“The Deck Below Zero”
a sysadmin story
I am both trying to produce a primer for administrators and users of admins; as much as I am also trying to increase my own learning of especially practical, from-the-field usability and UNIX matters. As a matter fact, I also try to lower my intake of McDonald’s -based triglyserides, and start cooking at home, but these aspects probably will not show up in this text.
I have been a computer administrator for my whole life - the computer(s) have just changed. A Commodore Business Machines CBM C=64 was easy one: just remember to take the dust off periodically with a moist cloth. The computer whirred and served throughout 1984- (yes, there’s no ending to it, since it can still be just turned on and it works!)
It had a burned-in ROM operating system, so it was virus free and always looking good. You simply could not get it into one of those famous F-cup states (=f**ked up).
Psychological profile: The Admin
An administrator is the key person in a company. He runs the practical errands regarding computers and other information assets, like mobile phones, network lease, security. In the dark cellar, below what users think as basement or floor zero, the administrator sacrifies blonde virgins and wears horns. For many decades, admins were able to convince users that there’s nothing interesting below “deck 0”.
When an application crashes, when locks are too tight, when the LED-based Christmas candles that CEO ordered hanging do not work, or when the espresso machine stops working in the office, the administrator gets a call. The admin, whether present physically in the same office, or some few thousand miles away virtually, is a very central person for a company’s wellbeing.
Admins are relatively hard to spot. The only features that an in-depth analysis has uncovered is that there’s quite strong bond to wear all-black clothes, have a hair longer than average culturally-set male hair length, and prefer trenchcoats and light armament. Administrators have replaced traditional religions with new-age ones, like VMWare, certain Linux cults, and Jolt. Often there exists a do-all attribute with tools. One administrator was known to try help a user by pouring the Jolt cola over the user.
Energy-drink consumption is said to balance the body electrolytes so that the administrator can
touch the computer all day long without causing disruptive voltage surges to the
Administrators never have neuroses, they only have strict habits. The vocabulary set is curiously enough not a sub-set, but a superset of ordinary language.
Beyond ordinary measures
Admins become soon priest-like. Their robe gets darker, the beard gets longer, and people ask personally very significant questions; sometimes the company is equipped with a sound-proof booth, where the peon (ah.. employee) first squirms, sweats, small-talks, and THEN! Boom! Hits the admin with a question about his twisted family relations or the possibility to cheat in an inheritance scheme.
Schooling in computer architecture, electronics, networks, electrical engineering, management, usability and customer care can prepare an administrator better to face the planning and daily tasks. But this really is preparation; no admin is a natural gem. The work and changing technology, discussions with application users, subcontractors, security people, and consultants all iterate the route into perfection - or complete
insanity, which are very difficult to tell apart.