Destroy the Competition…without getting caught!

How to Get Ahead

Like it or not, we all live and work in a technological house of cards. When it comes crashing down, you can usually blame the hapless frailty and complexity of technology alone, not the malice stewing in the dark corner of a coworker's heart.


It's easy to wonder how you might use your expert PC knowledge to settle personal scores or to square the odds in the horse race of your career. You can bet your next paycheck that some of your colleagues have entertained similar thoughts.

The tactics we present can give you that extra winning edge. We also point out where you're most vulnerable to the technological back-stabbing of others. It's unlikely that anyone in your organization would actually prey on you with this mischief. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

Use this advice to protect yourself. Use it any way you like. But don't try anything on the pa ges that follow if you think it will get you in hot water. Just remember: Unemployment is worse than you think.

Getting an Edge

Reform the Office E-mail Gnat

How to Get AheadIn every office across the land there is at least one worker who so badly abuses e-mail he should be publicly flogged. Every three minutes, it seems, there's another message from him, requiring a reply. You can't say anything to him about his compulsion; it would only poison your collegial rapport. Instead, give him a dose of his own medicine.

How to Do It: Treat your friend to a feast of e-mail from your favorite 500 or 600 Internet discussion groups and mailing lists. To sign someone up for a mailing list, you typically need only to send a message to the list server with his name and e -mail address. You'll find a directory of more than 67,000 list servers organized by topic at wvvw.liszt.com. The only way for your enemy to unsub-scribe to these lists is to manually send e-mail messages to each and every one of them, asking to be removed from the mailing list. Ouch. He'll be so busy handling this deluge of mail, he won't have time to bother you.

Read Your E-mail on the Sly

Pushy, pushy: There's a special place in purgatory for those who attach receipt notices to the e -mail they send. It's no one's business when you read your mail. Besides we all need a little wriggle room for bad news. (Why no, sir, I haven't read your message yet. When did you send it?) Fortunately, there's an easy way to defuse this booby trap without detonating it.

How to Do It: Don't open a message with a receipt notice! Instead, forward the message to yourself and open the copy. This won't trigger the receipt notice. When all is clear, open the original message to notify the sender you've received It.

Avenge Yourself on Junk Faxers

Being inundated by junk faxes is not only a pain in the derriere, it's expensive. Every ad, cover sheet, or other bit of flotsam piped in on your fax machine costs you roughly 5 cents per page. The nerve!

You can spend $100 or more for products that equip your fax machine with a trap door for this self-serving propaganda. Depending on your phone service and fax machine, you may also be able to selectively block calls from certain numbers. But why spend good money just to screen out fax roaches? When you receive a junk fax, you can politely fax a message back to the perpetrator asking to be removed from its mailing list...or you can start a fax war.

How to Do It: There are several battlefield tactics for this. The most effective: Take the offending fax you received and tape the sheets together end-to-end. Feed one end into the fax machine and dial the sender's fax number. As the fax feeds through the rollers, tape the top and bottom ends of the fax together to form an endless loop. The fax will stop running when the receiving fax machine runs out of paper. If your fax machine supports it, make sure to reprogram it so that your return phone number doesn’t appear in the fax header.

If you're really mad, you can try this same technique using pages of plain black or colored paper. Blobs of charcoal-colored goo will emerge on the other end. Send enough black pages through and you’ll occasion a trip to the repair shop for the receiving fax machine.

Of course, you'll want to be sure the enemy doesn't retaliate while you're waging this fax war. Your best defense is to simply take the paper out of your fax machine. This allows you to send faxes whenever you like, but you never have to receive them—at least until a cease-fire has been declared.

Punish 'Reply to All' Gnats

One criminal feature of e-mail packages is the Reply to All command. A message goes out to a group with a simple directive, and inevitably everyone on the mailing list is soon besieged by dozens of replies that have less personal significance than a wooden outhouse being struck by lightning. Even worse than an ordinary Reply to All gnat in your office is the person who replies to a list server, demanding to be removed from the mailing list. (Does the genius not understand he's replying to a server, for crying out loud?) The only cure for this inexcusable behavior: public humiliation.

How to Do It: First, you'll need to locate a multimegabyte file-400MB should fit the bill. You can create one by zipping the contents of a public directory on the net work. Wait for the reply gnat to leave his workstation unattended, then commandeer it and create a Reply to All message with the 400MB file uncompressed as an attachment. Hit the Send button, then hightail it out of there. The poor fellow will need a fire extinguisher for all the flame mail he'll receive.

For list-server Reply to All offenders, visit an anonymous remailer. Copy the original message header from the first offending e-mail and paste it into a message from an anonymous remailer. Attach that 400MB file and broadcast it to the entire listserv mailing list. Sign it with the name of the offender. The heavens will brighten from the inferno at his workstation.

How To Get AheadMove Your Print Jobs To the Front of the Queue

You have abiding respect for your colleagues, but let's be honest: Your greatest sympathies lie with...Numero Uno. The meeting has already started, you open up your 40-page report, hit the Print key, then sprint around the corner to the network printer. What do you discover? Twenty-five jobs are queued up ahead of yours, including a 20MB PostScript file. It's time to step ahead in the corporate food chain.

How to Do It: Return to your office and call up Windows 95's print monitor. Select the jobs ahead of you and choose Pause Printing. The jobs will be put on hold while yours stays active. Presto: You move to the front of the line. Don't forget to resume the other print jobs when you're done, so no one's suspicious.

Protect Your Weekend From an E-mail Grenade

It's Friday afternoon. You check your e-mail one last time before leaving for the day. You find a terse directive from the boss: I need the complete proposal for that new project. See that it's on my desk first thing on Monday.

Has your weekend suddenly exploded? Not necessarily. The secret to ducking these late-afternoon e-mail grenades is simple: Conspire with the network. If the mes sage is fortuitously bounced back, how can you be held responsible for delivering on it?

How to Do It: When you get a message that can only be unwelcome news, first forward it to yourself so that it doesn't trigger a message-receipt notice, should one be attached. Now forward the message to a fake e-mail address on the network. Within seconds an error message will appear in your e-mail box. Open the message and copy the contents of it into a new message to your boss. Copy the header information and subject title on the new message so that it looks to your boss as if the network is kicking his message back. Just before walking out the door for the day, hit the Send key so the message is delivered to your boss. Now hightail it out of there before the boss has a chance to ricochet it back to you.

Get the Top Brass on the Phone

Caller ID is a double-edged sword. It mercifully allows you to screen incoming calls. But it lets others screen you, too. This is especially troubling when you need to get someone with clout on the line. The best way around the problem requires an accomplice.

How to Get AheadHow to Do It: Let's say you're trying to reach Norvin Drawers, vice president of marketing. Instead of dialing Norvin's direct line, call the main number and ask for the company president. You'll get his assistant. Explain that you were misdirected, and that you’re really trying to reach big Norvin. Would they be so kind as to transfer you? When Norvin sees that the call is coming from the president's office, he'll pick up the phone in a heartbeat.

Watching Your Back

Stealing Time from You

How He Did It: Your enemy arrives at the office early. From the print server or an extra workstation—you'll never trace this back to his PC—he first logs out of the network (by typing LOGOUT at the DOS or network prompt or by simply rebooting the system). Now he attempts to log in as you. When the network asks for your password, he types in a random word and hits Enter. When it reports that the password is incorrect, he types in another word, then repeats the process until he sees some approximation of the following message: Network access denied, contact your system administrator. He'll then do the same for the boss, his assistant, and a smattering of other coworkers in order to cover his tracks. Suddenly the meeting has to be moved because you can't get to the vital documents. And while you're scurrying around, trying to get back onto the network, he's polishing his presentation.

How to Get AheadHow to Protect Yourself: Ask your network administrator to give you an unusual username and keep it a secret. No one will be able to even attempt to log in as you.

On the Boss's Hit List

Your esteemed colleague is vying for a promotion that has your name on it. He decides you need a little setback--embarrassment in front of the boss is the trick.

How He Did It: He slips into your unattended office and discreetly yanks your network connection from the wall. Now he begins an innocent e-mail thread with the boss that indirectly raises alarming questions about your sales forecasts or other work. He appears to be earnestly con fused. The boss drops you an e-mail message demanding an immediate explanation.

Why aren't you returning the boss's e-mail? Are you taking another two-hour lunch? Are you squirming to come up with an explanation? The boss is fuming and you look like an idiot when the IS folks finally dis cover the hanging wire.

folks finally dis cover the hanging wire. How to Protect Yourself: Hardware is the last thing most people check when a network connection fails. Make it the first thing you inspect.

How to Get Ahead

Rain on Your Parade

You've finally got your chance to prove your inestimable worth to the company with a presentation for the boss. As luck would have it, two visiting vice presidents are in town and promise to sit in on your show. It's the last day of their visit. But a little office hysteria suddenly grinds everything to a halt, including your presentation. Your VPs can't wait for the dust to settle; they have a plane to catch. So much for your big moment.

How He Did It: A competing coworker sends an e-mail message to everyone in the office, reporting a virus. "It's eviscerating the contents of my hard drive!" exclaims the anguished note. Of course it's a ruse. The boss—a hopeless technophobe—cancels all meetings so that the IS folks can scan and cleanse every drive and floppy in his cluttered office. His face shows the panic of a man facing a firing squad.

How to Protect Yourself: Challenge Chicken Little. A few pointed questions over e-mail—with everyone in the office copied on the message--will reveal that your col league doesn't actually have a virus. You'll prove him to be a fool. If this doesn't assuage the boss, offer to scan and cleanse his hard drive and floppies for him. It'll be worlds faster than waiting for the IS people to arrive.

Communications Blackout

On a red-carpet trip to Bangkok, you are finessing a contract for the company. Negotiations require steadfast oversight from the home office. If all goes right, you will return a hero. But suddenly you find yourself cut off from your lifeline to the company: e-mail.

How He Did It: Your enemy sends you a message entitled "Urgent Update." But this is no ordinary e-mail—it has a 40MB file attachment that will take you three hours to download. Worse, you can't read any of your other mail until you download the attachment.

How to Protect Yourself: Better e-mail packages let you receive messages without attachments. Make sure to invoke this feature whenever you travel. If it turns out that you really need to receive a file, there are a host of ways to download it directly.

Bounced from the Printer Queue

How to Get AheadThe queue at your favorite network printer resembles the lines at the amusement park--chronically. You plug a 40-page presentation into the queue well ahead of time, then rush down to pick it up on your way to a meeting. It hasn't been printed. When you look at the print queue on the server's monitor, your presentation is nowhere to be found, and there are 15 jobs in the queue waiting to print. The meeting will be over before you can even produce your presentation.

How He Did It: Your selfish coworker doesn't have to plan ahead. He knows that he can move to the front of the line simply by bringing up the print monitor in Windows 95 and selecting Purge Print Jobs from the Printer menu.

How to Protect Yourself: Requisition a local printer. Even fast personal printers cost well under $1,000 today. When you need higher quality or faster print speeds, you can always reroute your printer job to the network printer.

How to Get Ahead