Open Letter to my fellow sysadmins

I have been fortunate to have worked in a university environment for 14 years. University environments enjoy a protection of openness that corporate and many government environments don’t. I have not had to work in either network operations or in residential networks, where the constant threat of RIAA and MPAA shakedowns placed me in positions where I had to broadly restrict services because of filesharing, either legitimate, or not.

Certainly I have not faced corporate pressure that abdicates supervisory responsibility for IT solutions to people playing Farmville on company time. But I sympathize with those under those pressures. Some dude’s Farmville or my own job? Go take a long lunch like all your bosses do, dude.

So I have enjoyed a halcyon existence in these regards. There was a time in college where I did the desktop support and management for a building full of System 6 and System 7 macs. I remember fighting some of the group’s software developers and systems architects – who installed all manner of inits and extensions on those macs, to either make their mac more fun, or just work better. Sometimes it was a complete pain in my ass to upgrade things, and I became an anti-init and extension fool, deleting them whenever I found them. But they practically affected nothing. If they affected system stability – it was their own system, not mine.

18 years later, I want to go back and yell at that idiot kid (and tell him to buy Cisco and Apple stock) – but mainly I’m just embarrassed for him.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a control freak. While I mainly do development most days – at my core I am a sysadmin – we are all control freaks. It makes who we are and great at what we do. But every single act as a sysadmin, I have to balance my control freak with reality. The reality that actions that I take to keep others from shooting themselves in the foot can and will be misused by people who don’t understand what we do, and the power we have over our systems.

I have colleagues who revel in their control freak. I know one colleague outside the university that I’ve heard tell stories about how they go back to their desk, fire up their monitoring software and “go bust” the facebook users. Mainly I just bite my tongue and shake my head and hope they’ll grow up, and think to myself “You’re a fool, and I swear I hope every SAN you install fails, and your backups along with it.”

But sometimes you are reminded that sometimes what we do in this business goes way beyond a completely harmless game of Farmville

Sometimes it looks like this:


I can imagine those sysadmins had a gun put to their head. You know, if my government put a gun to my head and told me to push the big red button, I’d like to say I’d take a stand. But I can’t say that, faced with death or system shutoff, I would probably do it too, and hope beyond all hope for a better day for those depending on those systems I just cut off.

But thankfully I don’t work in a country like that. I don’t work in an organization like that. Again, I don’t even have to “go bust” the Farmville users.

But what I hope is that we all remember that even in the little things, what we know, and the systems that we run have an impact on those that we support with them. And every single time we have to give in to some coward’s request to monitor and curb harmless activity because they aren’t doing their own job with their own employees – a little part of freedom dies – and sometimes the stakes are way bigger, for all of us.

I can only hope that we all might know when we have to take a stand, and find the courage to do so when the time comes.


Score at least one for freedom

Andrew Sullivan’s blog linked to this earlier today – and as if it wasn’t important to get the word out about what is going on in Egypt – what do we have for the news video? A copyright takedown.

Which is why this development from Al Jazeera is just great, amazing, and awesome for getting information out there.

People idly wonder about IP restrictions and our insane U.S. copyright policies and their impact on innovation – and the average Joe probably could care less.

I think this piece underscores those copyright policies and their impact on freedom.

On Speech and Gun Control

My personal beliefs in the last several years have turned away from the conservative-intwined christianism of my twenties and early thirties. My beliefs have gone back to what I hope were always my core beliefs in the individual dignity of each human being, and our responsibility to acknowledge and champion that dignity in both ourselves and others.

While those personal beliefs would be considered – especially these days – as far more liberal than conservative, I am passionate in the fundamental American – no, the human – right of freedom of speech. And not as passionately, but still as fundamentally, I believe in the second amendment protections of access to arms, even as interpreted on the individual level. I believe in the individual right to own guns, given sensible restrictions, and I don’t want to see those rights unreasonably curtailed.

But I want to point out that the second amendment says “well-regulated” – and at a minimum, the phrase means “well disciplined” or “well trained”. The debate is whether governments or individuals are responsible for that. Smarter people than me have argued about the meaning of those words, from Alexander Hamilton to our current Supreme Court – and that debate will be had again in the coming weeks, amplified by the 24×7 news cycle.

In the wake of yesterday’s tragic shooting in Arizona, where as of now, six have lost their lives – I hope that each of us will hold those words “well disciplined” to be individually self-evident. In gun ownership and in speech.

No, there is no amount of gun or speech control that will stop the insane from indiscriminately taking the lives of others.

But what each of us have to hold self-evident is this: reverence and responsibility in gun ownership and speech means that you are disciplined enough that you don’t put gun crosshairs on real human beings, you don’t hold fundraisers to shoot an M-16 with the opposing candidate.

And last but not least – every last American has the constitutional right to express the following, and as a fellow American I fundamentally support your right to believe and express them:

But I hope beyond hope for those that espouse these things – that in your heart of hearts you will know that there is absolutely nothing “pro life” and “pro god” about “pro gun”.


I don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions, and haven’t really this year either other than following on from my last post about finding to reduce self-induced work-related stress. I do have some amorphous and not-so-amorphous goals for the year. Most of which I’ll keep to myself, something that was influenced by this talk from Derek Sivers last year (btw, not because I think he’s right, I actually think he’s wrong about the psychology, but just because I think at this time, it’s right for me).

I’ll share one though, my goal is to try to keep laughing, and making myself laugh. I decided the other day it might be cool to try to make a marginally funny someecard most every day, I figured it would be fun, and it keeps me thinking. I’ve done a few so far – and “marginal” is key, but it makes me laugh, and that’s all I wanted.

I figured – or I hoped – I might come up with one good enough to make Editor’s choice, and that was a personal goal. Well, I got lucky enough to do that with this one: - The meetings will continue until morale improves.

It’s been a ton of fun looking around at twitter at it being retweeted and seeing that it gets sent, and hope it’s making somebody laugh. I figure 2011 is all downhill from here now. But I guess the goal now is to do it again.

So in the immortal words of Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”