Originally located at http://www.maths.tcd.ie/~bosullvn/sysadmin.html but it seems to be down/gone.
Here is my local copy.

Not sure if this is the same Bryan O'Sullivan or not.

Working as a system administrator

This page consists of a collection of received wisdom on the subject of running computer systems. I have found the information presented herein to be very useful, and I hope you do too, whether as a system administrator or as a user.

Or something like that.

Know your duties

This following job description was found in one of the Books of Chilam Balam [1] written sometime after AD 1593 by the priests of the Classic and Postclassic Maya civilization.

  1. To impersonate and invoke the deity
  2. To offer food and drink to the idols
  3. To effect the drawing of the pebbles and regulate the calendar
  4. To read weather and other omens in the clouds
  5. To study the night sky and interpret the appearance of the celestial bodies
  6. To determine the lucky and unlucky days for various mundane activities by the casting of lots
  7. To perform the numerous rituals of the cup, plate, etc.
  8. To work miracles
  9. To concoct medicinal herbs into ceremonial drinks
  10. To predict the future
  11. To announce the times for various agricultural and other activities
  12. To insure adequate rainfall
  13. To avert or bring to a timely end famine, drought, epidemics, plagues of ants and locusts, earthquakes
  14. To distribute food to the hungry in time of need
  15. To cut the honey from the hives
  16. To determine the compensation to be placed on the crossroad altars
  17. To read from the sacred scriptures the future road of the katun [calendar round]
  18. To design and supervise the carving of stelae [stone monuments], the manufacture of word and clay idols, and the construction of temples
  19. To construct tables of eclipses and heliacal risings of planets [such as are found in the Dresden Codex]

Know your user base

From Jorge Luis Borges' essay ``Other Inquisitions'' (Borges attributes this taxonomy to an ancient Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ``The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge''):

On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into:

  1. those belonging to the Emperor
  2. those that are embalmed
  3. those that are trained
  4. suckling pigs
  5. mermaids
  6. fabulous ones
  7. stray dogs
  8. those that are included in this classification
  9. those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. innumerable ones
  11. those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush
  12. others
  13. those that have just broken a water pitcher
  14. those that, from a great distance, resemble flies

Incompatibilities between System V and BSD

High grades of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry:

  1. Prince of Babylon
  2. Knight of the Black Cross
  3. Knight of Death
  4. Sublime Master of the Luminous Ring
  5. Priest of the Sun
  6. Grand Architect
  7. Knight of the Black and White Eagle
  8. Holy Royal Arch
  9. Knight of the Phoenix
  10. Knight of Iris
  11. Priest of Eleusis
  12. Knight of the Golden Fleece

Grades of the Ancient and Primitive Memphis-Misraim Rite of Freemasonry:

  1. Doctor of the Planispheres
  2. Hermetic Philosopher
  3. Grand Elect of the Eons
  4. Knight Prince of the Rose of Heredom
  5. Grand Master of the Temple of Wisdom
  6. Knight Noachite
  7. Wise Siviast
  8. Knight Supreme Commander of the Stars
  9. Sublime Sage of the Zodiac
  10. Shepherd Kind of the Hutz
  11. Interpreter of Hieroglyphs
  12. Sage of the Pyramids
  13. Sublime Titan of the Caucasus
  14. Orphic Doctor
  15. Sublime Skald
  16. Prince Brahmin
  17. Guardian of the Three Fires

A selection of quotes

As any initiate to the practice of system administration knows, the work of a system administrator is nothing other than a form of Kabbalah, which see.

On standards in the Unix world

But you must know that we are all in agreement, whatever we say.

- from the Turba Philosophorum

On MIS executives

People who meet on the street ... secretly dedicate themselves to operations of Black Magic, they bind or seek to bind themselves to the Spirit of Darkness, to satisfy their ambitions, their hates, to do - in a word - Evil.

- J. K. Huysmans, Preface to J. Bois, Le satanisme et la magie, 1895, pp. viii-ix

On rebooting after a PROM failure

Invoke the forces of the Tablet of Union by means of Supreme Ritual of Pentagram, with the Active and Passive Spirit, with Eheieh and Agla. Return to the Altar, and recite the following Enochian Spirit Invocation: Ol Sonuf Vaorsag Goho Iad Balt, Lonsh Calz Vonpho, Sobra Z-ol Ror I Ta Nazps, od Graa Ta Malprg ... Ds Hol-q Qaa Nothoa Zimz, Od Commah Ta Nopbloh Zien ...

- Israel Regardie, The original account of the teachings, rites and ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Ritual for Invisibility, St. Paul, Llewellyn Publications, 1986, p. 423

On conversing with old-time PDP-8 hackers

And from this springs the extraordinary question: Did the Egyptians know about electricity?

- Peter Kolosimo, Terra senza tempo, Milan, Sugar, 1964, p. 111

On dealing with tech support people

During the day you will approach the frog several times and will utter words of worship. And you will ask it to work the miracles you wish ... Meanwhile you will cut a cross on which to sacrifice it.

- from a ritual of Aleister Crowley

On filesystem tuning

Our exalted task then is to find order in these seven measures, a pattern that is distinct and will keep always the sense alert and the memory clear ... This exalted and incomparable configuration not only performs the function of preserving entrusted things, words, and arts ... but in addition it gives us true knowledge ...

- Giulio Camillo Delminio, L'idea del Theatro, Fiorenze, Torrentino, 1550, Introduction

On asking advice from a Unix hacker

When therefore a Great Cabalist wishes to tell you something, what he says will not be frivolous, vulgar, common, but, rather, a mystery, an oracle ...

- Thomaso Garzoni, Il Theatro de vari e diversi cervelli mondani, Venice, Zanfretti, 1583, discorso XXXVI

On programming in C++

Alchemy, however, is a chaste prostitute, who has many lovers but disappoints all and grants her favours to none. She transforms the haughty into fools, the rich into paupers, the philosophers into dolts, and the deceived into loquacious deceivers ...

- Trithemius, Annalium Hirsaugensium Tomi II, S. Gallo, 1690, 141

On reading system documentation

Poor idiot! Are you so foolish as to believe we will openly teach you the greatest and most important of secrets? I assure you that anyone who attempts to study, according to the ordinary and literal sense of their words, what the Hermetic Philosophers write, will soon find himself in the twists of a labyrinth from which he will be unable to escape, having no Ariadne's thread to lead him out.

- Artephius


Makemson, M.W. The Book of the Jaguar Priest, a translation of the Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin, with commentary. Henry Schuman, New York, 1951, p. 141.

kab-bal-ah or cab-ba-la or cab-ba-lah kab-e-le, ke-'baČl-e n, often cap
[ML cabbala] (1521)
1: a medieval and modern system of Jewish theosophy, mysticism, and thaumaturgy marked by belief in creation through emanation and a cipher method of interpreting Scripture
2a: a traditional, esoteric, occult, or secret matter
2b: esoteric doctrine or mysterious art
-- cab-a-lism kab-e-,liz-em n
-- cab-a-lis-tic kab-e-'lis-tik adj

Bryan O'Sullivan