Fun_People Archive
1 Oct
Know Your Unix Sysadmin

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed,  1 Oct 97 13:34:21 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: Know Your Unix Sysadmin

[If you've never used a time-shared Unix system you may not understand all
 of this.  But some of you will not only understand it, you'll know the
 people they're describing... personally...  -psl]

Forwarded-by: Dan Hunt <>


There are four major species of Unix sysad:

1) The TECHNICAL THUG. Usually a systems programmer who has been forced into
   system administration; writes scripts in a polyglot of the Bourne shell,
   sed, C, awk, perl, and APL.

2) The ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST. Usually a retentive drone (or rarely, a
   harridan ex-secretary) who has been forced into system administration.

3) The MANIAC. Usually an aging cracker who discovered that neither the
   Mossad nor Cuba are willing to pay a living wage for computer espionage.
   Fell into system administration; occasionally approaches major
   competitors with indesp schemes.

4) The IDIOT. Usually a cretin, morpohodite, or old COBOL programmer
   selected to be the system administrator by a committee of cretins,
   morphodites, and old COBOL programmers.


SITUATION: Low disk space

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes a suite of scripts to monitor disk usage,
     maintain a database of historic disk usage, predict future disk usage
     via least squares regression analysis, identify users who are more than
     a standard deviation over the mean, and send mail to the offending
     parties. Places script in cron. Disk usage does not change, since
     disk-hogs, by nature, either ignore script-generated mail, or file it
     away in triplicate.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts disk usage policy in motd. Uses disk
     quotas. Allows no exceptions, thus crippling development work. Locks
     accounts that go over quota.

   * MANIAC:
     # cd /home
     # rm -rf `du -s * | sort -rn | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`;

   * IDIOT:
     # cd /home
     # cat `du -s * | sort -rn | head -1 | awk '{ printf "%s/*\n", $2}'` | \


SITUATION: Excessive CPU usage.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes a suite of scripts to monitor processes,
     maintain a database of CPU usage, identify processes more than a
     standard deviation over the norm, and renice offending processes.
     Places script in cron. Ends up renicing the production database into
     oblivion, bringing operations to a grinding halt, much to the delight
     of the xtrek freaks.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts CPU usage policy in motd. Uses CPU quotas.
     Locks accounts that go over quota. Allows no exceptions, thus crippling
     development work, much to the delight of the xtrek freaks.

   * MANIAC:
     # kill -9 `ps -augxww | sort -rn +8 -9  | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`

   * IDIOT:
     # compress -f `ps -augxww | sort -rn +8 -9  | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`


SITUATION: New account creation.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes perl script that creates home directory, copies
     in incomprehensible default environment, and places entries in
     /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/group. (By hand, NOT with passmgmt.)
     Slaps on setuid bit; tells a nearby secretary to handle new accounts.
     Usually, said secretary is still dithering over the difference between
     'enter' and 'return'; and so, no new accounts are ever created.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts new account policy in motd. Since people
     without accounts cannot read the motd, nobody ever fulfills the
     bureaucratic requirements; and so, no new accounts are ever created.

   * MANIAC: "If you're too stupid to break in and create your own account,
     I don't want you on the system. We've got too many goddamn
     sh*t-for-brains a**holes on this box anyway."

   * IDIOT:
     # cd /home; mkdir "Bob's home directory"
     # echo "Bob Simon:gandalf:0:0::/dev/tty:compress -f" > /etc/passwd


SITUATION: Root disk fails.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Repairs drive. Usually is able to repair filesystem
     from boot monitor. Failing that, front-panel toggles microkernel in and
     starts script on neighboring machine to load binary boot code into
     broken machine, reformat and reinstall OS. Lets it run over the weekend
     while he goes mountain climbing.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Begins investigation to determine who broke the
     drive. Refuses to fix system until culprit is identified and charged
     for the equipment.

   * MANIAC, LARGE SYSTEM: Rips drive from system, uses sledgehammer to
     smash same to flinders. Calls manufacturer, threatens pets. Abuses
     field engineer while they put in a new drive and reinstall the OS.

   * MANIAC, SMALL SYSTEM: Rips drive from system, uses ball-peen hammer to
     smash same to flinders. Calls Requisitions, threatens pets. Abuses
     bystanders while putting in new drive and reinstalling OS.

   * IDIOT: Doesn't notice anything wrong.


SITUATION: Poor network response.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes scripts to monitor network, then rewires entire
     machine room, improving response time by 2%. Shrugs shoulders, says,
     "I've done all I can do," and goes mountain climbing.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts network usage policy in motd. Calls up
     Berkeley and AT&T, badgers whoever answers for network quotas. Tries to
     get xtrek freaks fired.

   * MANIAC: Every two hours, pulls ethernet cable from wall and waits for
     connections to time out.

   * IDIOT:
     # compress -f /dev/en0


SITUATION: User questions.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Hacks the code of emacs' doctor-mode to answer new
     users questions. Doesn't bother to tell people how to start the new
     "guru-mode", or for that matter, emacs.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts user support policy in motd. Maintains
     queue of questions. Answers them when he gets a chance, often within
     two weeks of receipt of the proper form.

   * MANIAC: Screams at users until they go away. Sometimes barters
     knowledge for powerful drink and/or sycophantic adulation.

   * IDIOT: Answers all questions to best of his knowledge until the user
     realizes few UNIX systems support punched cards or JCL.


SITUATION: *Stupid* user questions.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Answers question in hex, binary, postfix, and/or French
     until user gives up and goes away.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Locks user's account until user can present
     documentation demonstrating their qualification to use the machine.

   * MANIAC:
     # cat >> ~luser/.cshrc
     alias vi 'rm \!*;unalias vi;grep -v BoZo ~/.cshrc > ~/.z; \
     mv -f ~/.z ~/.cshrc'

   * IDIOT: Answers all questions to best of his knowledge. Recruits user to
     system administration team.


SITUATION: Process accounting management.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Ignores packaged accounting software; trusts scripts to
     sniff out any problems & compute charges.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Devotes 75% of disk space to accounting records
     owned by root and chmod'ed 000.

   * MANIAC: Laughs fool head off at very mention of accounting.

   * IDIOT:
     # lpr /etc/wtmp /usr/adm/paact


SITUATION: Religious war, BSD vs. System V.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: BSD. Crippled on System V boxes.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: System V. Horrified by the people who use BSD.
     Places frequent calls to DEA.

   * MANIAC: Prefers BSD, but doesn't care as long as HIS processes run

   * IDIOT:
     # cd c:


SITUATION: Religious war, System V vs. AIX


   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: AIX-- doesn't much care for the OS, but loves
     the jackboots.

   * MANIAC: System V, but keeps AIX skills up, knowing full well how much
     Big Financial Institutions love IBM...

   * IDIOT: AIX.


SITUATION: Balky printer daemons.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Rewrites lpd in FORTH.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts printer use policy in motd. Calls customer
     support every time the printer freezes. Tries to get user who submitted
     the most recent job fired.

   * MANIAC: Writes script that kills all the daemons, clears all the print
     queues, and maybe restarts the daemons. Runs it once a hour from cron.

   * IDIOT:
     # kill -9 /dev/lp ; /dev/lp &


SITUATION: OS upgrade.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Reads source code of new release, takes only what he

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Instigates lawsuit against the vendor for
     having shipped a product with bugs in it in the first place.

   * MANIAC:
     # uptime
     1:33pm  up 19 days, 22:49,  167 users,  load average: 6.49, 6.45, 6.31
     # wall
     Well, it's upgrade time.  Should take a few hours.  And good luck on that
     5:00 deadline, guys!  We're all pulling for you!

   * IDIOT:
     # dd if=/dev/rmt8 of=/vmunix


SITUATION: Balky mail.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Rewrites from scratch. Rewrites sendmail in
     SNOBOL. Hacks kernel to implement file locking. Hacks kernel to
     implement "better" semaphores. Rewrites sendmail in assembly. Hacks
     kernel to . . .

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Puts mail use policy in motd. Locks accounts
     that go over mail use quota. Keeps quota low enough that people go back
     to interoffice mail, thus solving problem.

   * MANIAC:
     # kill -9 `ps -augxww | grep sendmail | awk '{print $2}'`
     # rm -f /usr/spool/mail/*
     # wall
     Mail is down.  Please use interoffice mail until we have it back up.
     # write max
     I've got my boots and backpack.  Ready to leave for Mount Tam?

   * IDIOT:
     # echo "HELP!" | mail!BIFF!!!


SITUATION: Users want phone list application.

   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes RDBMS in perl and Smalltalk. Users give up and
     go back to post-it notes.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Oracle. Users give up and go back to post-it

   * MANIAC: Tells the users to use flat files and grep, the way God meant
     man to keep track of phone numbers. Users give up and go back to
     post-it notes.

   * IDIOT:
     % dd ibs=80 if=/dev/rdisk001s7 | grep "Fred"



   * TECHNICAL THUG: Longer than eight kilobytes. Sources the output of a
     perl script, rewrites itself.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Typical lines include:
     umask 777
     alias cd 'cd \!*; rm -rf ching *hack mille rogue xtrek >& /dev/null &'

   * MANIAC: Typical lines include:
     alias rm 'rm -rf \!*'
     alias hose kill -9 '`ps -augxww | grep \!* | awk \'{print $2}\'`'
     alias kill 'kill -9 \!* ; kill -9 \!* ; kill -9 \!*'
     alias renice 'echo Renice\?  You must mean kill -9.; kill -9 \!*'

   * IDIOT: Typical lines include:
     alias dir ls
     alias era rm
     alias kitty cat
     alias process_table ps
     setenv DISPLAY vt100



   * TECHNICAL THUG: Writes entries for Obsfuscated C contest. Optimizes
     INTERCAL scripts. Maintains ENIAC emulator. Virtual reality .

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Bugs office. Audits card-key logs. Modifies old
     TVs to listen in on cellular phone conversations. Listens to police

   * MANIAC: Volunteers at Survival Research Labs. Bugs office. Edits
     card-key logs. Modifies old TVs to listen in on cellular phone
     conversations. Jams police band.

   * IDIOT: Ties shoes. Maintains COBOL decimal to roman numeral converter.
     Rereads flowcharts from his salad days at Rand.



   * TECHNICAL THUG: Drinks "Smart Drinks." Attends raves. Hangs out at
     poetry readings and Whole Earth Review events and tries to pick up
     Birkenstock MOTAS.

   * ADMINISTRATIVE FASCIST: Reads _Readers Digest_ and _Mein Kampf_.
     Sometimes turns up car radio and sings along to John Denver. Golfs.
     Drinks gin martinis. Hangs out in yuppie bars and tries to pick up

   * MANIAC: Reads _Utne Reader_ and _Mein Kampf_. Faithfully attends
     Dickies and Ramones concerts. Punches out people who say "virtual
     reality." Drinks damn near anything, but favors Wild Turkey, Black
     Bush, and grain alcohol. Hangs out in neighborhood bars and tries to
     pick up MOTAS by drinking longshoremen under the table .

   * IDIOT: Reads _Time_ and _Newsweek_-- and *believes* them. Drinks
     Jagermeister. Tries to pick up close blood relations-- often succeeds,
     producting next generation of idiots.



   * TECHNICAL FASCIST: Hacks kernel & writes a horde of scripts to prevent
     folk from ever using more than their fair share of system resources.
     Resulting overhead and load brings system to its knees.

   * TECHNICAL MANIAC: Writes scripts that SEEM to be monitoring the system,
     but are actually encrypting large lists of passwords. Uses nearby nodes
     as beta test sites for worms.

   * TECHNICAL IDIOT: Writes superuser-run scripts that sooner or later do
     an "rm -rf /".

   * FASCISTIC MANIAC: At first hint of cracker incursions, whether real or
     imagined, shuts down system by triggering water-on-the-brain detectors
     and Halon system.

     # cp /dev/null /etc/passwd

   * MANIACAL IDIOT: Napalms the CPU.

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