Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UNIX Humor


I don't show it a lot here, but I am a geek. I do UNIX systems administration work, and if you don't know it yet, those who work with UNIX have a special humor when it comes to their work. You can find evidence of this in the source code comments of just about any independently-developed open source software project. Running a grep -Ri [enter your choice of colorful word here] * in the Linux kernel source tree for example, will present you with a long list of interesting and exciting commentary on the code or hardware the programmer was working with. This will provide hours of entertainment for the right kind of geek. My personal favorite was a comment, probably typed out of frustration, by whomever was writing kernel code for the Sparc platform eons ago. Sadly, that part of the kernel appears to have gone away in the more recent 2.6 versions. I actually went and downloaded a 2.4 kernel just now to find it. I won't post it here verbatim, to keep the blog family-friendly, but it involves tender intimate relations with a chainsaw. For those of you geeky enough and curious, it's located in arch/sparc/kernel/ptrace.c of the 2.4 source tree.

Anyhow, some of this humor will occasionally spill over into error messages seen by sysadmins like yours truly. I came across one today that had me laughing out loud. Part of my duties of recent involve getting some of the servers to keep proper time, implementing ntpd to accomplish the task. The internal clock on the particular server I was working on had drifted forward a bit since it was last synchronized, so I ran ntpdate to get it current. Some software isn't written to handle a backwards time shift, and I soon found out that this was the case with our ssl-enabled POP and IMAP daemon. It had crashed when I changed the time, and since I wasn't yet very familiar with the server, I had to go and figure out which daemon I needed to restart. A quick check of the logs informed me that it was dovecot, so I went and started the service up again. Now, the nice developers of dovecot added the handy feature that if the service crashed previously, the error message indicating the likely cause will be printed out for you when you start it back up again. I also found that the dovecot developers have a sense of humor. And apparently, dovecot is emo.


[root@mail ~]# /usr/local/etc/rc.d/dovecot start
Starting dovecot.
Warning: Last died with error (see error log for more information): Time just moved backwards by 418 seconds. This might cause a lot of problems, so I'll just kill myself now.

I'll leave you with that. :)


  1. Dang it - diet coke just came out my nose!

  2. What is it with all the UNIX geeks blogging pro-gun? I'm another one ... though now I'm a little more specialized.

  3. I'm not sure. Perhaps we've dealt with enough users to realize that the imaginary socialist la-la-land where everyone's nice, reasonable, and kind - where everyone works for the betterment of the world and no one "needs" a gun can never exist.

    We tend to be INTJ personality types, being practical and having little patience for unproven "emotional" appeal such as that employed by gun-grabbers. Our logic dictates that we form opinion based on fact rather than baseless speculation or "feeling" - the basis for most anti-gunners' appeals.

  4. Oh, lord, when you warned me it was a UNIX joke I knew I'd better put down the tea - and I was right. Thanks for the sarcastic snort that turned into full on laughing!

    For the record - I'm not a unix geek. I may have lived with sysadmins, network admins, and programmers, but I'm the housemate that rarely bothered to build her own box or build/debug code. I provided fresh-baked bread and hot cooked meals, they provided tech support. Never mind the fact that I can be found in the back corner of the party, whistling modem tones or trying to be the first one to correctly identify the speed another person's whistling...