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Bastard Operator From Hell, compleat archives
March 21, 2005 4:51 PM   Subscribe

The latest BOFH, or Bastard Operator From Hell. If you read The Register you're familiar with him... It's the story of an abusive IT guy basically doing whatever he wants to users and getting away with it. It's been going on for about 10 years, all of which is archived, so if that one doesn't tease your fancy, maybe some of those will. If you're not familiar with basic IT stuff some of it may be foreign to you, but once I started reading I couldn't stop. Try a couple years back, 2002 is a good vintage. >clickety<
posted by BlackLeotardFront (48 comments total)

 
Com_plete_ archives? Or is that a BOFH reference I just don't get?
posted by CharlesV42 at 5:04 PM on March 21, 2005


It is.. just the way the archives (sorry, should have included that link) are linked to from the register page. It is ye olde spellinge of ye worde.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:09 PM on March 21, 2005


Reasonably funny. Though I miss the old Support Calls from Hell.

"Unplug it from the wall, ma'am. Pack it up and put it back in the box and take it back to the store."
"And then what?"
"Ask for your money back because you're too fucking stupid to own a computer, ma'am. Thanks for calling customer support."
posted by fenriq at 5:15 PM on March 21, 2005


It's just the ancient reference to Izaak Walton's "Compleat Angler," which has infected English-speaking culture with that derivative of spelling for over 300 years now.
posted by ScotchLynx at 5:20 PM on March 21, 2005


BOFH, meet BWDFH. Yellow on red? Owie.

Anyway, [this is good] and all that.
posted by mediareport at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2005


I like the BOFH because it grew up with me. When I was in uni computer labs the BOFH was an old-school sysop, rm'ing mailboxes and dealing with disk quotas. Now I'm in an office with a numpty IT Helpdeks, the BOFH is a quasi-independent tech dude in a firm that has its own hellish helpdesk.

Have you tried rebooting?
posted by bonaldi at 5:24 PM on March 21, 2005


As an IT professional (programming, not help desk, but I was help desk once) these stories have always not only failed to amuse me, but actively annoy me.

there are plenty of smart people who don't know from computers, and abusing them for their ignorance of a specialty subject is just tasteless -- especially on the part of a professional whose job it is to compensate for that ignorance.

Would "The Bastard Surgeon From Hell" be funny? "The Bastard Accountant"? "The Bastard Mechanic"?

That these puerile fantasies swell the heads of help desk clowns only makes it worse -- again I was help desk, but the clowns being hired for Level One Support these days are all too often arrogant without the compensating expertise that makes the arrogance bearable. I generally put up with them for about five minutes, then explain, ever so sweetly, that, you know, as it happens, I get paid to write software myself, and gee, no, I'm, pretty sure re-installing the drivers isn't gong to make much difference, especially as I did that before I called you and why not put the Level Three guy on with me so neither one of us wastes each others' time any more than we have?

Unfortunately, the ass clowns who have read BOFH at that point decide they're hot shit and then it goes downhill as I have to meticulously explain to them -- and later, their bosses -- all that they don't know.
posted by orthogonality at 5:31 PM on March 21, 2005


"It's possible his archive was written to a tape with a similar checksum."

"And how many tapes could that be?"

"About 2,000 - they all have the same checksum unfortunately - it's a bug in the software that I noted in a memo to you about, let's see, two months ago?"


ahhhhhhhhh. :O)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2005


orthogonality speaks (in part) for me. I have to say it's fun when I say "my question is about the COM API" and the level 1 techs route me to a real engineer damn quick.
posted by matildaben at 5:37 PM on March 21, 2005


Would "The Bastard Surgeon From Hell" be funny?

Yes. That some surgeons might take it as validation of their own arrogance - a tragic shame, of course - wouldn't change the fact that patients do in fact do some really funny things sometimes. *Any* kind of occupational humor contains the danger you describe, orthogonality. That doesn't make all occupational humor puerile and unfunny.
posted by mediareport at 5:38 PM on March 21, 2005


I feel I can respect where you're coming from, orthogonality - those people who truly believe themselves superior to the people who call helpdesks looking for honest help are actual bastards. I just found the abuse of other professionals using semifictional computerized means funny - it is after all a fantasy. I think the Bastard Surgeon From Hell and all those would be funny.. if they were written as confidently and with such disregard for others as these are.

mediareport, I ended up actually copying these to text files because of the horrible web design. I recommend it highly...

PEBKAC <---- is that correct? I love that.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:40 PM on March 21, 2005


Would "The Bastard Surgeon From Hell" be funny?

OMG, yes. The web sorely lacks such a thing. Some enterprising MeFite should start one.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:21 PM on March 21, 2005


Alot of the humor from stuff like this is not exactly that the user is ignorant...it's that the user doesn't know he is ignorant.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:33 PM on March 21, 2005


Did you read the links, orthogonality? The BOFH has never been of the "they thought it was a cup holder, ahahahaha" genre, it has been about abusing the power of technology -- reading the boss's email for blackmail, say -- or abusing those who irritate the SysOp.

In the latest episode, the complainer is exactly the sort of "I know computers, take me to level three, boy" fellow you describe, and he gets his comeuppance for his own arrogance.
posted by bonaldi at 6:41 PM on March 21, 2005


What grabs me is the over-the-top portrait of moronic corporate life. I hope no one really locks an HR droid in a tape safe for a weekend, but damn will I laugh at the idea.
posted by mediareport at 7:11 PM on March 21, 2005


orthogonality, a lot of the BOFH stuff paints him as a complete and utter asshole. Sure, his users are caricatures of real people, which is why they are funny, but HE is a caricature of a real sys. admin., which is what makes him funny. To some, at least. I am just as often laughing at what a serious jerk the BOFH is, and it's funny because of the actual arrogant, narcissistic sys. admins. one ends up dealing with.

Just as I laugh at the clueless users. Hell, in that article linked, the guy asking the BOFH for help with his laptop battery is a spot-on, 100% accurate description of a guy I used work with ...
posted by teece at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2005


In one of my most recent site updates, someone sent me a copy of this BOFH tattoo!
posted by glider at 8:13 PM on March 21, 2005


As an IT professional (programming, not help desk, but I was help desk once) these stories have always not only failed to amuse me, but actively annoy me.

What was your username again? *clickety* *clickety*
posted by mrbill at 8:33 PM on March 21, 2005


The BOFH tattoo wins. Hands down.
posted by mmcg at 8:38 PM on March 21, 2005


Whats with the ring on that guy? (tattoo guy) Anybody else see that?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:01 PM on March 21, 2005


It's been going on for about 10 years, all of which is archived

I seem to remember reading archives of BOFH stories on BBSs more than 10 years ago, and at the time I got the impression they were even a few years old already. Does anybody know if I'm misremembering, or if this is a different BOFH?
posted by Hildago at 9:37 PM on March 21, 2005


I seem to remember that, too Hildago. Many of the BOFH skits I read referenced technology that was older than 10 years old. And the older ones I read were way funnier than the newer ones.

And, I can't stand by that BOFH tattoo, as the BOFH was obviously a Unix operator, so that C:> is way out of place. Why bother having an operator for single user OS ? ;-)
posted by teece at 9:40 PM on March 21, 2005


plus it randomly says "speed". niiice
posted by bonaldi at 9:58 PM on March 21, 2005


I know they’ve been around for at least 14 years – that’s when I first found them.
posted by Tenuki at 10:02 PM on March 21, 2005


on the archive page i linked to in my comment there is super old stuff... it's not BOFH proper so I didn't link it but you're definitely right. I haven't read them though. They're at the top of this page.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:08 PM on March 21, 2005


Hah! I worked with the man himself at one point. I can still remember having my password changed variously to "phuckwit" and "istillcan'tremembermypassword".

It's nice to see Simon's made a good sideline out of it. I think he got bored one night shift while he was still in the UK - the first ones were long out by the time he was back at Waikato university in the mid 90s.

I had a soft spot also for Zen Master Greg.

orthogonality, this is the revenge fantasy of every admin who's been given yet another shitty, thankless, irrational task by a boss who will not be told. Indeed, as I contemplate another rushed release this evening, mandated by someone many levels of hierarchy up and across from me, against my best advice, where the suffering will be borne by defenceless admins and the glory taken by their bosses, I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for your view at all. Professionalism goes both ways.

... and by the way, you've got *plenty* of space now.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:23 PM on March 21, 2005


The BOFH tattoo wins. Hands down.

No. No it doesn't. It would win if it were a UNIX prompt, but it's a fucking DOS prompt. Fucking DOS.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:00 AM on March 22, 2005


i_am_joe's_spleen writes " orthogonality, this is the revenge fantasy of every admin who's been given yet another shitty, thankless, irrational task by a boss who will not be told. Indeed, as I contemplate another rushed release this evening, mandated by someone many levels of hierarchy up and across from me, against my best advice, where the suffering will be borne by defenceless admins and the glory taken by their bosses, I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for your view at all. Professionalism goes both ways."

As I wrote, I've been there, and I understand POHBs and ridiculous, self-contradictory requirements and dumbass planning. And I am not offended at all by fantasies about shafting those who ought to know better. It's the shafting the client who has hired you so they don't have to know better -- so they could spend their time on their own expertise -- that rankles.

And the bloody-minded-ness of jokes like "you've got plenty of space now" -- yes, i know it's a joke, but as people who know more than our clients, we have a responsibility not to abuse our power.

I guess it's that abuse of power that ruins the joke for me. People who have more should be held to a higher standard -- I apply that to Bush, and I'd be a hypocrite not to apply it in my own profession.
posted by orthogonality at 12:04 AM on March 22, 2005


It's the black humour of the burnt-out, orthogonal. Thinking about your examples above, medical staff (and no doubt mechanics and accountants) have their own brand of humour for dealing with unreasonable and unrelenting work. It is not a nice humour, I give you that. But it's still pretty fuckin' funny. (Text only, but possibly not SFW in a buttoned-down workplace).

As far as the power thing goes, what you're not realising is this kind of humour is from people who feel they have no autonomy - who must do what they're told and take what they're given. You're right, the fantasy is to exercise their power, but the whole reason for that fantasy is because they have none. It's the white collar equivalent of waitstaff fantasising about spitting in your chowder.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:45 AM on March 22, 2005


i_am_joe's_spleen writes "It's the white collar equivalent of waitstaff fantasising about spitting in your chowder."

Yeah, I don't find that funny either. Again, I guess that for me, one takes pride in doing a job well and not abusing one's power (even the monetary power of adulterating soup on the way to delivering it).

I'm not arguing that you shouldn't find it funny, or that such joking is morally wrong, just that to, me, joking about or taking advantage of someone's ignorance has always seemed to be too similar to taunting the retarded kids in the "short bus" -- it's an American thing, and from your spelling I assume your're a Brit; retarded kids sent to American public (that is, state supported, not private) school often rode a smaller omnibus just for the retarded kids.

I never joined in the hooting and hollering at the "short bus" as a kid, it just felt wrong, and BOFH have always struck me the same way. And ever since, as a child, hearing my Dad fulminating about Nixon, I've always been sensitive to abuses of power.

Again, I understand the motivation that leads to BOFH and to enjoying it, but it's just not my cup of tea.
posted by orthogonality at 1:01 AM on March 22, 2005


No need to knife orthogonality, people. You're all out for blood!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:25 AM on March 22, 2005


Fair enough. (Well spotted on the spelling, but I'm a New Zealander - as is the BOFH).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:28 AM on March 22, 2005


BlackLeotardFront writes "No need to knife orthogonality, people. You're all out for blood!"

No worries. If you really want to pile on, go here.

i_am_joe's_spleen writes "Fair enough. (Well spotted on the spelling, but I'm a New Zealander - as is the BOFH)"

That explains much ;) Moa killers!
posted by orthogonality at 2:09 AM on March 22, 2005


orthogonality, I totally see where you are coming from with the short bus analogy. I can't laugh at candid camera films (never could) where people who are trying to help are being set up in some 'hilarious' way. Unfunny.

However, the BOFH always had me rolling. Found the files in 95, and already then they seemed to be ten years old.
posted by dabitch at 2:35 AM on March 22, 2005


I read them as a student, and that would be around 1990. They're probably as old as the ASCII cows.
posted by salmacis at 3:18 AM on March 22, 2005


Terribly uncouth, but apropos self link...

It's a picture, okay? I hate inline graphics.
posted by Samizdata at 5:36 AM on March 22, 2005


Shorter orthogonality- "I will use my powers only for good." :-)
posted by nofundy at 5:50 AM on March 22, 2005


ASCII cows? That sounds pretty funny!
posted by stevil at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2005


You really stirred up the viper's nest in that thread, orthogonality. I didn't know I was sparring with a master when we lit it up in the torture discussion. :)

speaking of ascii stuff: ascii pr0n (nsfw...kinda)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:49 AM on March 22, 2005


As a system admin I really don't like BOFH. The people in the industry who read it are the ones who mope about in an impotent rage at the injustice of their jobs yet they're usually the ones making things worse. They look down their noses at people who leave the office before 7pm even though they just piss about playing Doom after 5pm. They never document anything and just say "it's all in my head" with a smug smile because that's how fucking intelligent they are. They go around "fixing" things at 9pm without telling anyone what they've done, then don't bother to turn up until 3pm the next day, then they say "Oh that..." and change back what they did like they've just done the company a big favour.

I'm not saying that all the admins who like BOFH are idiots, but every idiot admin likes BOFH.
posted by dodgygeezer at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2005


I guess I can understand orthogonality's gripe about certain non-admin's thinking they are hot shit and treating customers poorly. But I really don't think he understands the source of the evil.

Part of the issue though is that Simon is not talking from the helpdesk perspective. He is talking from the operator perspective. The one who should not have to talk to the end user. The one that the helpdesk is supposed to be there as a buffer. He is also God in the machine. He is root. He controls the world. It is an addictive amount of power. To know, just simply _know_ that you can make it all run as smooth as a calm sea, or you can make vengeful vengence and, um, vengence upon those who dare oppose you.
Then go crazy with it. See how bad you can be. Just give it a whirl. Just once. Show them they are not better than you, with their $100,000 salaries and fancy sports cars. Show them you are just as good as them, even though they picked on you in school because you thought trains were fun. In 7th grade. And no, you didn't ride the short bus because you were retarded, you rode it because you lived in a neighborhood without a regular bus route, so the school system, ingenious as it was, chose to make you ride with the kids that wore the special helmets because he kept wacking his head against things.
You didn't go out for sports. You didn't listen to pop music. You liked math. You actually read your math book the first day it was issued to you. You were waiting for everyone else to catch up. And they treated you like the loser for it.
But you have control here. This is your world. If they want something from you, you will make them pay for it. And if they didn't think to listen to you the first time? Well, sorry, no second chances. Off with their heads.



My little expression of the sentiments behind the BOFH's mentality and cruelty.

Oh, and telling someone to drop a laser printer off a table to clear a paper jam is one of the best stories ever.
posted by daq at 11:58 AM on March 22, 2005


stevil it's not. No more than the all your bases was the 3000th time you saw it.

orthogonality: And the bloody-minded-ness of jokes like "you've got plenty of space now" -- yes, i know it's a joke, but as people who know more than our clients, we have a responsibility not to abuse our power.

I don't know orthogonality, maybe you worked at a clued in company. This is the real life, happening to me now, senario I have to deal with that makes "you've got plenty of space now" funny: A user with 4X times the space of anyone else is complaining they don't have enough space. A quick look reveals they have directories from 1990 that they haven't touched in years(how the heck would you open an Apple][ VisiCalc File on a PC anyway?). I've already spent multiple hours help them archive this stuff to DVD but they refuse to actually leave it deleted from their home drive. Laughing at this kind of stuff lets me not beat them with a rubber chicken.
posted by Mitheral at 12:48 PM on March 22, 2005


daq: Simon is not talking from the helpdesk perspective. He is talking from the operator perspective. The one who should not have to talk to the end user.

I was the 3rd help desk person the University of Waikato ever hired. Before me and my colleagues, there were just operators, including the one in question.

Read the very first stories. The Operator began as a tape monkey/console jockey. In those days, there was no help desk. The scene where the students clamour for their printouts? Oh yes. There was one huge line printer for the VAX, sounded like a chainsaw, and the operator had to pull the lineflow off, seperate the printouts, and put them in slots grouped by username, while being besieged by users demanding to know why their job wasn't coming out first.

The BOFH has metamorphosed into a sysadmin, but his origins are in something far more menial.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2005


Ahh, the BOFH brings back such warm memories, somewhere i still have a crowbar named LART. Anyhow, i think it should be noted that i have worked in various helpdesk positions over the years, most of them dealing with the public, and i can tell you that the 'public' consists of a lot of hostile, profane, irritated people who frequently take out their misplaced aggravation with their PC's on you, the lowly helpdesk person who is only trying to help them.

For me, the appeal of the the BOFH when i first read them about a decade ago, was that of a cathartic release, the "man that would be great to do..." but you know you can't because your job dictates that you deal with even the assholes in a totally professional manner.

i always viewed it as nothing other than a valve for tech support to keep them from snapping and losing their job for calling a customer the same thing that the customer just called them.

But YMMV.
posted by quin at 7:36 PM on March 22, 2005


daq writes " He is also God in the machine. He is root. He controls the world. It is an addictive amount of power."

But, that's just silly on his part: he controls an appliance. Maybe, as i_am_joe's_spleen tells us " The BOFH has metamorphosed into a sysadmin, but his origins are in something far more menial." But whether it's punched-cards and batch jobs in a computer room (which I am just barely old enough to recall) or a modern linux farm, it's just an appliance. It's not fiduciary responsibility or legal culpability or life and death medical decisions.

Now it would be one thing if he were Alan Turing or Don Knuth or Dennis Ritchie or Bjarne Stroustrup or someone else who pioneered the software, or one of the engineers in The Soul of a New Machine who built the hardware and microcode. From those guys, well, it would be a privilege to suffer their arrogance (though from what I've seen and heard of them, none are particularly arrogant, and surely not up to the arrogance of the BOFH. Check out Knuth's Christmas lectures, available as movies on the web. Fun and mind-stretching; I think they were posted here, no?).

But the BOFH is a guy who got hired to add user accounts, trouble-shoot, and generally baby-sit a machine bought by his employer. He's not (at least in his job) a creative genius; he's a rote memorizer and a somewhat agile trouble-shooter. And nothing wrong with that -- I don't claim any real creativity myself. And I've done jobs similar to the BOFH's -- I know what the job requires, I respect it, but, frankly, it's by no means rocket science to remember the chmod's octal arguments.

To think he's "God" or even "a god" is just puerile fantasy. To sit and simmer that his genius just isn't appreciated by the Ph.D. candidates he sys-admins for, is just silly. Enter the Ph.D. program, BOFH, and amaze us all, but stop throwing land mines in front of the people who are trying to get their own jobs done, so that you can "prove" how much more clever you are then they.

Again, as a fantasy, BOFH is something else again, but to be honest, having been a help desk person myself years back, for people whose English was only somewhat more certain than my (nonexistent) grasp of their languages, and (almost) all of them self-important foreign government officials, I frankly don't see that help desk people have it so bad. You sit on your ass in a warm office, and you browse the web, and you answer questions, most of which you've heard before and know the answer to, and you calm people down and you behave politely and try to empathize with their worry that they've just deleted their dissertation or whatever. Yes, it gets frustrating at times, but so does every job.
posted by orthogonality at 5:42 AM on March 23, 2005


Some of you people never laughed at Calvin & Hobbes, eh?

"The father's cruelty to the child vis a vis telling him lies when asked for explanations for natural phenomena is akin to child abuse, and I frankly can not find any humour in child abuse."
posted by five fresh fish at 9:06 AM on March 23, 2005


i'm sorry, orthogonality, but what's your point? is it just that you don't get it? or am i a bad person for laughing? if it's the former, fine. if it's the latter, what on earth do you do when it's, you know, something important?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2005


andrew cooke writes "[I]'m sorry, orthogonality, but what's your point? is it just that you don't get it? or am i a bad person for laughing? if it's the former, fine. if it's the latter, what on earth do you do when it's, you know, something important?"

Neither. As I said up thread "I'm not arguing that you shouldn't find it funny, or that such joking is morally wrong, just that to, me, joking about or taking advantage of someone's ignorance has always seemed to be too similar to taunting the retarded kids in the 'short bus' "

So no, I get it, and sure, a few of the BOFH stories have struck me as funny, and certainly, I don't think less of you for finding most or all of them funny.

But no, most of them I don't find so much funny as pathetic: here's a clever (fictional) character in a job he clearly loathes, who derives what little pleasure he gets from it from the opportunities he has to make others miserable. Sure, that's maybe funny the first time or two, but after a while it gets kinda of dreary: you just feel bad for the obviously clever person trapped where he doesn't want to be, for the way that trap is corrupting and corroding his ability to empathize with others, and of course for his victims. It's just dreary, for me.

Now Calvin & Hobbes, I find hilarious. Especially the snowmen who come to bad and bloody ends. Again, just a matter of taste.
Another poster, daq, commented that BOFH "is also God in the machine. He is root. He controls the world." I guess if he's a God, and is tormenting the "mere mortal" supplicants who come to him, it's all just a but too much like a sullen kid poking at an anthill, for me.

I just want to shake the BOFH and tell him, "hey, you hate your job! Find the courage to finds something you love before it destroys you -- don't stay in what's essentially a destructive relationship."

But can it be cathartic for someone in a job he hates? Sure, and I suspect on those occasions I did find BOFH funny, was when I was in such situations. Again, BOFH's just not my cup of tea, I find it depressing and mean-spirited. But taste and style vary from person to person, and if you like BOFH, if you get out of it something I don't, more power to you.
posted by orthogonality at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2005


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