Bakunin shares with us his ride on the forums….

“How i wasted my time and became a better admin”

It has been over eleven years – 4000 days – that i first set foot into the endless time sink of www.unix.com. Since i am here i have written over 5000 posts, volunteered as a moderator, voiced my opinions about virtually everything, exposed a lot of my misconceptions about how things really work (and were dutifully corrected at least as often). Last but not least i nagged countless colleagues in RL long enough to bring them here.

I am old. It is time to take stock:

Have i wasted time? Yes, probably. I have answered, over and over again, the same questions about why scripts running fine won’t work when called from cron. Actually i invented a name for that: Cron Problem Number One. It really is a pity it didn’t catch on.

But every written article, every carefully phrased post which was dutifully and utterly ignored by its target audience did something for me: as i tried to explain things to others i developed a much better and much more organised picture of what was going on in my imagination. I may have helped others only a little, but i helped myself quite a lot.

There is a fine line between knowing what you do and understanding what you do – and why you do it, why it is done exactly this way and generally what that all is about. In fact i see the same effect taking place in my revered colleagues: what sets them apart from the crowd is not raw knowledge – it is the understanding of the reasoning behind how these pieces of knowledge came into existence. As a young man i read Robert Heinlein and particularily his famous book Stranger in a Strange World. The martians – so the story goes – have a special word for really understanding something: to grok. Some few thing i only knew when i came here i understood at one time and finally groked them. Thank you for asking me, even though you ignored my answer.

A second effect was: i got more fluent in that (for me) foreign language. Today i have an absolutely fabulous grasp of the worlds most wide-spread idiom, which – according to a british friend of mine – is “bad English”. I can converse with the worst of them on an even par, no language disaster barred. Some Italian colleagues thought i was actually British, the British colleagues admonished my americanisms and thought i was a (naturally poorly educated) American and one American even mentioned i’d have a “posh British vocabulary”. Talk about the internet version of the babylonian confusion. I still think “bad English” should get its own code page and locale. Maybe they could replace all instances of “question” with “doubt”.

Which brings us to the biggest part of the ongoing fascination the forum holds for me: you, the users. For every misplaced post, for every forgotten CODE-tags, for every misrepresented problem – i love them! Now, i love coffee too and that i gulp down in quantities, so this revelation might have some ambiguous ring to it. But when it comes down to it, i really enjoy writing for you. If i would have just a little more time on my hands (which would mean not to hang out so often here, answering your questions) i might write a book – or so i try to convince myself. In reality i probably wouldn’t have the stamina to turn out several hundreds of pages of anything worthwile. Lets see, i might just get around to it, when i have less on my plate…

And while i wait for my muse to kick me into high gear, here is, for all my fellow admins out there, a little ode to admin work i wrote for the occasion you bearing with me for so long.

Sung to the tune of the Blues Brothers famous Sweet Home Chicago:

Admin, Please!

Admin, please!
Undo what i have done.
Admin please!
Undo what i have done.
I used to have some files there,
but now they are all gone.

Admin, PLEASE!
Undo what i have done.
Hidehey
What do you mean, “there’s none”?
You sure do know some magic,
how ’bout applying some?

Well, you warned me many times over,
And I didn’t pay any heed!
But what matters is my deadline,
so just do what i need!
Hidehey,
Admin, please just make it run.
Tough luck, this needs a wonder?
Then kindly implement one!

And when i say i need “A”,
its clear, in fact i mean “O”!
(or sometimes B or C or D,
it is your job to know)
Hideho,
Just where did my process go?
Why do you bang your head now?
I’m pretty sure you know!

1 COMMENT

  1. I thought your post was great. Especially considering that little is more painful that going back and trying to recreate something you wrote before…. based on your original post on the forums at http://www.unix.com. Boredom sets in quickly when you are doing something for a second time time obviously; the first time is mostly fun, the second time is less so… and so on…. so it’s nice to see this second post of yours here. Thank you.

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