Disclaimer: This is not my work -- I did not write it, I only transcribed it here. Therefore, please do not vote this up. Do not C! it. I do not deserve it.

Addendum Feb 19, 2007: Curious email in my mailbox today:

From: Mike Taht

I am the original author of that piece. I was delighted to see your attempt to preserve it. You certainly have my permission to reprint it.

Somehow, the last line has been dropped since the original posting to some mailing list or another - it was...

"ahhhhh........ Quake".


System Administration - the movie

6:00 AM - Get beeped, "news is down!!", brush my teeth with coffee, login, fix it, check mail, scan several hundred messages, respond to 20+. This is the first time I've been successfully beeped in a while, I foolishly put new batteries in my beeper the other day, and somebody at work is a congenital optimist.

Every day is seems like one big Star Trek movie marathon. If you can't relate to Star Trek, you can't relate to what happens to a sysadm. If you've ever sat through all the star trek movies, that's how long the days are. The first couple hours drag just about as badly as the first movie does, too.

8:00 AM - go back to sleep

10:00 AM - wake, brush my teeth with coffee, depart for work

10:35 AM - sneak in. Entering my office is usually a very Zork-like affair:

Open door

"You are in a dark room, dimly lit by two black incandescent lamps and one green lava lamp. The lava lamp is very hot and bubbling madly. There is a spare light bulb for it here.

There is a large couch here. A guitar and bass are here. Pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Jerry Garcia adorn the walls. A web author is silently watching a programmer doing incomprehensible things in Perl. There is a two day old Burger King bag here. A system operator is asleep on the couch."

Sit in chair

"There is no chair here."

Kick system operator

"The night shift system operator rolls over, snores, and drools into the pillow. "

Contemplate an eternity spent like this.

"I'm sorry, you can't contemplate that!"

Part 2: The Crash of Calm

10:40 AM - My monitor still has a convergence problem. It's haunted by ghosts. I don't know what's wrong with it, I've made sacrifices to the appropriate gods, degaussed it, waved a dead chicken, and begged the appropriate managers for a new one, and every morning I come in and find the same ghosts all over my screen. It's my karma, I guess. I think next Saturday night I'll swap out my monitor for the President's (first removing all the bumper stickers and day glo logos and such, rendering the swap more inconspicuous) and see what it does for his karma. What fun!

The monitor is too big to fit in my car, otherwise I would have taken it off to repairland long ago. At this point I'd consider strapping it with velcro to the back of the hackermobile and taking my chances, but I'm not allowed to drive that anymore. I asked a newbie hire to drop it off for me at the computer repair center before I left for Boulder, his manager ixnayed it as he didn't want the possibility of the hire walking off with it.

Frankly it might be a relief to see them both go, holographic displays may be in vogue before I get this sucker replaced.

It's not like I need a monitor, anyway, last month I lost my entire computer to a hacker attack and later the replacement became a server so now my monitor just sort of sits there and glows until I plug my laptop in. There's all these wires attached to nothing on the floor. Maybe the ghosts are of CBM's past..

PART 3: THE QUEST FOR COFFEE

10:50 AM With my chair stolen, my monitor useless, my morals offended by the Burger King bag (I'm a vegetarian), my office is obviously uninhabitable. I depart in search of coffee. Coffee will make everything better. Yes, that magical, mystical caffeeeeen Bean, an integral part of the Force, the center of my Universe. Where art thou, O sumatra? Oh Manjaline? Why can't you be Truuee?

10:52 AM 2 steps, and my AA tells me I had two appointments today. One at 10:00 and at 2:00. I stare blankly. She looks again and blushes, telling me that the appointments were for last week (I haven't the heart to tell her I missed the 10:00 AM one last week and the 2:00 never showed) I wonder just what the date is set for on her computer. We've got the most current computers on the planet and NONE of them can keep time better than a 2 dollar watch does underwater.

10:54 AM 2 more steps and a graphic artist wants to show me his latest rendering. Appropriate "oohs" and "ahhhs" ensue before his need for "warm feedback fuzzy approval virtual hugs" is slaked and I can move on.

I'll have to return via the training room if I don't want to have to admire the next 5 degree movement of the model and the lighting change.

10:58 AM

I almost get to the door before I'm captured from behind by the web support tech who wants to get ftp access back for his server sites. An elbow to the gut and a backhand across the throat gets me to the main corridor.

10:59 AM

The receptionist tells me she has two messages and a package for me. HooWee! maybe it's more free demo software!

Mom sent me 3 Shirts. With collars.

How nice.

I now have 1 ½ times the ironing to do if I wanted to wear a expensive collared shirt to work every day. Or I can wear one of those neat nifty wash'n wear T-shirts the industry keeps giving me for free and never have to break out an iron, OR have to fold anything. Choices, choices.

Almost 20 minutes have passed and I've gotten almost 20 feet closer to my goal. Coffee.

11:20 AM

There's no coffee left in the corporate pot. There's some ooze left in the President's pot. I like the Pres's coffee a lot, but this ooze looks like it might come alive and tear off my nose if I get near it. I ask the CEO's secretary to put on another pot but she ignores me.

I'm devastated. I may have mumbled the request, or something, but today I'll be damned if I get down on my knees and beg her to make me a pot like I usually do. My joints are bothering me, this morning, anyway. I forgot to smoke my painkiller at 6 AM.

But I'm in real trouble. The last time I tried to make my own coffee I created a small lake in the lunch room, and what was left of the coffee was too weak to be effective except by injection.

I have two choices left: Enter the sales department and raid their coffee machine, or slink back to the lunch room and see if I can catch the coffee in-between waves of the support techs. Somehow those guys manage to drink decaffinated coffee and it's not always marked as such. I'm deathly allergic to decaf.

The best course is Sales, then if that mission fails, through the back way towards the Lunch room. Sales is a good bet. I'm bleary eyed, almost staggering. I may not make it much further. If I put on one of these new shirts, perhaps they won't recognize me. Mr. Johnny Net goes incognito! Sure wish I'd brought my sunglasses and a hat.

My "Hollywood Cows" (my cousin's Disney-based production shop) mug has disappeared again so I swipe what is undoubtably somebody else's personal mug, strip down and swap shirts in the conference room and proceed to:

Part 5: The Undiscovered Country - Sales

I thought "The Undiscovered Country" was the second worst ST movie. Remember the bird of prey losing gravity and the Klingons floating in the air, with these huge perfectly symmetric, deep purple drops of blood coming out of them? For me that was the best part of that film!

I focus really hard on that scene whenever I walk into Sales. Hoping the gravity would go off, breasts would float up to their original proportions and locations, wrinkles would magically disappear, and maybe, just maybe, there'd be blood, YES, BLOOD everywhere!

I survived intact. I even picked up a second coffee with 10 sugars for my roomie, who describes cuban coffee as "overly bitter."

Part 6: The Really bad movie

11:40 AM Meet with web group

12:01 PM I once counted 22 separate interruptions in my office in an hour long period. After about the 12th my roommate and I just started laughing hysterically at each entry before we gathered up our stuff and took a long lunch huddled over my laptop at the local dunk and drink.

I'm told that the maximum a normal person can handle is 4 interruptions per hour before becoming unproductive. I'm not a normal person, so I figure I'm five and a half times more productive than an unproductive person. Whatever that means.

I've tried all kinds of ways of getting the 2-3 solid hours I need to get the hard stuff done during the day. I've tried a basic barrier to visitations from other people - It's called a door. I've had it closed. I've had it locked. I've had it marked with a large

KEEP OUT - KILLER ATTACK CAT!

sign. Another sign:

Wear a tie, time to DIE!

I've hung a "do not disturb" sign stolen from a San Fransisco hotel on the handle - all to no avail. I don't get it.

Halitosis shakes off all but the most persistent, but while I've taken to carrying garlic and onions in my laptop carryall in case of an attack by salesdroids ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H vampires, I also keep gum around in the off chance I get a visitor (female) that I do want to see. Haven't had to buy gum in a while, though, sadly enough. I think I washed the pack I'm carrying around. Twice.

I'm thinking of having that door handle electrified. (if I can just get that voltage right - not enough to kill. Enough to disable. Hmmmmmmmmmmm..... Or maybe enough to kill. Darwin, if not the U.S. Court system, would approve of my methods of teaching literacy, I'm sure. )

12:30 - Order lunch

12:50 - Lunch arrives. I ignore it. I'm in a Zone!!!. Paying some delivery boy for food and tipping him would distract me too much.

2:00 PM - eat lunch at my desk while SWIPing networks and fixing name service tables. The Zone slowly fades away...

Part 7: GENERATIONS

3:00 PM - take sweep through technical support "Are we down?" A few traceroutes later it turns out the SF MCI interchange is flaky again. Show support techs how to use tracert for the billionth time. People beg me for ftp access and I stare blankly at them.

3:20 PM Get buttonholed by a salesdroid - "Do we sell ISD lines?" - I try to duck through the sysmom area but no go, she follows me in past the "No admittance - THIS MEANS YOU! " sign. There's a picture of an international stop symbol over a vaguely humanoid looking being wearing a stylized suit on this particular sign. She corners me up against an NT box. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a wierd space! She asks again "Do we sell ISD lines?". Since I've had time to think about the question I tell her that we used to sell them, but since ISDN lines are 25% faster (that's what that fourth letter at the end of ISD"N" buys you, you understand), those are the only ones on the pricelist. Her next question: "Well, would we discount an ISD line for this customer?"

3:30 PM try to contact a vendor. On thing I like about calling most of my vendors is that they are all in California, and that means that A) I can't call them early in the morning, when I'm not planning to be awake anyway, and B) I can call them after business hours, where I can lie on my couch, close my eyes, and listen to some remote radio station somewhere as background music while I patiently wait on hold because "my business is important to them". This vendor's hold music quality is better than realaudio, but not by much, and the music is more like Yiddish Rap than rock n' roll, so my wait on hold is a little more painful than usual.

After 10 minutes of this I'm praying for voice mail. Oh God, give me voice mail!!!. No voice mail. There must be no God. I'm rolling on the couch, in horrible pain, shaking like the girl in the exorcist and the music keeps continuing not to stop and I fall in love with the voice that says Your call is important to us, please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order received.

I give up, having cost the vendor 25 minutes of 800 long distance at at least 10 cents a minute to help out some weird radio station that never even took a station break while I was on hold. If I was smarter about it, I'd take revenge by hacking their phone system and redirecting my call through their 800 number to a competitor of theirs. If they don't change their hold music I'll think about it more seriously next time. Maybe I'll just ask for the email address of their phone system's voice, she sounds very understanding. Yea... that's the ticket.

I've managed to completely disable my personal voice mail somehow, and I love it. Only 1/10th the people that try to call me ever get a message through to me, and it's far easier to blame a human being in absentia for losing my messages than a stupid computer. I don't get calls after hours, either, if I don't want them. Heh. Heh. Heh.

5:30 PM - Glance at day's email using my crufty old friend, the Unix "Mail" utility. (I use it because I can quickly do a "f icanect" and get all internal mail headers at a glance, procmail sux, and although I'm addicted to Eudora filters, that box is now doing server duty). 182 new messages. I shudder, and hit x quickly, before I'm sucked in.

6:30 PM - Try to write some new CISCO access filters. Company president stops by and wants to me to download, install and run iss's new security scanner software. I'm in the middle of the 4th factorial permutation of a 6 factorial deep problem and mumble something less than polite. No good. He really wants me to run this. I try to foist the work off on someone else. No good. Nothing's working. I promise to take a look at it as soon as possible and cross my fingers as to another sysmom showing up at the wrong time in the right place. The Heisinberg uncertianity principle seems to be working well for me lately in that way.

9:30 PM - Try to leave. Revise those IP filters on the CISCO instead. Try em out, "hmm, looks good to me". Leave them up. Heh. Heh. Heh. I love to experiment on the night support staff during peak hours. Oooops! The router rebooted. Oh well.

11:30 PM - Try to leave. Get a report that MS- Netmeeting isn't working internally, sure enough, the new filters blocked them out, put a sniffer on the problem, revise the filter damning @!#!@ Microsoft all to hell for not publishing source code. Somebody bitches about FTP and I refer them to the BOFH page as I'll be damned if I'll open those ports up until the new firewall is ready for prime time. Oops, I meant this BOFH page.

I figure I'm already damned.

I seem to remember this wild Cypherpunk party in California and this runty red faced guy with big ears promising me I could run my own ISP if only I would donate a little blood for his pen, as he was out of ink. I think I explained to him the authenticity of pgp signatures while he sat there, tapping his pen, nodding his head. Shortly after that I woke up in Florida, with a terrible hangover...

12:10 AM The building is silent, almost completely empty. The couch calls to me, but I shake off the sleepies this time and catch up on my php mailing list, try to incorporate the latest (b3) code into the apache kernel into my stuff, give up, try to leave.

12:30 AM A webauthor calls and asks for a dedicated IP address so he can ftp to the web server. I let the phone drop from my numbed, deadened fingers and bolt for the door.

1:00 AM - Depart for home

1:35 AM - Ahhhhhhh... Quake


Mike (mike@icanect.net)
Hey! I think I saw the first five minutes of this movie...

...but then the projector broke and they told me that they'd had to order a part and call the engineer, who wouldn't be there until tomorrow and 'haven't you got a meeting to go to or a desk to tidy or something?'.

I went home.

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