Unix Admin. Horror Story Summary, version 1.0
compiled by:  Anatoly Ivasyuk (anatoly@nick.csh.rit.edu)

This is version 1.0 of the unofficial "Unix Administration Horror Story
Summary".  This is a summary of the "Unix Administration Horror Stories"
thread which was seen in comp.unix.admin in October '92.  I put this
together for two reasons:
  1)  Some of these stories are damn amusing.
  2)  Many people can learn many things about what *not* to do when
      they're in charge of a system.

This summary contains quite a few different types of stories.  There are
success stories, and... well... other stories.  But the most important thing
that can be learned from this is not that you have to make backups (we all
know that, right? ;-)  ).  More important than making backups is to make sure
your backups are complete and verified.  For more on this, see the story
about trying to backup 300MB drives onto 150MB tapes.

If there are additional stories that anyone wants to submit, I'll be glad
to add them to this FAQ.  Send them to me at: anatoly@nick.csh.rit.edu.
Please send any general comments my way, also.

Please consider this a "beta test" release.  I have not had the time to
go over this as many times as I wanted to, so there may be mistakes in
my editing.  I have not edited the content of the stories except where
noted, and may have excluded stories or bits where I felt it was appropriate.



The posting that started it all:

On 7 Oct 92 12:02:46 GMT, aras@multix.no (Arne Asplem) said:

> I'm the program chair for a one day conference on Unix system
> administration in Oslo in 3 weeks, including topics like network
> management, system admininistration tools, integration, print/file-servers,
> securitym, etc.

> I'm looking for actual horror stories of what have gone wrong because
> of bad system administration, as an early morning wakeup.

> I'll summarise to the net if there is any interest.

>   -- Arne


From: jdell@maggie.mit.edu (John Ellithorpe)
Organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Here's a pretty bad story.  I wanted to have root use tcsh instead of the
Bourne shell.  So I decided to copy tcsh to /usr/local/bin.  I created the
file, /etc/shells, and put in /usr/local/bin/tcsh, along with /bin/sh and

All seems fine, so I used the chsh command and changed root's shell to
/usr/local/bin/tcsh.  So I logged out and tried to log back in.  Only to find
out that I couldn't get back in.  Every time I tried to log in, I only got
the statement: /usr/local/bin/tcsh: permission denied!

I instantly realized what I had done.  I forgot to check that tcsh has
execute privileges and I couldn't get in as root!

After about 30 minutes of getting mad at myself, I finally figured out to just
bring the system down to single-user mode, which ONLY uses the /bin/sh,
thankfully, and edited the password file back to /bin/sh.

I'll never do that again.  This wasn't that much of a horror story, but good
enough if you aren't that familiar with the system.



From: dbrillha@dave.mis.semi.harris.com (Dave Brillhart)
Organization: Harris Semiconductor

We can laugh (almost) about it now, but...

Our operations group, a VMS group but trying to learn UNIX, was assigned
account administration. They were cleaning up a few non-used accounts
like they do on VMS - backup and purge. When they came across the
account "sccs", which had never been accessed, away it went. The
"deleteuser" utility fom DEC asks if you would like to delete all
the files in the account. Seems reasonable, huh?

Well, the home directory for "sccs" is "/". Enough said :-(


From: tzs@stein.u.washington.edu (Tim Smith)
Organization: University of Washington, Seattle

I was working on a line printer spooler, which lived in /etc.  I wanted
to remove it, and so issued the command "rm /etc/lpspl."  There was only
one problem.  Out of habit, I typed "passwd" after "/etc/" and removed
the password file.  Oops.

I called up the person who handled backups, and he restored the password

A couple of days later, I did it again!  This time, after he restored it,
he made a link, /etc/safe_from_tim.

About a week later, I overwrote /etc/passwd, rather than removing it.

After he restored it again, he installed a daemon that kept a copy of
/etc/passwd, on another file system, and automatically restored it if
it appeared to have been damaged.

Fortunately, I finished my work on /etc/lpspl around this time, so we
didn't have to see if I could find a way to wipe out a couple of

--Tim Smith


From: nickp@BNR.CA ("Nick  Pitfield", N.T.)


The following horror story occured only last week....

One of my colleagues had been itching to get into sys admin for some time,
so last week he was finally sent on a 5-day sys admin course run by HP in

On the following Sunday, he decided to try out his new found knowledge by
trying to connect and configure a DAT drive on one of our critical test
systems. He connected the cables up okay, and then created the device file
using 'mknod'.

Unfortunately, he gave the device file the same minor & major device numbers
as the root disk; so as soon as he tried to write to this newly installed
'DAT drive', the machine wents tits up with a corrupt root disk....ho hum.


	Nick Pitfield.


From: philip@haas.berkeley.edu (Philip Enteles)
Organization: Haas School of Business, Berkeley

As a new system administrator of a Unix machine with limited space I
thought I was doing myself a favor by keeping things neat and clean. One
day as I was 'cleaning up' I removed a file called 'bzero'. Strange
things started to happen like vi didn't work then the compliants started
coming in. Mail didn't work. The compilers didn't work. About this time
the REAL system administrator poked his head in and asked what I had
done. Further examination showed that bzero is the zeroed memory without
which the OS had no operating space so anything using temporary memory
was non-functional. The repair? Well things are tough to do when most of
the utilities don't work. Eventually the REAL system administrator took
the system to single user and rebuilt the system including full
restores from a tape system. The Moral is don't be to anal about things
you don't understand. Take the time learn what those strange files are before
removeing them and screwing yourself.

Philip Enteles


From: broberts@waggen.twuug.com (Bill Roberts)
Organization: Brite Systems

My most interesting in the reguard was when I deleted "/dev/null".  Of
course it was soon recreated as a "regular file", then permission problems
started to show up.

I was new at the game at the time and couldn't figure out what happened!
It look good to me.  I didn't know about "special files" and "mknod" and
major and minor device codes.  A friend finally helped out and started
laughing and put me on the right track.  That one episode taught me a
lot about my system.


From: Frank T Lofaro 
Organization: Sophomore, Math/Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA

    Well one time I was installing a minimal base system of Linux on a
friends PC, so that we would have all the necessary utlitities to bring
over the rest of the stuff. His 3 1/2 inch disk was dead, so when had to
get the 5 1/4 inch version of the boot/root disk. Too bad that version,
having to fit in 1.2M instead of 1.44, didn't have tar. We could get a
version of tar, but it was in a tar file (nice chicken and egg
scenario). I said, okay, since we don't have tar, we can't use that to
copy the files from floppy to the hard disk, I'll use cp instead (bad
move). It actually seemed to work for a while, then the machine
rebooted! I did it again, the same thing happened. Then I realize cp
wouldn't work on device files! (this is what happens when you try to
install un*x at 3 AM). It just read the contents of the device and made
a file containing such, which is undesireable in any event. (when it
read /dev/port, the device file that references I/O ports, it must've
did something to reboot the machine, that was the file that was causing
the reboots).

    I finally got it working by having him get the tar archive of the
linux binaries (including the tar we needed), and untarring it on one of
the public decstations here, so we could ftp tar to his PC using his dos
tcp/ip stuff. A funny aside was that it untarred into ~/bin, and
superseded all his normal commands. We were wondering why everything
wouldn't run. Luckily it wasn't too hard to fix after we realized what


From: mfraioli@grebyn.com (Marc Fraioli)
Organization: Grebyn Timesharing

Well, here's a good one for you:

 I was happily churning along developing something on a Sun workstation,
and was getting a number of annoying permission denieds from trying to
write into a directory heirarchy that I didn't own.  Getting tired of
that, I decided to set the permissions on that subtree to 777 while I
was working, so I wouldn't have to worry about it.  Someone had recently
told me that rather than using plain "su", it was good to use "su -",
but the implications had not yet sunk in.  (You can probably see where
this is going already, but I'll go to the bitter end.)  Anyway, I cd'd
to where I wanted to be, the top of my subtree, and did su -.  Then I
did chmod -R 777.  I then started to wonder why it was taking so damn
long when there were only about 45 files in 20 directories under where I
(thought) I was.  Well, needless to say, su - simulates a real login,
and had put me into root's home directory, /, so I was proceeding to set
file permissions for the whole system to wide open. I aborted it before
it finished, realizing that something was wrong, but this took quite a
while to straighten out.

Marc Fraioli

From: rheiger@renext.open.ch (Richard H. E. Eiger)
Organization: Olivetti (Schweiz) AG, Branch Office Berne

In article <1992OCT9.100444.27928@U.WASHINGTON.EDU> tzs@stein.u.washington.edu
(Tim Smith) writes:
> I was working on a line printer spooler, which lived in /etc.  I wanted
> to remove it, and so issued the command "rm /etc/lpspl."  There was only
> one problem.  Out of habit, I typed "passwd" after "/etc/" and removed
> the password file.  Oops.
[deleted to save space[
> --Tim Smith

Here's another story. Just imagine having the sendmail.cf file in /etc. Now, I
was working on the sendmail stuff and had come up with lots of sendmail.cf.xxx
which I wanted to get rid of so I typed "rm -f sendmail.cf. *". At first I was
surprised about how much time it took to remove some 10 files or so. Hitting
the interrupt key, when I finally saw what had happened was way to late,

Fortune has it that I'm a very lazy person. That's why I never bothered to just
back up directories with data that changes often. Therefore I managed to
restore /etc successfully before rebooting... :-) Happy end, after all. Of
course I had lost the only well working version of my sendmail.cf...



From: mitch@cirrus.com (Mitch Wright)
Organization: Cirrus Logic Inc.

I guess I should add a story (or maybe not).  Anyway, a fellow sysadmin
was looking to free up some much needed disk space.  Since it was purely
a production machine I suggested that he go through and "strip" his binaries.
Unfortunately I made the assumption that he knew what strip does and would
use it wisely -- flashes of the Bad News Bears come to mind now.
To make it short, he stripped /vmunix which didn't destroy the system, but
certainly caused some interesting problems.



From: hirai@cc.swarthmore.edu (Eiji Hirai)
Organization: Information Services, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, USA

Some of these stories of pure stupidity rather than of interesting horror
but they did happen.

[ BTW, these happened at a different place at a different time than where I
  am now.  Don't bother my current employer about it. ]

(1) A consultant we had hired (and not a very good one) was installing Unix
on one our workstations.  He was mucking with creating and deleting
/dev/tty* files and made /dev/tty a regular file.  Weird things started to
happen.  Commands would only print their output if you pressed return twice,
etc.  Fortunately, we solved the problem by re-mknod-ing /dev/tty.  However,
it took a while to realize what was causing this problem.

(2) I wanted to create a second swap partition on another disk and made the
partition start at sector 0 of the disk! (which sounded ok at the time since
all other regular 'a' partitions started on sector 0) Every time I rebooted,
fsck would complain about missing partition tables - I initially suspected
that the disk was bad but I later realized that swapping was overwriting the
partition table.  I had lost an unknown percentage of the financial data for
the institution that I was working for at the time, right when they were
being audited!  Yikes!  Anyway, we were able to recover the data and life
returned to normal but I did wonder at the time whether I could still keep
my job there.

(3) At the same institution, we were running a system software that had a
serious bug where if anyone had logged out ungracefully, the system wouldn't
let any more users onto the system and users who were logged on couldn't
execute any new commands.  (The newest release of the software later on did
fix this bug.) I had to reboot the machine to restore the system to a sane
state.  I did a wall < hirai@cc.swarthmore.edu (Eiji Hirai) writes:
>...[some deleted]
>(4) I heard this from a fellow sysadmin friend.  My friend was forced to
>work with some sysadmins who didn't have their act together.  One day, one
>of them was "cleaning" the filesytem and saw a file called "vmunix" in /.
>"Hmm, this is taking up a lot of space - let's delete it".  "rm /vmunix".

>My friend had to reinstall the entire OS on that machine after his coworker
>did this "cleanup".  Ahh, the hazards of working with sysadmins who really
>shouldn't be sysadmins in the first place.
When this happened to a colleague (when I worked somewhere else) he restored
vmunix by copying from another machine.  Unfortunately, a 68000 kernel does
not run very well on a Sparc...


From: smckinty@sunicnc.France.Sun.COM (Steve McKinty - Sun ICNC)
Organization: SunConnect

In article , hirai@cc.swarthmore.edu (Eiji Hirai) writes:

> (4) I heard this from a fellow sysadmin friend.  My friend was forced to
> work with some sysadmins who didn't have their act together.  One day, one
> of them was "cleaning" the filesytem and saw a file called "vmunix" in /.
> "Hmm, this is taking up a lot of space - let's delete it".  "rm /vmunix".
> My friend had to reinstall the entire OS on that machine after his coworker
> did this "cleanup".  Ahh, the hazards of working with sysadmins who really
> shouldn't be sysadmins in the first place.

Hmm. A colleague of mine did much the same by accident on one of
our test machines. After discovering it, fortunately while the machine
was still up & running, he FTPed a copy of /vmunix from the other lab
system (both running exactly the same kernel).

After rebooting his machine everything (to his relief) worked fine.


From: lingnau@math.uni-frankfurt.de (Anselm Lingnau)
Organization: University of Frankfurt/Main, Dept. of Mathematics

In article <1992OCT10.010412.3448@WAGGEN.TWUUG.COM>, broberts@waggen.twuug.com
(Bill Roberts) writes:

> My most interesting in the reguard was when I deleted "/dev/null".  Of
> course it was soon recreated as a "regular file", then permission problems
> started to show up.

Years ago when I was working in the Graphics Workshop at Edinburgh University,
we used to have a small UNIX machine for testing. The machine wasn't used too
much, so nobody bothered to set up user accounts, and so everybody was running
as root all the time. Now one of the chaps who used to come in was fond of
reading fortunes (/usr/games/fortune having been removed from the University's
real machines along with all the other games). Guess what happened when the
machine said

# fortune
fortune: write error on /dev/null --- please empty the bit bucket

Quite a lot of stuff wouldn't work after the chap was done with the machine
for the day. You bet we put up proper accounts after that!



From: peter@NeoSoft.com (Peter da Silva)
Organization: NeoSoft Communications Services -- (713) 684-5900

Well, we had one system on which you couldn't log in on the console for a
while after rebooting, but it'd start working sometimes. What was happening
was that the manufacturer had, for some idiot reason, hardcoded the names
of the terminals they wanted to support into getty (this manufacturers own
terminals, that I can understand, but also a handful of common types like
adm3a) so getty could clear the screen properly (I guess hacking that into
gettydefs was too obvious or something). If getty couldn't recognise the
terminal type on the command line, it'd display a message on the console
reading "Unknown terminal type pc100". We ignored this flamage, which was
a pity. Cos that was the problem.

It did this *before* opening the terminal, so if it happened to run between
the time rc completed and the getty on the console started the console got
attached to some random terminal somewhere, so when login attempted to open
/dev/tty to prompt for a password it failed.

Moral: always deal with error messages even when you *know* they're bogus.
Moral: never cry wolf.


From: rickf@pmafire.inel.gov (Rick Furniss)
Organization: WINCO

   Horror stories:
   Did this myself many years ago, and have come close to it since.

   Murphy's law #?? , preventive maintenence doesnt.

   try this one:   /etc/dump /dev/rmt/0m /dev/dsk/0s1
             Or:   tar cvf /dev/root /dev/rmt0

   Backups on unix can be one of the most dangerous commands used,
and they are used to prevent rather than cause a problem.  If any Unix
utility were a candidate for a warning message, or error checking, this
would be it.

   Just in case you didnt catch the HORROR above,  the parameters are backworks
causing a TOTAL wipe out of the root file systems.

   More systems have been wiped out by admins, than any hacker could do in
a life time.


From: gfowler@javelin.sim.es.com (Gary Fowler)
Organization: Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation

Once I was going to make a new file system using mkfs.  The device I wanted to
make it on was /dev/c0d1s8.  The device name that I used, however, was
/dev/c0d0s8 which held a very important application.  I had always been a little
annoyed by the 10 second wait that mkfs has before it actually makes the file
system.  I'm sure glad it waited that time though.  I probably waited 9.9
seconds before I realized my mistake and hit that DEL key just in time.  That
was a near disaster avoided.

Another time I wasn't so lucky.  I was a very new SA, and I was trying to clean
some junk out of a system.  I was in /usr/bin when I noticed a sub directory
that didn't belong there.  A former SA had put it there.  I did an ls on it and
determined that it could be zapped.  Forgetting that I was still in /usr/bin, I
did an rm *.  No 10 second idiot proofing with rm.  Now if some one would only
create an OS with a "Do what I mean, not what I say" feature.

Gary "Experience is what allows you to recognize a mistake the second time you
make it." Fowler


From: broadley@neurocog.lrdc.pitt.edu (Bill Broadley)
Organization: University of Pittsburgh

On a old decstation 3100 I was deleting last semesters users to try to
dig up some disk space, I also deleted some test users at the same time.

One user took longer then usual, so I hit control-c and tried ls.
"ls: command not found"

Turns out that the test user had / as the home directory and the remove
user script in ultrix just happily blew away the whole disk.

ftp, telnet, rcp, rsh, etc were all gone.  Had to go to tapes, and had
one LONG rebuild of X11R5.

Fortunately it wasn't our primary system, and I'm only a student....


From: hirai@cc.swarthmore.edu (Eiji Hirai)
Sender: news@cc.swarthmore.edu (USENET News System)
Nntp-Posting-Host: gingko
Organization: Information Services, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, USA
References:  <2840@BSU-CS.BSU.EDU> 
Date: Tue, 13 Oct 1992 16:00:28 GMT

rik.harris@fcit.monash.edu.au writes:
> I'll mount it in /tmp

Though this may strike most sane sysadmins as bad practice, SunOS (3.4 or so
- my memory is vague) shipped a command called "on".  If you were logged on
machine A and wanted to execute a command on machine B, you said "on B
command", sort of like rsh.

However, A would mount B's disks under some invokations of "on" and it would
mount it in /tmp!  Of course, lots of folks got bitten by this stupid
command and it was taken out after a long delay by Sun.

Anyone remember the details?  I've blocked out my memory of pre-4.0 SunOS.
Am I just hallucinating?


From: matthews@oberon.umd.edu (Mike Matthews)
Organization: /etc/organization

In article  obi@gumby.ocs.com writes:
>Now when I partition a disk I sit there with a calculator and make sure
>all the numbers add up correctly (offsets, number of cylinders, number of
>blocks, and so on).

Heh heh, now that you mention that...

We had just gotten a 1.2G disk drive for our Sun (which direly needed it) so
we felt we'd repartition everything.

All went well, except... on reboot, one of the partitions that was newly
restored from backup got a fsck error.  Fixed it, it rebooted, then another
one got an error.  fscked that one, rebooted it, and doggone it, the first
error was back!

We had a one cylinder overlap.  Sheesh.

At least Ultrix WARNS you of that.

Mike Matthews, matthews@oberon.umd.edu (NeXTmail accepted)


From: mt00@eurotherm.co.uk (Martin Tomes)
Organization: Eurotherm Limited

We had something really wierd happen one day.  I copied a file to
/usr/local on someone elses machine and all seemed to be OK.  A bit
later the user of the machine noticed that the files and directories they
were using on another disk partition were corrupted.  There were 2
gigbyte files on a 650Mb disk - and lots of them with wierd names and
permissions.  At first I did not connect the two events.  This disk
had given trouble when the power failed a week before, so I fsck'ed
it.  Now I have run fsck more times than I can begin to imagine and
seen plenty of errors, some needing 'manual intervention' but I had
never seen anything like this before!  It was spectacular.  And what
was more, when I ran it a second time things got worse.  Then I tried
to backup the /usr/local partition before restoring this corrupt data
and lo, that was corrupt too.  It turned out that our sysadmin had
created the /usr/local disk partition in the wrong place on the disk
and put it over the top of the alternate sectors partition.  By
writing to the /usr/local disk I had written all over the alts which
were mapped into the users partition.  Oh dear, what a mess.

Solution, rebuild all the partitions so they don't overlap and
restore, also buy the sysadmin a calculator.

Moral, always do your sums on the /etc/partitions file very carefully
before using mkpart.

----- UNIX-ADM USENET appended at 20:22:10 on 92/10/13 GMT (by USENET at ALMADEN)

From: caa@Unify.Com (Chris A. Anderson)
Organization: Unify Corporation, Sacramento, California

Ok, here's one...

At a company that I used to work for, the CEO's brother  was  the
"system  operator".   It was his job to do backups, maintentance,
etc.  Problem was, he didn't have a clue about Unix.  We were re-
quired to go through him to do anything, though.

Well,   I   was   setting   up   a   Plexus   P-95   to   be    a
news/mail/communications machine and needed to wipe the disks and
install a new OS.  El CEO requested that his brother do  the  in-
stallation  and disk partitioning.  He had done this before, so I
gave him the partition maps and let him at it.  When he was done,
everything  seemed to be ok.  Great, on with the install and set-

Things went fine until I started  compiling  the  news  and  mail
software.   All  of  a sudden, the machine paniced.  I brought it
back up and the root file system was  amazingly  corrupt.   After
rebuilding  things,  it  all seemed to be fine -- diagnostics all
ran fine, etc.  So I started again -- this time keeping an eye on
things.  Sure enough, the root file system became corrupted again
when the system started to load.

This time I brought it down and checked everything.  The problem?
Swap space started at block zero and so did the root file system.

Oh yes, the brother still works there.



From: miles@Chaos.mcs.kent.edu (Roger Miles)
Organization: Kent State University

A year ago we moved to a brand spanking new building.  All the equipment
was moved by professional movers.  The last piece of equipment I wanted
moved was the computer (a Zilog s8000, 6ft. tall, with 3 disk drives,
cartridge drive and reel tape drive all mounted in one cabinet. It must have
weighed 250 to 300 lbs) because I wanted to keep an eye on the movers.
Actually, I was hoping they'd drop it so I could get a new computer.  Anyway,
much to my surprize the movers said they would not move the computer because
of the liability.  One of my co-workers owned a Ford pickup so we hoisted it
up and drove off with me riding in the back hanging on to the Zilog.  It
was the longest 15 minute drive I was ever on in my life.

Roger Miles


From: tjm@hrt213.brooks.af.mil (Tim Miller)
Organization: AL/HRTI, Brooks AFB

	This one qulaified for Stupid Act of the Month:

	All this happened on my sparcII...

	I was making room on / because I needed to to test run something
(which was using a tmp file in, of all places, /var/tmp.  I could have
recompiled the application to use more memory and/or /tmp, but I'm too
lazy for that), so I figure "I'll just compress this, and this, and
this..."  One of those "this'" was vmunix.

	Well, of course the application crashes the machine, and stupid
me had forgotten that I'd compressed vmunix, so the damn thing won't
boot.  checksum: Bad value or some such error.  Took me most of the day
to figure out just what I'd done to the dang thing.  8)


	1) Never, ever, EVER play with vmunix.
	2) Always keep a log of what you do to the root file system.

From: jarocki@dvorak.amd.com (John Jarocki)
Organization: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.; Austin, Texas

In article  ericw@hobbes.amd.com (Eric Wedaa) writes:
>The moral(s) of the story here:
[Eric's "Guidebook to Being a Good Paranoid UNIX Sysadmin" Deleted]
>(Paranoia is a "Good Thing" when you can really muck things up!)
>Eric Wedaa  -  eric.wedaa@amd.com 3 Two more kinds of lies...
>{ames apple uunet}!amd!ericw      3     Release Dates, and Benchmarks
>Advanced Micro Devices, M/S 167 PO Box 3453 Sunnyvale, CA 94088-3453


You left out an important one:
  - Never hand out directions on "how to" do some sysadmin task
    until the directions have been tested thoroughly.
	- Corollary:  Just because it works one one flavor
	  on *nix says nothing about the others. '-}
	- Corollary:  This goes for changes to rc.local (and
	  other such "vital" scripties.


From: bill@chaos.cs.umn.edu ( Hari Seldon ... psychohistorian )
Organization: University of Minnesota

In <1992OCT13.014245.24930@CCU1.AUKUNI.AC.NZ> russells@ccu1.aukuni.ac.nz (Russell Street) writes:

>rca@Ingres.COM (Bob Arnold) writes:
>>	9) It's a lot less painful to learn from someone else's experience
>>	   than your own (that's what this thread is about, I guess :-) )

>With out trying to wander off the thread tooooo much ... In my
>experience the best experiences to learn off are your own :)
>I wonder how many stories we have got so far about "I will never
>type rm -r /" as root. (And no I have not done that _yet_, but
>the day will come :()

after a real bad crash (tm) and having been an admin (on an rs/6000)
for less than a month (honest it wasn't my fault, yea right stupid)
we got to test our backup by doing:
# cd /
# rm -rf *
ohhhhhhhh sh*t i hope those tapes are good

ya know it's kinda funny (in a perverse way) to watch the system just
slowly go away.

bill pociengel


From: barrie@calvin.demon.co.uk (Barrie Spence)
Organization: DataCAD Ltd, Hamilton, Scotland

In article <1992OCT13.014245.24930@CCU1.AUKUNI.AC.NZ> russells@ccu1.aukuni.ac.nz (Russell Street) writes:
>rca@Ingres.COM (Bob Arnold) writes:
>>	9) It's a lot less painful to learn from someone else's experience
>>	   than your own (that's what this thread is about, I guess :-) )
>With out trying to wander off the thread tooooo much ... In my
>experience the best experiences to learn off are your own :)
>I wonder how many stories we have got so far about "I will never
>type rm -r /" as root. (And no I have not done that _yet_, but
>the day will come :()

My mistake on SunOS (with OpenWindows) was to try and clean up all the
'.*' directories in /tmp. Obviously "rm -rf /tmp/*" missed these, so I
was very careful and made sure I was in /tmp and then executed
"rm -rf ./.*".

I will never do this again. If I am in any doubt as to how a wildcard
will expand I will echo it first.



From: root@trebor.uucp (Bob Stockler)
Organization: Bob Stockler

rca@Ingres.COM (Bob Arnold) writes:

>	2) Don't do backups to floppies.

Once, Tandy Xenix had the largest installed base of *NIX systems extant.

My friend, mentor and guru Bob Snapp and I undertook to write a systematic
backup set of shell scripts do what the *NIX programs then available would
not do:  make a reliable compressed Master Backup, and reliable compressed
incremental backups (so 'cron' could do it) to available 8" floppy drives.

We've never found that our programs failed.  Now, on SCO *NIX systems we
prefer CTAR.  We've never found it to fail either.

From: JRowe@cen.ex.ac.uk (J.Rowe)
Organization: Computer Unit. - University of Exeter. UK

In article  rik@nella15.cc.monash.edu.au (Rik Harris) writes:

>         I said to myself (being a Friday afternoon...see previous
>   post) "it's only temporary.../mnt is already being used...I'll mount
>   it in /tmp".  So, I mounted on /tmp/a (or something).  This was fine
>   for a few hours, but then the auto-cleanup script kicked in, and blew
>   away half of my source (the stuff over 2 weeks old).  I didn't notice
>   this for a few days, though.  After I figured out what had happened,
>   and restored the files (we _do_ have a good backup strategy),
>   everything was OK.

If you're doing this using find always put -xdev in:

 find /tmp/ -xdev -fstype 4.2 -type f -atime +5 -exec rm {} \;

 This stops find from working its way down filesystems mounted under
/tmp/. If you're using, say, perl you have to stat . and .. and see if
they are mounted on the same device. The fstype 4.2 is pure paranoia.

Needless to say, I once forgot to do this. All was well for some weeks
until Convex's version of NQS decided to temporarily mount /mnt under
/tmp... Interestingly, only two people noticed. Yes, the chief op.
keeps good backups!

Other triumphs: I created a list of a user's files that hadn't been
accessed for three months and a perl script for him to delete them.
Of course, it had to be tested, I mislaid a quote from a print
statement... This did turn into a triumph, he only wanted a small
fraction of them back so we saved 20 MB.

I once deleted the only line from within an if.. then statement in
rc.local, the sun refused to come up, and it was surprisingly
difficult to come up single user with a writeable file system.

AIX is a whole system of nightmares strung together. If you stray
outside of the sort of setup IBM implicitly assume you have (all IBM
kit, no non IBM hosts on the network, etc.) you're liable to end up in
deep doodoo.

One thing I would like all vendors to do (I know one or two do) is
to give root the option of logging in using another shell. Am I the
only one to have mangled a root shell?

John Rowe


From: kochmar@sei.cmu.edu (John Kochmar)
Organization: The Software Engineering Institute

A long time ago, back when the Apollo 460 was around and I had just
graduated from college, I had the good fortune of being one of two
adminstrators in charge of making a cluster of 460's a part of our
environment.  One of the things I was tasked with was geting them onto
our network.

Well, I was young, I had the manuals, and a guy from Apollo tech
support was there to help.  How hard could it be, right?

Well, we got out the manuals, configured the system (relying heavily on
the defaults), and within 2 hours, we had that puppy on the network.
Life was good.

About 3 hours later, I get a phone call from a systems programmer /
developer from CMU campus (the SEI is a part of CMU, and we are on their
network.)  He told me that if I didn't take the &%@*ing Apollo off the
network, he was going to do hurtful things to me physically.
Life was not so good.

As it turned out, in default mode, the Apollo answered every address
request it saw, even if it is not the machine the request was for.
Kind of a "hey, I'm not who you are looking for, but I'm out here in
case you decide you'd rather talk to me."  Apollo considered this a
feature, and they took advantage of it in their OS environment.

However, one of the earlier versions of a heavily network dependant OS
developed at CMU considered this a bug.  The OS would issue a request,
and expect only the machine it was looking for to answer it.  Of
course, it would assume that if it got an answer to its request, it
must be the machine it expected to talk to.  It didn't look at the
address of the answer it got, so if it wasn't the correct machine, most
of the time the OS would hang or panic.

The outcome?  Over about 3 hours time, more and more of campus was
talking to our little 460, which had just enough muscle to keep up with
the requests.  By the time campus figured out what was going on, we had
an Apollo merrily answering the network requests for hundreds of
machines (the ones that were still up, that is.)  This caused the part
of campus who used the new OS going to hell in a bucket, one very busy
Apollo 460, and one very warm ethernet.

Well, we turned off the Apollo, configured it not to chat to all of
campus before putting it back on the ethernet (this time, we did it
while talking with campus, making sure we didn't cause the same
problems we did the last time -- we didn't have a packet monitor at the
time), and campus changed their OS to look at the request response
before assuming it was the correct one.  I also learned to think very
carefully about default values before using them.



From: djd@csg.cs.reading.ac.uk (David J Dawkins)
Organization: University of Reading

weave@bach.udel.edu (Ken Weaverling) writes:

>A friend of mine called me up saying he no longer could log into his
>system. I asked him what he had done recently, and found out that he
>thought that all executable programs in /bin /usr/bin /etc and so on
>should be owned by bin, since they were all binaries! So he had
>chown'ed them all.

Oh you bastards. I was hoping that a thread like this would never
appear, because if it did, I knew I would have to confess. Oh well...

About a year back, I was looking through /etc and found that a few
system files had world write permission.  Gasping with horror, I went
to put it right with something like

dipshit# chmod -r 664 /etc/*

(I know, I know, goddamnit!.. now)

Everything was OK for about two to three weeks, then the machine went
down for some reason (other than the obvious).  Well, I expect that you
can imagine the result.  The booting procedure was unable to run fsck,
so barfed and mounted the file systems read-only, and bunged me into
single-user mode. Dumb expression..gradual realisation..cold sweat. Of
course, now I can't do a frigging chmod +x on anything because it's all
read-only. In fact I can't run anything that isn't part of sh.
Wedgerama. Hysteria time. Consider reformatting disks. All sorts of
crap ideas. Headless chicken scene. Confession.

"You did WHAT??!!"

Much forehead slapping, solemn oaths and floor pacing.

Luckily, we have a local MegaUnixGenius who, having sat puzzled for an hour
or more, decided to boot from a cdrom and take things from there. He fixed

My boss, totally amazed at the fix I'd got the system into, luckily
saw the funny side of it.  I didn't.  Even though at that stage, I didn't
know much about unix/suns/booting/admin, I did actually know enough to NOT
use a command like the one above. Don't ask. Must be the drugs.

BTW, if my future employer _is_ reading this (like they say he/she might),
then I have certainly learned tonnes of stuff in the last year, especially
having had to set up a complete Sun system, fix local problems, etc :-)

Anyone else got a tale of SGS (Spontaneous Gross Stupidity) ?

-dave "I'm much better now, honest.. no, really.. hey what's this button


From: kelley@epg.nist.gov (Mike Kelley)
Organization: NIST

Sometimes you just can't win . . .

We have a cluster of HP workstations and, once upon a time, were using
1/4-tape as the backup medium.  This was very slow and cumbersome, as
we were forever increasing the amount of disk space on our system, and
we decided to purchase HP's optical jukebox to use both as large
removable media and as the primary backup device.

We had been experiencing occasional problems with the 1/4-inch tape
backups, but HP's hardware service engineer convinced us that the
problems were resolved.  A complete backup was performed prior to
installation (by the HP engineer) of the jukebox.  Two unfortunate
things happened.  First, the problems on our backup tapes were due to
intermittent hardware problems on the tape drive which were not
discovered by the extensive diagnostics performed on the tape drive.
Second, the engineer installed the jukebox with the same hardware SCSI
address as our root file system.

As you may have anticipated, the attempt to mediainit the first
optical cartridge resulted in a rather ungraceful failure of the root
file system.  This was compounded by the fact that much of the data on
the backup tapes was not recoverable.


From: ericw@hobbes.amd.com (Eric Wedaa)
Organization: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.

The moral(s) of the story here:
	-NEVER use 'rm ', use rm -i ' instead.
	-Do backups more often than you go to church.
	-Read the backup media at least as often as you go to church.
	-Set up your prompt to do a `pwd` everytime you cd.
	-Always do a `cd .` before doing anything.
	-DOCUMENT all your changes to the system (We use a text file
	 called /Changes)
	-Don't nuke stuff you are not sure about.
	-Do major changes to the system on Saturday morning so you will
	 have all weekend to fix it.
	-Have a shadow watching you when you do anything major.
	-Don't do systems work on a Friday afternoon. (or any other time
	 when you are tired and not paying attention.)

(Paranoia is a "Good Thing" when you can really muck things up!)


From: rob@wzv.win.tue.nl (Rob J. Nauta)
Organization: None

mfraioli@grebyn.com (Marc Fraioli) writes:

>Well, here's a good one for you:

> I was happily churning along developing something on a Sun workstation,
>and was getting a number of annoying permission denieds from trying to
>write into a directory heirarchy that I didn't own.  Getting tired of
>that, I decided to set the permissions on that subtree to 777 while I
>was working, so I wouldn't have to worry about it.

At my previous employer, the sysadmin would create new user accounts by
hand by editing the passwd file, create a home dir, put some files in
it, and chown '*' and '.*' to that new user. Thus, /home/machine
was also chowned ('.*' also matches '..'). It was quite handy to see
who was added last, but after a while i slipped him the hint to
chown '.Ua-z~*' which works much better of course.

But the stories told now are more folklore than real horror. Having read
2 Stephen Kings this weekend I beg everyone to tell more interesting
stories, about demons, the system clock running backwards, old files
reappearing etc !


From: alan@spuddy.uucp (Alan Saunders)
Organization: Spuddy's Public Usenet Domain

About inexperienced sysadmins .. One such had been on a Sun syasadmin
course, and learned all about security.  One of the topics was on file
and group access.  On his return, he decided to put what he had learned
into practice, and changed the ownership of all files in /bin, /usr/bin
to bin.bin!  I was called in when no one could log in to the system
(of course /bin/login needs to be setuid root!)

Regards .. Alan


From: robjohn@ocdis01.UUCP (Contractor Bob Johnson)
Organization: Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma

>Arne Asplem (aras@multix.no) wrote:
> I'm the program chair for a one day conference on Unix system
> administration in Oslo in 3 weeks, including topics like network
> management, system admininistration tools, integration, print/file-servers,
> securitym, etc.
> I'm looking for actual horror stories of what have gone wrong because
> of bad system administration, as an early morning wakeup.

Management told us to email a security notice to every user on the our
system (at that time, around 3000 users).  A certain novice administrator
on our system wanted to do it, so I instructed them to extract a list of
users from /etc/passwd, write a simple shell loop to do the job, and
throw it in the background.  Here's what they wrote (bourne shell)...

       for USER in `cat user.list`; do
          mail $USER  But the stories told now are more folklore than real horror. Having read
> 2 Stephen Kings this weekend I beg everyone to tell more interesting
> stories, about demons, the system clock running backwards, old files
> reappearing etc !

I once had problems with files that mysteriously refused to stayed
changed for very long.  It was a PDP-11 Unix system that had crashed,
and I brought it up single-user.  I would change some file and it
would stay changed for a minute or so but then revert to its earlier
state (contents, protection mode, etc).  What happened was that the
write-protect switch on the disk drive had gotten bumped into the "on"
position but the device driver failed to report any write errors.  As
long as the data stayed in kernel buffers the changes "took", but they
would disappear once the buffers were reused and the system had to
reread the disk.



From: sam@bsu-cs.bsu.edu (B. Samuel Blanchard)
Organization: Dept. of CS Ball State University Muncie IN

#1   I never actually verified it but I think I deleted some of my
     bosses files as a very novice sysadmin.  He found some things missing
     after I had a minor tangle with rm.  When he ask I said I had run into
     a problem and he smiled and let it go.  Sorry Raul!

#2   I had a boss continue to reboot a dying system in an attempt to print
     out material for his conference presentation.  He was not interested
     in waiting until I worked on the system; if he couldn't get it working,
     he assumed I couldn't.
        I quit :-(
        Then he quit  :-)
>On a old decstation 3100 I was deleting last semesters users to try to
>dig up some disk space, I also deleted some test users at the same time.
>One user took longer then usual, so I hit control-c and tried ls.
>"ls: command not found"
>Turns out that the test user had / as the home directory and the remove
>user script in ultrix just happily blew away the whole disk.

Reminds me of a bit of local folk-lore (this happened before I was in
the admin group)...

We have a home-grown admin system that controls accounts on all of our
machines.  It has a remove user operation that removes the user from
all machines at the same time in the middle of the night.

Well, one night, the thing goes off and tries to remove a user with
the home directory '/'.  All the machines went down, with varying
ammounts of stuff missing (depending on how soon the script, rm, find,
and other importing things were clobbered).

Nobody knew what what was going on!  The systems were restored from
backup, and things seemed to be going OK, until the next night when
the remove-user script was fired off by cron again.

This time, Corporate Security was called in, and the admin group's
supervisor was called back from his vacation (I think there's something in
there about a helicopter picking the guy up from a rafting trip
in the Grand Canyon).

By chance, somebody checked the cron scripts, and all was well for the
next night...


From: sam@bsu-cs.bsu.edu (B. Samuel Blanchard)
Organization: Dept. of CS Ball State University Muncie IN

Oh yea, I recalled 2 more

kill -1 1  on an Altos SV box is not good.  I pulled this one trying to show
off.  No more gettys appeared when uses logged off.  When I went to the console,
I calmly typed 0 to the Run Level request prompt.  2 would have been nice?
It was my first SystemV like box, and it seemed to have such nice berkley

a control-s on a Sequent S27 console can cause processes to hang waiting to
write to the console.  Unfortunatly, su is one such process.  No real problem
since I don't blindly reboot on request  ;-)


From: pete@tecc.co.uk (Pete Bentley)
Organization: T.E.C.C. Ltd, London, England

David J Dawkins (djd@csg.cs.reading.ac.uk) wrote:
: About a year back, I was looking through /etc and found that a few
: system files had world write permission.  Gasping with horror, I went
: to put it right with something like
: dipshit# chmod -r 664 /etc/*
A similar thing happened at a place a used to work 3 or 4 years back.
The guys next door had just got a Sun 3/360 (or some such) to host a
VME-bus image processing system - none of them knew much (or cared
much) about Un*x and so early on a student on loan to them got a
space in the wrong place and did
pillock# chmod -r -x ~ /*
with the same results (system in single user, refusing to run any commands
or go multi-user).

As it happened
a) This was a government establishment, and so the order for the QIC tapes
   for backups had not yet been approved, hence no backups...
b) The install script for the kernel drivers for the image processing stuff
   had not worked 'out of the box', and so the company had sent an
   engineer down to install it.  I hadn't been around when he came and
   built their drivers, and they hadn't a clue what he had done.  So,
   there was no way to rebuild the drivers without another engineer call
   and because of (a) there were no backups of the driver...Anyway, a complete
   reload was therefore out of the question.

These were the days before SunOS on CD-ROM.  In the end I managed to get
the thing up by booting from tape, installing the miniroot into the swap
partition and booting from that.  This gave me a working tar and a
working mount, but no chmod.  Also no mt command.  Also at this time
very little of my Un*x experience was on Suns, so I had no idea of
the layout of the distribution tape.  Various experiments
with dd and the non-rewinding tape device eventually found the file on
the tape with a chmod I could extract. chmod +x /etc/* /bin/* /usr/bin/*
on the system's existing disk was enough to make it bootable.  After that
I sat the student down with a SunOS manual and let him figure out the
mess and correct the permissions that had been todged all over the system...



From: rca@Ingres.COM (Bob Arnold)
Organization: Ask Computer Systems Inc., Ingres Division, Alameda CA 94501

In article <1992OCT12.233524.13463@PONY.INGRES.COM> I wrote:
>I was brave and bold, not to mention boneheaded, and formatted the user disk.
> U rest of story deleted ... Bob ~
>	1) The "man" pages don't tell you everything you need to know.
>	2) Don't do backups to floppies.
>	3) Test your backups to make sure they are readable.
>	4) Handle the format program (and anything else that writes directly
>	   to disk devices) like nitroglycerine.
>	5) Strenuously avoid systems with inadequate backup and restore
>	   programs wherever possible (thank goodness for "restore" with
>	   an "e"!).
>	6) If you've never done sysadmin work before, take a formal
>	   training class.

Just thought of a few more related morals (managers pay attention now):

	7) You get what you pay for.
	8) There's no substutite for experience.
	9) It's a lot less painful to learn from someone else's experience
	   than your own (that's what this thread is about, I guess :-) )

Part of the story I should tell here.  My employer had been looking for
a way to cut costs.  I was 15% cheaper than their previous sysadmin so
they let him go and hired me.  It wasn't as nasty as it sounds, since
they kept him on as a consultant at 4 hours a week and he ended up with
a better job too (so did I).  Everyone benefited in the end.  I leaned
heavily on his consulting, which was great.  He was older and wiser, and
probably had his own horror stories to tell.  After this one, so did I!



From: rca@Ingres.COM (Bob Arnold)
Organization: Ask Computer Systems Inc., Ingres Division, Alameda CA 94501

Many moons ago, in my first sysadmin job, learning via "on-the-job
training", I was in charge of a UNIX box who's user disk developed a
bad block.  (Maybe you can see it already ...)

The "format" man page seemed to indicate that it could repair bad
blocks.  (Can you see it now?)  I read the man page very carefully.
Nowhere did it indicate any kind of destructive behavior.

I was brave and bold, not to mention boneheaded, and formatted the user disk.

The good news:
	1) The bad block was gone.
	2) I was about to learn a lot real fast :-)
The bad news:
	1) The user data was gone too.
	2) The users weren't happy, to say the least.

Having recently made a full backup of the disk, I knew I was in for a
miserable all day restore.  Why all day?  It took 8 hours to dump
that disk to 40 floppies.  And I had incrementals (levels 1, 2, 3, 4,
and 5, which were another sign of my novice state) to layer on top
of the full.

Only it got worse.  The floppy drive had intermittent problems reading
some of the floppies.  So I had to go back and retry to get the files
which were missed on the first attempt.

This was also a port of Version 7 UNIX (like I said, this was many
moons ago).  It had a program called "restor", primordial ancestor of
BSD's "restore".  If you used the "x" option to extract selected files
(the ones missed on earlier attempts), "restor" would use the *inode
number* as the name of the extracted files.  You had to move the
extracted files to their correct locations yourself (the man page said
to write a shellscript to do this :-().  I didn't know much about shell
scripts at the time, but I learned a lot more that week.

Yes, it took me a full week, including the weekend, maybe 120 hours or
more, to get what I could (probably 95% of the data) off the backups.
And there were a few ownership and permissions problems to be cleaned up
after that.

Once burned twice shy.  This is the only truly catastrophic mistake I've
ever made as a sysadmin, I'm glad to be able to say.

I kept a copy of my memo to the users after I had done what I could.
Reading it over now is sobering indeed!  I also kept my extensive notes
on the restore process - thank goodness I've never had to use them since.

	1) The "man" pages don't tell you everything you need to know.
	2) Don't do backups to floppies.
	3) Test your backups to make sure they are readable.
	4) Handle the format program (and anything else that writes directly
	   to disk devices) like nitroglycerine.
	5) Strenuously avoid systems with inadequate backup and restore
	   programs wherever possible (thank goodness for "restore" with
	   an "e"!).
	6) If you've never done sysadmin work before, take a formal
	   training class.

Well, I haven't thought about that one in a while!  I can laugh about
it now ....



From: jimh@pacdata.uucp (Jim Harkins)
Organization: Pacific Data Products

A friend of mine admins an RS6000 for a state college.  The weekend before
the fall semester started the Powers That Be decided to physically move the
system to a different room.  She stayed late friday night, moved the machine,
and then it wouldn't boot.  I was in Sunday afternoon looking at it, wouldn't
boot for nothing.  Monday morning, first day of classes, an IBM rep comes in
and reformats the hard disk without telling her.  Turns out this was the
machine all the professors were doing their class plans on.  So not only
couldn't they have them printed out, but when school started monday morning
the teachers discovered they had lost all the work they'd done in the week
before school started.  Seems she never did backups because the teachers
always bitched about how slow the system was when she did, and she hadn't
learned about cron yet (I told her about that one).

In her defense, she'd only been using the RS6000 for less than a month before
this happened.  She didn't know UNIX.  She hadn't had any training.  She
still had her regular job to do.

To make things worse, when she called me monday night she was in tears as
she told me how she had to personally visit all the professors and tell them
their work was gone.  I blurted out "Stupid of you not to make backups".  Here
she is looking for a shoulder to cry on and I go and tell her the same thing
everybody from the department chair on down to the janitor had been saying.

The moral?  If you appoint someone to admin your machine you better be willing
to train them.  If they've never had a hard disk crash on them you might want
to ensure they understand hardware does stuff like that.  I also found out
she was unplugging and plugging cables all over the place without powering
down the system.  Her hardware knowledge was essentially "this thing goes into
the wall, then the lights blink".



From: russells@ccu1.aukuni.ac.nz (Russell Street)
Organization: University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Not quite a reall _horror_ story but ...

I once had "gnu-emacs" aliased to 'em' (and 'emacs' etc)

One day I wanted to edit the start up file and mistyped

	# rm /etc/rc.local
instead of the obvious.

*Fortunately* I had just finished a backup and was now finding
out the joys of tar and it's love of path names. U./etc/rc.local
and /etc/rc.local and etc/rc.local) are *not* the same for tar
and TK-50s take a *long* time search for non-existant files :(~

Of course the BREAK (Ctrl-P) key on a VAX and an Ultrix manual
and a certain /etc/ttys line are just a horror story waiting
to happen!  Especially when the VAX and manuals are in a
unsupervised place :)


From: obi@gumby.ocs.com (Obi Thomas)
Organization: Online Computer Systems, Inc.

This isn't nearly as bad as some of the stories in this thread, but...

I once mistakenly partitioned my Sun's boot disk so that the swap
partition overlapped the usr partition. The machine ran fine for a long
time (many months), presumably because the swap space was always nearly
empty. Then, one day there was a memory parity error and the system crash
dumped at the *end* of the swap partition. What should have been a simple
reboot after the crash dump turned into a long and painful re-install of
the entire system (Suns cannot boot without a /usr partition).

Now when I partition a disk I sit there with a calculator and make sure
all the numbers add up correctly (offsets, number of cylinders, number of
blocks, and so on).


From: dp@world.std.com (Jeff DelPapa)
Organization: The World Public Access UNIX, Brookline, MA

In article  obi@gumby.ocs.com writes:
>This isn't nearly as bad as some of the stories in this thread, but...
>I once mistakenly partitioned my Sun's boot disk so that the swap
>partition overlapped the usr partition. The machine ran fine for a long
>time (many months), presumably because the swap space was always nearly

I remember a similar thing once - on a symbolics machine, a customer
declared a file in the FEP filesystem as a paging file, and as part of
the file system (it was one way to solve their disk space crunch) It
was caught before damage was done - we weren't sure if it was because
they hadn't done anything real yet, or simply the machine knew not to
mess with the IRS (the customer).


From: rik@nella15.cc.monash.edu.au (Rik Harris)
Organization: Monash University, Melb., Australia.

Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it through the tired brain...

Most of our disks reside on a single, high-powered server.  We decided
this probably wasn't too good an idea, and put a new disk on one of
the workstations (particularly since the w/s has a faster transfer
rate than the server does!).  It's still really useful to be able to
use all disks from the one machine, so I mounted the w/s disk on the
server.  I said to myself (being a Friday afternoon...see previous
post) "it's only temporary.../mnt is already being used...I'll mount
it in /tmp".  So, I mounted on /tmp/a (or something).  This was fine
for a few hours, but then the auto-cleanup script kicked in, and blew
away half of my source (the stuff over 2 weeks old).  I didn't notice
this for a few days, though.  After I figured out what had happened,
and restored the files (we _do_ have a good backup strategy),
everything was OK.

Until a few months later.  We were trying to convince a sysadmin from
another site that he shouldn't NFS export his disks rw,root to everyone,
so I mounted the disk to put a few suid root programs in his home
directory to convince him.  Well, it's only a temporary mount, so....

You guessed it, another Friday afternoon.  I did a umount /tmp/b, and
forgot about it.  I noticed this one about halfway through the next
day.  (NFS over a couple of 64k links is pretty slow).  The disk had
not unmounted because it was busy...busy with two find scripts, happily
checking for suid programs, and deleting anything over a week old.  A
df on the filesystem later showed about 12% full :-(    Sorry Craig.

Now, I create /mnt1, /mnt2, /mnt3.... :-)

Remember....Friday afternoons are BAD news.



From: ranck@joesbar.cc.vt.edu (Wm. L. Ranck)

Hello folks,
   Well, after reading some of the stories in this thread I guess I can
tell mine.  I got an RS/6000 mod. 220 for my office about 6 months ago.
The OS was preloaded so I had little chance to learn that process.  Being
used to a full-screen editor I was not happy with vi so I read in the manual
that INED (IBM's editor for AIX) was full-screen and I logged in as root and
installed it.  I immediately started to play with the new editor and somehow
found a series of keys that told the editor to delete the current directory.
To this day I don't know what that sequence of keys was, but I was
unfortunately in the /etc directory when I found it, and I got a prompt that
said "do you want to remove this?" and I thought i was just removing the
file I had been playing with but instead I removed /etc!
   I got the chance to learn how to install AIX from scratch.  I did reinstall
INED even though I was a little gun-shy but I made sure that whenever I used
it from then on I was *not* root.  I have since decided that EMACS may be a
better choice.


From: stehman%citron.cs.clemson.edu@hubcap.clemson.edu (Jeff Stehman)
Organization: Clemson University

From article <3965@WZV.WIN.TUE.NL>, by rob@wzv.win.tue.nl (Rob J. Nauta):
> But the stories told now are more folklore than real horror. Having read
> 2 Stephen Kings this weekend I beg everyone to tell more interesting
> stories, about demons, the system clock running backwards, old files
> reappearing etc !

Hmmm.  Maybe this is a little closer to what you're looking for...

Many years ago a tiny little college in the middle of nowhere purchased an
NCR tower, then a newfangled contraption.  A half-dozen of us were using it
for an assembly class.  The prof should have made his warnings about TRAP a
little more clear.  One student runs his program and it suddenly begans
spawning processes, rapidly filling the machine.  The prof came in, amused,
logged on as superuser, and killed a process.  Another process was
immediately spawned.  The prof tried again.  He was ignored.  He was also no
longer amused.  After several minutes he gave up and turned off the box.
The tower didn't even flinch.  He pulled the plug.  Nothing.  He ripped the
back off the box and dug around.  Finally he found the fuse and pulled it,
killing the machine.  Some of us later claimed we heard laughter as it went

(Many times since then I have wished other computers came with a backup
battery as standard issue.)


From: grover@ccai.clv.oh.us (grover davidson)
Organization: CCAI

Several months ago here, we were reoganizing our disk space on an
RS/6000 with AIX 3.1. I have done this many time before, but for some
reason, I was rushing through expanding a file system. Instead of entering
the new file system size where it belongs, I entered it into the mount
point. It also turns out that I was attached 2 levels down in the file
system. Since the size was entered as a number ('234567') and was
INTERPRETED as a mount point directory, the result was a
circular hard link that basicly left the file system unusable.
IBM was not able to help, and we had done quite a bit of work that day,
we had to somehow recover some of the stuff. We ended up doing a dd of the
raw volume, and the read it back in a couple MB at a time and extracted
the pieces that we needed for the mess.

The other day while reading Stevens new book, "Advanced Programming in
the UNIX Environment", he stated that he had done the exact same thing
durring the preparation of his book. At least I am not alone.....


From: dvsc-a@minster.york.ac.uk
Organization: Department of Computer Science, University of York, England

I remember my first (and only, so far) major mistake in unix

I was changing the UIDs of a few users on one of our major
servers, due to a clash with some machines newly connected to the
net. Fine, edit /etc/passwd then chown all their files to the new
UID. So, rather than just assume that all files owned by "fred"
live in /home/machine/fred I did this:

machine# find / -user old_uid -exec chown username {} \;

This was fine... except it was late at night and I was tired, and
in a hurry to get home. I had six of these commands to type, and
as they would take a long time I'd just let them run in the
background over night.....

So, you come in the next morning and a user compains... I can't
login to the 4/490 - it says "/bin/login: setgid: not owner".

Okay.... naive user problem no?

rlogin machine -l root
/bin/login: setgid: not owner

machine console
login: root
/bin/login: setgid: not owner

Okay - I REALLY can't get in... lets reboot single user and see
whats on... this worked. /bin/login is owned (and setuid to) one
of the users whos UID I changed the previous day... infact ALL
FILES in the ENTIRE filesystem are owned by this user..problem!

We `only' lost about 200 man hours through my little typing
mistake: the moral of the story..  beware anything recursive
when logged in as root!

find / -exec chown user {} \;

Oh dear...



From: mba@controls.ccd.harris.com (Belinda Asbell)
Organization: Harris Controls

In article , JRowe@cen.ex.ac.uk (J.Rowe) writes:

3> One thing I would like all vendors to do (I know one or two do) is
3> to give root the option of logging in using another shell. Am I the
3> only one to have mangled a root shell?
3> John Rowe
3> Dept. Physics
3> Exeter University
3> UK.

Probably not.  I learned the hard way to be careful if messing with /etc/passwd.
One day, for some reason, I couldn't login as root (pretty scary, since I knew
the root passwd and hadn't changed it).

Turned out that somehow I'd blitzed the first letter of /etc/passwd somehow (vi
does bizarre things sometimes).  So I logged in as 'oot' and fixed it.

NEVER do a "chmod -R u-s .", especially not in /usr....

I think that "mount -o" or something similar will mount a filesystem read-write
if it's come up in singleuser mode and is mounted read-only.....

Just my tuppence....


From: joslin_paul@ae.ge.com
Organization: GE Aircraft Engines

cjc@ulysses.att.com (Chris Calabrese) writes:

>We have a home-grown admin system that controls accounts on all of our
>machines.  It has a remove user operation that removes the user from
>all machines at the same time in the middle of the night.

>Well, one night, the thing goes off and tries to remove a user with
>the home directory '/'.  All the machines went down, with varying
>ammounts of stuff missing (depending on how soon the script, rm, find,
>and other importing things were clobbered).

>Nobody knew what what was going on!  The systems were restored from
>backup, and things seemed to be going OK, until the next night when
>the remove-user script was fired off by cron again.

True confession time: Cron is a great way to hide your flubs.  I
installed the COPS security package on a system, then set up cron to
recheck the system once a month.  No problem, right? Except that I had
configured COPS to put the reports in /.  As a security measure, COPS
chmods its directory to u-rwx,w-rwx so that only the COPS owner can
read the reports.

The chronology was

1) Run cops.  Add cops entry to root's crontab.  Later that day, notice
that / was 600; change it back.

2) 30 days later: get calls from users - can't log in, "No shell" error
messages.  Find / is 600; change it.  Vaguely remember that this
happened once before.  The machine was a sandbox, so almost anything
could have changed /.

3) 30 days later: get calls from users - can't log in, "No shell" error
messages.  Find / is 600; change it.  Vaguely remember that this
happened once before.  Happen to think "cron"; notice that the only cron
activity for root last night was COPS.  Read COPS source and discover problem.

Moral: RTFM.  Keep logs, so that you can notice patterns in your data.
Don't do anything as root that you can do as a mortal.


From: root@rulcvx.LeidenUniv.nl (root)
Organization: CRI, institute for telecommunication and computerservices.

In article <64@OCDIS01.UUCP> robjohn@ocdis01.UUCP (Contractor Bob Johnson) writes:
>Another horror story (mine this time)...

>Cleaning out an old directory, I did 'rm *', then noticed several files
>that began with dot (.profile, etc) still there.  So, in a fit of obtuse
>brilliance, I typed...

>    rm -rf .* &

Well, waddya know...  Some half hour ago, coming back from root (I was
installing m4 on our system) UShit, all my neato emacs tricks won't
work.  Damn, damn, damn kill, kill, KILL~ to my own userid, I got this
little message: "Can't find home directory /mnt0/crissl." and an
other: "Can't lstat .".  UGrrrrr, *S and *Q haven't been remapped...~

Guess what happened, not an hour ago...  A collegue of mine was emptying
some directories of computer-course accounts.  As I did a "ps -t" on
his tty, what did I see?  "rm -rf .*"

Well, I'm not alone, he got sixteen other homedirectories as well.
And guess what filesystems we don't make incremental backups of...
And why not?  Beats me...

I haven't killed him yet, he first has to restore the lot.

And for those "touch \-i" fans out there: you wouldn't have been

Boy, am I MAD. :-)  (Bitten by the bug I, too, once released.)

Stefan "where can I find a well-equipped torture chamber" Linnemann


From: hillig@U.Chem.LSA.UMich.EDU (Kurt Hillig)
Organization: Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Just so nobody get the impression that you can only screw up
U**X systems....

Several years ago I was sysadmin for the department's VAX/VMS system.
One day, trying to free up some space on the system disk, I noticed
there were a bunch of files like COBRTL.EXE, BASRTL.EXE etc. - i.e.
the Cobol, Basic, etc. run-time libraries.  Since the only language
used was Fortran, I nuked them.

Three weeks later, a visiting professor came over from Greece for a few
weeks, mostly to do some calculations on the VAX.  He got in on a Friday
morning, and started work that afternoon.  About 7 PM I got a call at
home - he'd accidentally bumped the reset switch (on the VAX 3200, it
was just at knee height!) and it wouldn't reboot.  I went back in and
took a look, and the reason it wouldn't come up was that the run-time
libraries were missing.

I ended up booting stand-alone backup from tape, dumping another data
disk to tape, restoring an old system from tape, copying the RTL's,
then restoring the data disk from tape again - all with TK50's.  Took
me until 3 AM.


From: kevin@sherman.pas.rochester.edu (kevin mcfadden)
Organization: University of Rochester

Me and my co-system admin were in the process of repartioning a drive
so that we could allocate more space for incoming mail.  We had
just finished backing up our Data directory from which we were going
to take 10MB from.  Next step was to to actually repartition it which
includes formating.  Anyway, it comes time to give a device name
and we do a df to see which one.  To make a short story long, there
was a /dev/sd2g and a /dev/sd3g, one which was 300MB of stuff we
could delete and the other was 600MB of applications.  We confused the
the two and accidently formatted the 600 MB of applications, which
of course had been backed up......a month ago.  It could have been

	BUT WAIT!!! It did.  Turns out it took 3 or 4 tries to get
the partition size correct (what the hell is it with telling it
how long it is in hex or whatever?).  It was at this point where
I started to cover my eyes and wander around the building because
we only found out the partition didn't work after spending 3 hours
restoring the applications.  4 * 3 = 12 hours to repartition!


From: johnd@cortex.physiol.su.oz.au (John Dodson)
Organization: Department of Physiology, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia

Some years ago when we went from Version 7 Unix on a PDP11 to a flavour of BSD
on a Vax, I was working on the Vax in my home directory & came across a file
that I had no permission on (I'd created it as root) so the following ensued...

	$ /bin/su -
	# chown -R me *

	mmmmm this seems to be taking a long time !
	# ls -l

	the result was that I was in / after the su !
	(good old V7 su used to leave you in the current directory ;-)

It took me quite a while to restore all the right ownerships to /bin /etc & /dev
(especially the suid/sgid files)
I'd managed to kill it before it got off the root filesystem.

not quite rm -fr / but...


From: jcm@coombs.anu.edu.au (J. McPherson)
Organization: Australian National University

A few months ago in comp.sys.hp, someone posted about their repairs to an
HP 7x0, after a new sysadmin had just started work. They {the new
person} had been looking throught the file system to try to make some
space, saw /dev and the mainly 0 length files therein. Next command was "rm
-f /dev/*" and they wondered why they couldn't login ;)

I think the result was that the new person was sent on a sysamin's
course a.s.a.p.




From: pinard@IRO.UMontreal.CA (Francois Pinard)
Organization: Universite' de Montre'al

Many things happened in those many years I've been with computers.
The most horrorful story I've seen is not UNIX related, but it is
certainly worth a tale.  Here it goes.

This big (:-) CDC 6600 system was bootable from tape drive 0, using
these 12 inches wheels containing 1/2" tape.  The *whole* system was
reloaded anew from the tape each time we restarted the machine,
because there was no permanent file system yet, the disks were not
meant to retain files through computer restarts (unbelievable today, I
know :-).  The deadstart tapes (as they were called) were quite
valuable, and we were keeping at least a dozen backups of those, going
back maybe one or two years in development.

The problem was that the two vacuum capstans which were driving the
tape 0, near the magnetic heads, were not perfectly synchronized, due
to an hardware misadjustment.  So they were stretching the tape while
they were reading it, wearing it in a way invisible to the eye, but
nevertheless making the tape irrecoverable.  Besides that, everything
was looking normal in the tape physical and electrical operations.  Of
course, nobody knew about this problem when it suddenly appeared.

All this happened while all the system administration team went into
vacation at the same time.  Not being a traveler, I just stayed
available `on call'.  The knowledgeable operators were able solve many
situations, and being kind guys for me (I was for them :-), they would
not disturb me just for a non-working deadstart tape.  Further, they
had a full list of all deadstart backup tapes.  So, they first tried
(and destroyed) half a dozen backups before turning the machine to the
hardware guys, whom destroyed themselves a few more.

The technicians had their own systems for diagnostics, all bootable
from tape drive 0, of course.  They had far less backups to we did.
They destroyed almost them all before calling me in.  Once told what
happened, my only suggestion was to alter the deadstart sequence so to
become able to boot from another tape drive.  Strangely enough, nobody
thought about it yet.  In these old times, software guys were always
suspecting hardware, and vice versa :-).

Happily enough, the few tapes left started, both for production and
for the technicians.  Tape drive 0 being quite suspectable, the
technicians finally discovered the problem and repaired it.  My only
job left was to upgrade the system from almost one year back, before
turning it to operations.  This was at the time, now seemingly lost,
when system teams were heavily modifying their operating system
sources.  This was also the time when everything not on big tapes was
all on punched Hollerith cards, the only interactive device being the
system console.  It took me many days, alone, having the machine in
standalone mode.  The crowd of users stopped regularily in the windows
of the computer room, taking bets, as they were used to do, on how
fast I will get the machine back up (I got some of my supporters
loosing their money, this time :-).

This was quite hard work for me, done under high pressure.  When the
remainder of the staff returned from trip, and when I told them the
whole tale, we decided to never synchronize our holidays again.


From: grant@unisys.co.nz (Grant McLean)
Organization: Unisys New Zealand

One of my customers (who shall remain nameless) was having a problem with
insufficient swap space.  I recommended that he back up the system, boot
off the OS tape, repartition the disk, remake the filesystems and restore
the data (any idiot could do this, right? :-) ).  I also suggested that if
he wasn't confident of achieving all this, we could provide a skilled
person for a modest fee.  Of course he was fully confident so I left him
to it.

Next day I get a call from the guy to say he'd been there all night and
he'd had all sorts of funny messages when restoring from tape.

Eventually we tracked his problem down to the backup script he'd been
using.  It was a simple one liner:

  find / -print 3 cpio -oc 3 dd -obs=100k of=/dev/rmt0 2>/dev/null

This was a problem because:

  1) His system had two 300MB drives
  2) He only had a 150MB tape drive
  3) The same script was being run every night by a cron job
  4) All his backups were created by this script

(In case you haven't worked it out, the dd is to speed up writes to tape
but it has the unfortunate side effect that CPIO never finds out about
the end of tape.  Because the errors were going to the bit bucket, they
never knew their backups were incomplete until they came to restore from

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when he explained to his boss
that the data was gone and there was no way of getting it back.

I haven't heard from the guy since then.  Hmmm ...



From: adb@geac.com (Anthony DeBoer)
Organization: Geac Computer Corporation

In article <1992OCT10.010412.3448@WAGGEN.TWUUG.COM> broberts@waggen.twuug.com (Bill Roberts) writes:
>My most interesting in the reguard was when I deleted "/dev/null".  Of
>course it was soon recreated as a "regular file", then permission problems
>started to show up.

I was once called in to save a system where most things worked, but the
main application package being used on it hung the moment you entered it
(leaving the system more than a little useless for getting things done).
I poked around for awhile, verified that the application's files were all
present, undamaged, and had the right permissions.  The folks who
normally used the machine had also discovered that all was well if root
tried to run it.  But nothing was visibly wrong anywhere.  So, being a
bit hungry by then, I took a break for supper, and about halfway through,
the little voice at the back of my head that sometimes helps me said,
"/dev/tty".  Sure enough, somebody had chmod'ded it to 0644, and the
application directed (or tried to direct, in this case) all its I/O
through it rather than just using stdin/stdout like a sane normal process.


From: nagappa@menudo.uh.edu (Chaitanya Nagappa)
Organization: University of Houston

The following article is posted by a friend from my account:
Chai Nagappa
This is Ravi. Needed to add just a couple of stories from all the wierd stuff
that have happenned. So, are these tales for around a campfire on Halloween?

At one time, there were three of us working on a unique SVR3.2 motorola based
machine, on a R&D project. I took care of all the SysAdmin tasks, I had a
back up administrator, and the third person had been stuck into my group
(company politics). The group project files were in /user and the individial
ones in /user2. We had managed to get backup from the operations department
for /user only (not even /; security paranoia?). Anyway, I had another scsi
hard disk that I used for making a disk copy of the primary scsi hard disk
every Friday. This disk was connected, but not mounted, so that I could
do the disk backup from my desk when I wanted to.
This machine used to sometimes get a scsi error such that you could not log
in, but the processes already running on the machine were not affected. If
were logged in the console, you just powered off the machine for a few minutes
and rebooted it. Around holidays time the other Admin was off in a long
vacation. I had taken Monday off, and headed off for a four day weekend.
The machine does the same blurp. The third person decides the power off the
machine & turn it back on immediately. It does not come up properly. She
decides to reinstall the machine using the installation tape that I had
unfortunately left in the open. Reformats the hard disk, installs the base
system, and is stuck at that point when I come back in on Tuesday. I almost
blow a blood vessel but try to keep calm 'cause I had made a disk copy about
10 days before (too anxious to get on my holiday the previous week). Try to
mount the disk... hit vaccuum. Try using dd to look at the disk... Seemed
to be a large /dev/null :-? When the lady decided to reinstall the system,
it asked her what scsi disks she wanted to reformat, and she said "y" for
both 0 & 1!! All my sample/trial&error work for a year had bitten the dust.
My only (small) consolation was that I was not the only one affected.

Story 2. Live 24 hour online system. Does backup over the ethernet to a
SCSI tape. Unfortunately, no SCSI on this system to recover if root/ethernet
dies. This was a Compaq Systempro running SCO Unix. Slated a downtime of
4-6am. I thought that it will take me only 30 minutes, as I had installed
a similar (Adaptec) SCSI board on a similiar hardware on SCO. Only difference
was that this machine was running MPX (multiprocess extension) and you had
to deinstall it, install the SCSI, and then reinstall MPX (proper procedure).
I had made all my slot/IRQ charts the previous day, and so got busy removing
MPX. Then said "mkdev tape", go through the IDs, and am almost at home
base. Then... "link kit not installed, use floppy X1" when I tried to remake
the kernel. For some reason, when I removed the multiprocessor extension,
the single processor files were not moved to their right location. And if
I reinstalled the single, all my changes would be lost. Finally, restored the
OS (from backup) on the remote machine, and then rcp-ed them over to bring back
the MPX version. Unfortunately, rcp does not maintain the date/ permissions,
etc. Got a limpimg version of the machine back on-line about 45 minutes
after its slated time, and spent the rest of the day fixing vagrant files.
The next week, I moved the online programs to another machine (a headache),
and reinstalled this machine from scratch.

Ok, that should be enough horror. Please send any replies to "ravi@usv.com"
instead of this account.

--Ravi Ramachandran


From: grog@lemis.uucp (Greg Lehey)
Organization: LEMIS, W-6324 Feldatal, Germany

In article <16055@UMD5.UMD.EDU> matthews@oberon.umd.edu (Mike Matthews) writes:
>The moral?  *NEVER* move something important.  Copy, VERIFY, and THEN delete.

Something like this bit me just yesterday. I'm currently trying to
work out how ISC Unix/386 handles COFF files, and discovered the
/shlib directory, which I suspected wasn't really used (*wrong*). So,
to try it out, I did:

+ root adagio:/ 819 -> mv shlib slob
+ root adagio:/ 820 -> xterm
+ /usr/bin/X11/xterm: Can not access a needed shared library

So far, so good. So, put it back:

+ root adagio:/ 821 -> mv slob shlib
+ /bin/mv: Can not access a needed shared library

Oops! So, tried it from a different system, but didn't have
permission, so:

+ root adagio:/ 822 -> chmod 777 slob
+ /bin/chmod: Can not access a needed shared library

OK, so let's just cp them across.

+ root adagio:/ 823 -> cd slob
+ root adagio:/slob 824 -> mkdir /shlib
+ /bin/mkdir: Can not access a needed shared library
+ root adagio:/slob 825 ->

Then I wrote a program which just did a link(2) of the directories.
Yes, gcc and ld didn't have any problems, but even after the link was
in place, it still didn't work. I had to reboot (but nothing else),
after which it did work. No idea why that made any difference.


From: adb@geac.com (Anthony DeBoer)
Organization: Geac Computer Corporation

In article  JRowe@cen.ex.ac.uk (J.Rowe) writes:
>One thing I would like all vendors to do (I know one or two do) is
>to give root the option of logging in using another shell. Am I the
>only one to have mangled a root shell?

This actually leads me back to a Unix admin horror story.  At a former
employer, I once watched our sysadmin reboot from the distribution tape
after making a typing error editing the root line in /etc/passwd.  After
munging the colon count in this line, nobody could login or su, and he
hadn't left himself in root in another session while testing his changes
(a rule I've adopted for myself).

My "big break", the moment I became sysadmin, was partly by virtue of
being the only one to ask him for the root password the day he went out
the door for the last time.

What I've found preferable, when wanting to set up an alternative shell
for root (bash, in my case), is to add a second line in /etc/passwd with
a slightly different login name, same password, UID 0, and the other
shell.  That way, if /usr/local/bin/bash or /usr/local/bin or the /usr
partition itself ever goes west, I still have a login with good ol'
/bin/sh handy.  (I know, installing it as /bin/bash might bypass some
potential problems, but not all of them.)

This might, of course, be harder to do on a security fascist system like
AIX.  Simply trying to create a "backup" login with UID 0 there once so
that the operator didn't get a prompt and have to remember what to type
next was a nightmare.  (I wound up giving "backup" a normal UID, put it
in a group by itself, and gave it setuid-root copies of find and cpio,
with owner root, group backup, and permissions 4550).  BTW, this was to
make things easier for the backup operator, not to make it secure from
that person.


From: williams@nssdcs.gsfc.nasa.gov (Jim Williams)
Organization: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Well, I guess I'll throw in a couple of stories too.  The first isn't
really a horror story, more of an unexpected failure mode.

Story One is about The Sun 3/260 That Froze Solid.  One day a user
reported that the Sun 3/260 he was using was "dead".  On inspection, I
found the Sun at the console prompt and the keyboard totally
unresponsive.  The L1-A sequence did nothing.  So I power cycled it.
Nothing. A blank screen, no activity.  I was ready to call service,
then decided to try rebooting with the normal/diag switch set to diag.
On looking at the back of the pedestal, I saw that the ethernet cable
had been pressed up against the reset switch!  ARGGGHHHH!  The user
had pushed the machine back just enough to press the switch and keep
it pressed.  (I don't recall if there was a "watchdog reset" message
on the console when I found it, but I was new enough to Suns that that
would not have been a dead givaway.)

Story Two involved connecting an HP laserjet to a Sun 3/280.  This
sucker just would NOT do flow control correctly.  I put a dumb
terminal in place of the HP and manually typed *S/*Q sequences to
prove that the serial port really was honoring X-ON/X-OFF.  But for
some reason the *Ss from the HP didn't "taste right" to the Sun, which
ignored them.  Switching the HP serial port between RS422/RS232 had no
effect.  It evenually turned out to be some sort of flakeyness with
the Sun ALM-II board.  Everything worked fine after I moved the
printer to one of the built-in Zilog ports.  Death to flakey hardware...



From: rick@sadtler.com (Rick Morris)
Organization: Sadtler Research Laboratories

Slightly off the subject, but not too far off, is the phenomenon of "Sysadmin
Wannabees."  I've been Sys Admin of UNIX at 3 sites now.  The phenomenon has
occured at all three.

You are talking to a fellow programmer, or a programmer is within ear shot.
A new user (or even an old user) comes up to you and asks something like:
"How would I list only directory files within a directory?"

Now it has been my experience that the question is not complete.  Is this a
recursive list?  Is this a "one-time" thing, or are you going to do it many
times?  Is it part of a program?  (Sometimes questions like this end up as
an answer to a C question executed as a system(3) call rather than a preferred
library call.)  Anyway, as you ponder the question, the many alternatives (in
unix there's always another way), the questioner's experience, whether or not
they want a techie answer or a DOSie answer, the programmer within ear shot
pipes in with an answer of how *THEY* do or would do it.

It is invariable.  It happens every time.  I don't think I take all that
long to answer.  But the Wannabee answer is rapid.  Like the kid in class
who raises his hand going "oo" "oo" "oo".

I have seen my predicessors get all bent out of shape when the Sysadmin
Wannabees jump on their toes.  I usually let the answer proceed, indeed,
often these Wannabees give a complete answer, even doing it for the
questioner.  After a bit I return to the questioner and ask if the question
was properly answered, if they understand the answer, or if they want any
more information.  It also shows me how deeply the Wannabee understands
just what is going on inside that pizza box.

Have any other of you sys admins seen this phenomenon, or is it my slow
pondering of potential answers that drives the Wannabee to jump in?



From: rslade@cue.bc.ca (Rob Slade)
Organization: Computer Using Educators of B.C., Canada

Hope this fits.

I had a job one time teaching Pascal at a "visa school".  The machine was a
multi-user micro that ran UNIX.  I have enough stories from that one course
to keep a group of computer educators in stitches for at least half an hour.

The finale of the course was on the last day of classes.  When I showed up
and powered up the system, it refused to boot.  Since all the students' term
projects and papers were in the computer, it was fairly important.  After
a few hours of work, and consultation with the other teacher, who did the
sysadmin and maintenance, we were finally informed that the new admin
assistant around the place had decided that the layout of the computer lab
was unsuitable.  (I had noticed that all the desk were repositioned: I thought
the other teacher had done it, he thought I had.)  The AA had, the night
before, moved all the furniture, including the terminals and the micro.  She
did not know anything about parking hard disks.

We knew now, that we were in trouble, but we didn't realize how much until
we started reading up on emergency procedures.  For some unknown reason,
booting the micro from the original system disks would automatically reformat
the hard disk.

(The visa school refunded the tuition for all the students in that course.)


From: keith@ksmith.uucp (Keith Smith)
Organization: Keith's Computer, Hope Mills, NC

My dumbest move ever.  Client in Charlotte, NC (3 hours + away) has
Xenix box with like 15 users running single app.  They have a tape
backup of course.  Anyway they ran slam out of space on the 70MB disk
drive so I upgraded them from an MFM to a SCSI 150MB disk.  Restored
their app & data files, and they were off and running.  Anyway they did
an application directories backup (tar) on a daily basis and backed the
rest of the system up with tar on Monday morning.

Being a nice guy I built a menu system and installed the backups on the
menu so they could do it with a push of the button.  Swell,  It's Monday
Call if anything else comes up.  1 week later I get a call.  Console is
scrolling messages, App seems to be missing yesterday's orders, etc.
Call in, and cannot log in.  'w' doesn't work.  Crazy stuff.  Really

Grab old drive/controller, fly to Charlotte replace drive, install
app backup tape.  They re-key missing stuff, etc.  Bring new disk back.
Won't boot, won't do anything.  Boot emergency floppy set.  Looking
around.  Can't figure but have backup tape from that morning that
"completed successfully".  tar tvf /dev/rct0.   Hmm,  why all these
files look very OLD.  Uh,  Where, Uh.  Look at menu command for the
"backup" is 'tar xvf /dev/rct0 /'

Anyway,  I owned up to the mistake,  re-loaded the SCSI drivers and
changed the command to 'tar cvf ..'

Hehehe,  Now I DOUBLE check what I put on a menu, and try not to be in a
*HURRY* when I do this stuff.


From: ken@sugra.uucp (Kenneth Ng)
Organization: Private Computer, Totowa, NJ

In article <1992OCT16.152629.29804@NSISRV.GSFC.NASA.GOV: CARDBOARD
>he was replying to mail and emacs had spent the night quietly
>filling up the root partion (where /tmp) was.

Well... sounds familiar...

I was on a 5 days vacation, the first day my machine crashed...

How? Well...

cron started a shell-skript to extract some files from a ".lzh"-Archive.
LHarc found that the target file already existed, asked

"file  exists, overwrite (y/n)?"

... since it was started from cron, it just read "EOF". Tried again. Read
"EOF". And so on.

All output went to /tmp... what was full after the file reached 90 MB!
What happened next? I'm using a SCO machine, /tmp is in my root filesystem
and when trying to login, the machine said something about being not able
to write loggin informations - and threw me out again.

Switched machine off.

Power on, go to single user mode. Tried to login - immediately thrown out

I finally managed to repair the mess by booting from Floppy disk, mounting
(and fsck-ing) the root filesystem and cleaning /tmp/*



From: gert@greenie.gold.sub.org (Gert Doering)
Organization: GreeniE

npm@dale.cts.com (Nancy Milligan) writes:

>About three days later almost every file on this machine had been deleted or
>compressed.  Apparently I got distracted by something while I was writing
>the config file, and the entry that was supposed to be for /tmp said /.
>Boy, did I feel like an ijjit.

Ever did

# find / -atime +14 -exec rm -f {} \;

instead of

# find /tmp -atime +14 -exec rm -f {} \;

[corrected from a later post - ed.]

and then wondered why it took so long to clean up 20 files under /tmp?



From: dbriggs@zia.aoc.nrao.edu (Daniel Briggs)
Organization: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro NM

Did anyone by chance archive the post of a year or so ago where someone
described the recovery of a Unix box from a partial "rm -r *" (where root
forgot that he was in /) ?  They had lost everything up to (and including?)
/etc before the command was stopped.  I seem to recall that they would lose
everything on the disk if they reinstalled the system, so there were very
good reasons to try and restore the barely running system.  Of course
almost all of the utilities that they needed to do it had lived in /bin.
There were a few goodies in /usr/5bin that helped them out.  The fix
eventually involved writing a bootstrap network utility on another machine,
and assembling it there, typing in the binary in an emacs process that was
still running, and overwriting some other system utility that had the
correct execute permissions, (since they couldn't chmod anything!).  It was
a wonderful example of recovery from a near fatal error.  If it floats my
way again, I'd love to get a copy of that post.


From: night@acm.rpi.edu (Trip Martin)

Yup, I saved a copy because it was such a classic story.  It's apparently
been re-posted every so often for a number of years, and it's worth
posting again.  So here it is...


From alt.folklore.computers Fri Nov  9 11:16:43 1990
Path: rpi!zaphod.mps.ohio-state.edu!usc!cs.utexas.edu!utgpu!utzoo!sq!msb
From: msb@sq.sq.com (Mark Brader)
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.computers
Subject: rm -rf /    (was Hex vs. Octal)
Summary: repost
Message-ID: <1990NOV8.082550.26347@SQ.SQ.COM>
Date: 8 Nov 90 08:25:50 GMT
References: <1990NOV5.173048.8998@HQ.DEMOS.SU>
Organization: SoftQuad Inc., Toronto, Canada
Lines: 184
Status: OR

> ... if you're trying rm -rf / you'll NEVER get a clear disk - at least
> /bin/rm (and if it reached /bin/rmdir before scanning some directories
> then add a lot of empty directories).  I've seen it once...

Then it must be version-dependent.  On this Sun, "cp /bin/rm foo"
followed by "./foo foo" does not leave a foo behind, and strings
shows that rm appears not to call rmdir (which makes sense, as it
can just use unlink()).

In any case, I'm reminded of the following article.  This is a classic
which, like the story of Mel, has been on the net several times;
it was in this newsgroup in January.  It was first posted in 1986.


Have you ever left your terminal logged in, only to find when you came
back to it that a (supposed) friend had typed "rm -rf ~/*" and was
hovering over the keyboard with threats along the lines of "lend me a
fiver 'til Thursday, or I hit return"?  Undoubtedly the person in
question would not have had the nerve to inflict such a trauma upon
you, and was doing it in jest.  So you've probably never experienced the
worst of such disasters....

It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon.  Wednesday, 1st October, 15:15
BST, to be precise, when Peter, an office-mate of mine, leaned away
from his terminal and said to me, "Mario, I'm having a little trouble
sending mail."  Knowing that msg was capable of confusing even the
most capable of people, I sauntered over to his terminal to see what
was wrong.  A strange error message of the form (I forget the exact
details) "cannot access /foo/bar for userid 147" had been issued by
msg.  My first thought was "Who's userid 147?; the sender of the
message, the destination, or what?"  So I leant over to another
terminal, already logged in, and typed
	grep 147 /etc/passwd
only to receive the response
	/etc/passwd: No such file or directory.

Instantly, I guessed that something was amiss.  This was confirmed
when in response to
	ls /etc
I got
	ls: not found.

I suggested to Peter that it would be a good idea not to try anything
for a while, and went off to find our system manager.

When I arrived at his office, his door was ajar, and within ten
seconds I realised what the problem was.  James, our manager, was
sat down, head in hands, hands between knees, as one whose world has
just come to an end.  Our newly-appointed system programmer, Neil, was
beside him, gazing listlessly at the screen of his terminal.  And at
the top of the screen I spied the following lines:
	# cd
	# rm -rf *

Oh, shit, I thought.  That would just about explain it.

I can't remember what happened in the succeeding minutes; my memory is
just a blur.  I do remember trying ls (again), ps, who and maybe a few
other commands beside, all to no avail.  The next thing I remember was
being at my terminal again (a multi-window graphics terminal), and
	cd /
	echo *
I owe a debt of thanks to David Korn for making echo a built-in of his
shell; needless to say, /bin, together with /bin/echo, had been
deleted.  What transpired in the next few minutes was that /dev, /etc
and /lib had also gone in their entirety; fortunately Neil had
interrupted rm while it was somewhere down below /news, and /tmp, /usr
and /users were all untouched.

Meanwhile James had made for our tape cupboard and had retrieved what
claimed to be a dump tape of the root filesystem, taken four weeks
earlier.  The pressing question was, "How do we recover the contents
of the tape?".  Not only had we lost /etc/restore, but all of the
device entries for the tape deck had vanished.  And where does mknod
live?  You guessed it, /etc.  How about recovery across Ethernet of
any of this from another VAX?  Well, /bin/tar had gone, and
thoughtfully the Berkeley people had put rcp in /bin in the 4.3
distribution.  What's more, none of the Ether stuff wanted to know
without /etc/hosts at least.  We found a version of cpio in
/usr/local, but that was unlikely to do us any good without a tape

Alternatively, we could get the boot tape out and rebuild the root
filesystem, but neither James nor Neil had done that before, and we
weren't sure that the first thing to happen would be that the whole
disk would be re-formatted, losing all our user files.  (We take dumps
of the user files every Thursday; by Murphy's Law this had to happen
on a Wednesday).  Another solution might be to borrow a disk from
another VAX, boot off that, and tidy up later, but that would have
entailed calling the DEC engineer out, at the very least.  We had a
number of users in the final throes of writing up PhD theses and the
loss of a maybe a weeks' work (not to mention the machine down time)
was unthinkable.

So, what to do?  The next idea was to write a program to make a device
descriptor for the tape deck, but we all know where cc, as and ld
live.  Or maybe make skeletal entries for /etc/passwd, /etc/hosts and
so on, so that /usr/bin/ftp would work.  By sheer luck, I had a
gnuemacs still running in one of my windows, which we could use to
create passwd, etc., but the first step was to create a directory to
put them in.  Of course /bin/mkdir had gone, and so had /bin/mv, so we
couldn't rename /tmp to /etc.  However, this looked like a reasonable
line of attack.

By now we had been joined by Alasdair, our resident UNIX guru, and as
luck would have it, someone who knows VAX assembler.  So our plan
became this: write a program in assembler which would either rename
/tmp to /etc, or make /etc, assemble it on another VAX, uuencode it,
type in the uuencoded file using my gnu, uudecode it (some bright
spark had thought to put uudecode in /usr/bin), run it, and hey
presto, it would all be plain sailing from there.  By yet another
miracle of good fortune, the terminal from which the damage had been
done was still su'd to root (su is in /bin, remember?), so at least we
stood a chance of all this working.

Off we set on our merry way, and within only an hour we had managed to
concoct the dozen or so lines of assembler to create /etc.  The
stripped binary was only 76 bytes long, so we converted it to hex
(slightly more readable than the output of uuencode), and typed it in
using my editor.  If any of you ever have the same problem, here's the
hex for future reference:

I had a handy program around (doesn't everybody?) for converting ASCII
hex to binary, and the output of /usr/bin/sum tallied with our
original binary.  But hang on---how do you set execute permission
without /bin/chmod?  A few seconds thought (which as usual, lasted a
couple of minutes) suggested that we write the binary on top of an
already existing binary, owned by me...problem solved.

So along we trotted to the terminal with the root login, carefully
remembered to set the umask to 0 (so that I could create files in it
using my gnu), and ran the binary.  So now we had a /etc, writable by
all.  From there it was but a few easy steps to creating passwd,
hosts, services, protocols, (etc), and then ftp was willing to play
ball.  Then we recovered the contents of /bin across the ether (it's
amazing how much you come to miss ls after just a few, short hours),
and selected files from /etc.  The key file was /etc/rrestore, with
which we recovered /dev from the dump tape, and the rest is history.

Now, you're asking yourself (as I am), what's the moral of this story?
Well, for one thing, you must always remember the immortal words,
DON'T PANIC.  Our initial reaction was to reboot the machine and try
everything as single user, but it's unlikely it would have come up
without /etc/init and /bin/sh.  Rational thought saved us from this

The next thing to remember is that UNIX tools really can be put to
unusual purposes.  Even without my gnuemacs, we could have survived by
using, say, /usr/bin/grep as a substitute for /bin/cat.

And the final thing is, it's amazing how much of the system you can
delete without it falling apart completely.  Apart from the fact that
nobody could login (/bin/login?), and most of the useful commands
had gone, everything else seemed normal.  Of course, some things can't
stand life without say /etc/termcap, or /dev/kmem, or /etc/utmp, but
by and large it all hangs together.

I shall leave you with this question: if you were placed in the same
situation, and had the presence of mind that always comes with
hindsight, could you have got out of it in a simpler or easier way?
Answers on a postage stamp to:

Mario Wolczko

Trip Martin


From: exudnw@exu.ericsson.se (Dave Williams)
Organization: Ericsson Network Systems

A sysadmin was told to change the root passwd on a dozen or so Sun servers
serving 400 diskless sun clients.  He changed the passwd string to the wrong
encrypted string (with a sed-like string editor) and locked root out from
everywhere.  Took hours to untangle.

You only learn when you make mistakes...

[stuff about dead presidents deleted]


From: almquist@chopin.udel.edu (Squish)
Organization: Human Interface Technology Lab (on vacation)

Two miserable flubs:

/etc/rc cleans tmp but it wasn't cleaning up directories so I changed the line:

                                echo clearing /tmp
(cd /tmp; rm -f - *)


                                echo clearing /tmp
(cd /tmp; rm -f -r - *; rm -f -r - .*)

About 15 minutes later I had wiped out the hard drive.

One of the user discs got filled so I needed to move everyone over to the new
disc partition.  So, I used the tar to tar command and flubbed:

cd /user1; tar cf - . 3 (cd /user1; tar xfBp - )

Next thing I know /user1 is coming up with lots of weird consistency errors and
other such nonsense.  I meant to type /user2 not /user1.  OOOPS!

My moral of the story is when you are doing some BIG type the command and
reread what you've typed about 100 times to make sure its sunk in (:


From: anne@maxwell.concordia.ca (Anne Bennett)
Organization: Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

After about four months as a Unix sysadm, and still feeling rather like a
novice, I was asked to "upgrade" a Sun lab (3/280 server and ten 3/50
diskless clients) from SunOS 4.0.3 to 4.1 -- of course, this "upgrade" was
actually a complete re-install.

Well, the server had no tape drive, not even any SCSI controller.  There
were no other machines on its subnet other than the clients, so I had no
boothost (at that time, I did not know that the routers could be
reconfigured to pass the appropriate rarp packets, nor do I think our
network people would have taken kindly to such a hack!).  The clients did
have SCSI controllers, but I had no portable tape drive.  Luckily, I had
a portable disk.

So, with great trepidation (remember, I was still a novice), I set up
one of the clients, with the spare disk, to be a boothost.  I booted
the server off the client and read the miniroot from a tape on a remote
machine, and copied it to the server's swap partition.  Then I manually
booted the miniroot on the server by booting off the temporary boothost
with the appropriate options, and specified the server's swap partition
as containing the kernel to be loaded.  Once in the miniroot, I started
up routed to permit me to reach the tapehost, and finally invoked
suninstall.  From then on, it worked like a charm.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself for figuring all of
this out.  I then settled down to do the "easy stuff", and got around to
configuring NIS (Yellow Pages).  I decided to get rid of everything I
didn't need, under the assumption that a smaller system is easier to
understand and keep track of.  The Sun System and Network Administration
Manual, which is in many ways an admirable tome, had on page 476 a
section on "Preparing Files on NIS Clients", which said:

   "Note that the files networks, protocols, ethers, and services need
    not be present on any NIS clients.  However, if a client will on
    occasion not run NIS, make sure that the above mentioned files do
    have valid data in them."

So I removed them.  Several hours later, when I had finished configuring
the server to my satisfaction, reloading the user files, etc., I finally
got around to booting up the clients.  Well, I *tried* to boot up the
clients, but got the strangest errors: the clients loaded their
kernels and mounted /, but failed trying to mount /usr with the message
"server not responding. RPC: Unknown protocol".  I was mystified. I tried
putting back the generic kernels on server and clients, several different
ifconfig values for the ethernet interfaces, enabling mountd and rexd on
server's inetd.conf, removing the clients' /etc/hostname.le0 (which I had
added)... all to no avail.  'Twas the last work day before the Christmas
break, and I was flummoxed.

Of course, I finally connected the error message "unknown protocol"
with the removed /etc/protocols (and other) files, restored these
files, after which everything was fine again.  I was pretty mad, since
I had wasted a whole day on this problem, but *technically*, the Sun
manual above is correct.

It just neglected to mention that of course, *no* machine is running
NIS at boot time, therefore *every* machine needs valid data in the
networks, services, protocols, and ethers files *at boot time*. Grrr!


From: rick@sadtler.com (Rick Morris)
Organization: Sadtler Research Laboratories

Okay, I'll bite.  We had Zenith Data System's Z-286's, boosted to 386's
via an excellerator (imagine a large boot stomping lots of data through
a small 16 bit funnel...).  We were running SCO's Xenix.  The user filesystem
crashed in such a way that it couldn't be repaired via fsck.  fsck would
try to repair a specific file and then just stop, leaving the filesystem
dirty.  The "dirty bit" in the superblock said that it couldn't be mounted
because it was dirty.  But it couldn't be cleaned.  But there was lots of
data on it and I hadn't been doing backups because the only I/O device to
do backups was the floppy drive and I wasn't about to sit there every night
or even once a week and slam 30 odd floppies into the drive while the backups
ran, even worse try to restore a file from a backup of 30 floppies....

Anyway, to recover the data I used fsdb to edit the superblock and change
the dirty bit to clean, mounted the disk, got off all the good data,
and remade the filesystem.  Thanks, Xenix.  fsck couldn't clean it,
but you did supply fsdb!   *whew*

From: yared@anteros.enst.fr (Nadim Yared)
Organization: Telecom Paris, France

My story happened on a Sun Sparcstation 2

I once wanted to update the libc.so.1.7 to libc.so.1.8 by myself, so
I got root, and then ftp the /lib/libc.so.1.8 to my /lib. Unfortunately
there was not enough room on this partition. So all i got was a file
with zero length.
The problem is that I ran /usr/etc/ldconfig in the directory /lib,
and that was all. Every command could not be executed, cause ld.so
checked for /libc.so.1.8, being the newest one. All i needed was a
statically linked mv, but SUN does not provide usually the source.
Even going single user didn't do anything. So i had to install a
miniroot on the swap partition, and cp /bin/mv from the CD-ROM,
and execute-it.

It sounds like an american film : a happy ending saved my life.

Nadim YARED.
Ecole Nationale Superieure des Telecommunications de PARIS.


From: colston@gid.co.uk (Colston Sanger)
Summary: Ah, the scratch monkey story....
Organization: GID Ltd, Upper Basildon, Reading, UK

In article <1705@FRACKIT.UUCP>, dave@frackit.UUCP (Dave Ratcliffe) writes:
> In article <1992OCT14.214535.2176@SCI34HUB.SCI.COM>, gary@sci34hub.sci.com (Gary Heston) writes:
> > In article <1992OCT7.120246.16981@MULTIX.NO>, aras@multix.no (Arne Asplem) writes:
> > With all these stories, I'm suprised nobody has posted the "scratch monkey"
> > story. Has that admin gone onto bigger and better things?
> ... If anyone
> has access to the file in question I think now is an excellent time to
> drag it out and regale us with it.

Here it is:

From eric@snark.thyrsus.com Sat Mar 30 23:19:09 1991
Subject: Apologies to all fans of Mabel!
Followup-To: alt.folklore.computers

In responding to several posters' pleas for the reinstatement of Mabel,
I clean forgot that the condensed `Story of Mabel' wasn't added to the
`scratch monkey' entry till 2.8.2, which most of you don't have.

Here is the relevant bit from 2.8.5:

@h{scratch monkey} n. As in, ``Before testing or reconfiguring, always
   mount a scratch monkey.'', a proverb used to advise caution when
   dealing with irreplaceable data or devices.  Used to refer to any
   scratch volume hooked to a computer during any risky operation as a
   replacement for some precious resource or data that might get

   This term preserves the memory of Mabel, the Swimming Wonder
   Monkey, star of a biological research program at a great American
   university.  Mabel was not (so the legend goes) your ordinary
   monkey; the university had spent years teaching her how to swim,
   breathing through a regulator, in order to study the effects of
   different gas mixtures on her physiology.  Mabel suffered an
   untimely demise one day when a computer vendor @e{PM}ed the machine
   controlling her regulator (see also @e{provocative maintainance}).
   It is recorded that, after calming down an understandably irate
   customer sufficiently to ascertain the facts of the matter, the
   vendor's troubleshooter called up the @e{field circus} manager
   responsible and asked him sweetly ``Can you swim?''.  The moral is
   clear: when in doubt, always mount a scratch monkey.  See
   @e{scratch}. @refill

I hope this satisfies Mabel's fans.  The volume of the outcry for her
resurrection has been remarkable (which is actually pleasant, because
it vindicates my original idea that the story was worth including).

Art Evans (the gentleman who posted the story to comp.risks) is doubtless an
estimable person with whom I'd enjoy becoming acquainted, but a writer he
is not.  In particular, it always bothered me how he muffed the punch line...
oh, heck, I guess I'll include the posting so you can see for yourself.


   The following, modulo a couple of inserted commas and
capitalization changes for readability, is the exact text of a famous
USENET message.  The reader may wish to review the definitions of
@e{PM} in the main text before continuing.

Date: Wed 3 Sep 86 16:46:31-EDT
From: "Art Evans" 
Subject: Always Mount a Scratch Monkey
To: Risks@@CSL.SRI.COM

My friend Bud used to be the intercept man at a computer vendor for
calls when an irate customer called.  Seems one day Bud was sitting at
his desk when the phone rang.

Bud:       Hello.                 Voice:      YOU KILLED MABEL!!
B:         Excuse me?             V:          YOU KILLED MABEL!!

This went on for a couple of minutes and Bud was getting nowhere, so he
decided to alter his approach to the customer.


Well, to avoid making a long story even longer, I will abbreviate what had
happened.  The customer was a Biologist at the University of Blah-de-blah,
and he had one of our computers that controlled gas mixtures that Mabel (the
monkey) breathed.  Now, Mabel was not your ordinary monkey.  The University
had spent years teaching Mabel to swim, and they were studying the effects
that different gas mixtures had on her physiology.  It turns out that the
repair folks had just gotten a new Calibrated Power Supply (used to
calibrate analog equipment), and at their first opportunity decided to
calibrate the D/A converters in that computer.  This changed some of the gas
mixtures and poor Mabel was asphyxiated.  Well, Bud then called the branch
manager for the repair folks:

Manager:     Hello
B:           This is Bud, I heard you did a PM at the University of
M:           Yes, we really performed a complete PM.  What can I do
             for you?
B:           Can you swim?

The moral is, of course, that you should always mount a scratch monkey.


There are several morals here related to risks in use of computers.
Examples include, ``If it ain't broken, don't fix it.''  However, the
cautious philosophical approach implied by ``always mount a scratch
monkey'' says a lot that we should keep in mind.

Art Evans
Tartan Labs


Let's face it, people, that ending just does not work as well as it ought.
The moral isn't ``always mount a scratch monkey''; sometimes you gotta use
real monkeys, or you don't get any work done.  The moral is properly
``*when in doubt* (that is, when you're going to do something that might
crash the system)'' always mount a scratch monkey.

I'm sure this is what Art meant, but it's not what he said.  This and other
infelicities in the writing (rambling prose, shaky punctuation, awkward
anti-climactic appendix after the tildes etc.) made the scratch monkey
appendix target #1 when it came to trim time.

As much as possible, I tried to capture the flavor of the anecdote in my
condensation without reproducing the bugs.  Is that satisfactory?
      Eric S. Raymond = eric@snark.thyrsus.com  (mad mastermind of TMN-Netnews)


From: valdis@vttcf.cc.vt.edu (Valdis Kletnieks)
Organization: Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Well, here's a few contributions of mine, over 10 years of hacking
Unixoid systems:

1) yesterday's panic:  Applying a patch tape to an AIX 3.2 system
to bring it to 3.2.3.  Having had reasonable sucess at this before,
I used an xterm window from my workstation.  Well, at some point,
a shared library got updated.. I'd seen this before on other machines -
what happens is that 'more', 'su', and a few other things start failing
mysteriously.  Unfortunately, I then managed to nuke ANOTHER window
on my workstation - and the SIGHUP semantics took out all windows I
spawned from the command line of that window.

So - we got a system that I can login to, but can't 'su' to root.
And since I'm not root, I can't continue the update install, or clean
things up.  I was in no mood to pull the plug on the machine when
I didn't know what state it was in - was kind of in no mood to reboot
and find out it wasn't rebootable.

I finally ended up using FTP to coerce all the files in /etc/security
so that I could login as root and finish cleaning up....

Ended up having to reboot *anyhow* - just too much confusion with the
updated shared library...

2) Another time, our AIX/370 cluster managed to trash the /etc/passwd
file.  All 4 machines in the cluster lost their copies within
milliseconds.  In the next few minutes, I discovered that (a) the
nightly script that stashed an archive copy hadn't run the night before
and (b) that our backups were pure zorkumblattum as well.  (The joys
of running very beta-test software).

I finally got saved when I realized the cluster had *5* machines in it -
a lone PS/2 had crashed the night before, and failed to reboot.  So
it had a propogated copy of /etc/passwd as of the previous night.

Go to that PS/2, unplug it's Ethernet.. reboot it.  Copy /etc/passwd
to floppy, carry to a working (?) PS/2 in the cluster, tar it off,
let it propogate to other cluster sites.  Go back, hook up the
crashed PS/2s ethernet.. All done.

Only time in my career that having beta-test software crash a machine
saved me from bugs in beta-test software. ;)

3) Once I was in the position of upgrading a Gould PN/9080.  I was
a good sysadmin, took a backup before I started, since the README said
that they had changed the I-node format slightly.  I do the upgrade,
and it goes with unprecidented (for Gould) smoothness.  mkfs all
the user partitions, start restoring files.  Blam.

I/O error on the tape.  All 12 tapes.  Both Sets of backups.

However, 'dd' could read the tape just fine.

36 straight hours later, I finally track it down to a bad chip on the
tape controller board - the chip was involved in the buffer/convert
from a 32-bit backplane to a 8-bit I/O cable.  Every 4 bytes, the
5th bit would reverse sense.  20 mins later, I had a program
written, and 'dd 3 my_twiddle 3 restore -f -' running.

Moral: Always *verify* the backups - the tape drive didn't report a
write error, because what it *received* and what went on the tape
were the same....

I'm sure I have other sagas, but those are some of the more memorable
ones I've had...

				Valdis Kletnieks
				Computer Systems Engineer
				Virginia Tech

Doobee R. Tzeck
Last modified: Mon Apr 20 02:08:02 CEST 1998