As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

It’s late on a Friday afternoon and I’m stuck in the lab helping Javier try to find the leak the cooling system for his most recent experimental apparatus. He’s got a conference presentation in two weeks and desperately needs results. Unfortunately, the first year who’s supposed to be helping with this is AWOL, hence I’ve been roped into saving Javier’s bacon. We’ve just about managed to narrow the leak down to one particular subsystem when the first year wanders into the lab… six hours late. He has a look on his face like he’s just seen his life’s work been eviscerated by a small army of ninjas. Either that, or he just had a meeting with The Advisor. I’m not sure which.

“Look everyone, Eeyore just walked in! And about six hours too late,” I complain.

“Very funny,” says the first year, or TFY for short, sounding about as deflated as he looks.

“Why are you late long-faced one?” Javier asks.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” whines TFY as he sinks into a chair at the table right next to the apparatus.

Javier gives me a hand gesture indicating that I should get the hell away from the device, which I do with haste, covering my nose since I know what’s coming. You see, one of the best ways to leak test a cooling system is to flush it with ammonia, because you can smell the stuff at fairly low levels (even below 25ppm). Granted, that doesn’t work on copper pipes (since ammonia will corrode them), but the stuff Javier’s using is steel anyway. Anyway, any pressurized system has a pressure release valve, which in this case, is about 24 inches from TFY’s face.

Javier decides to release the pressure.

After a minute-and-a-half long coughing fest TFY has recovered enough to yell, “What the hell was that for?”

“To give you something to whine about,” responds Javier. “Don’t come in here and ruin my afternoon with this ‘woe is me’ attitude. Especially since you were supposed to be here hours ago to help me with this thing.”

This appears to be a little much for TFY who breaks down into tears. Javier engages Manly Defense Protocol #16, locking the lab door and turning on the loudest bit of experimental apparatus we have.

As annoying as TFY is, there’s an unwritten rule of manly solidarity here — men don’t let people see (or hear) other men cry.

After a few minutes of crying, we manage to get the story out of him. It appears that he was planning to go to the one really posh dance his old fraternity holds each year with his girlfriend tonight. He had an elegant dinner planned, flowers and all. The one problem is that she just broke up with him to go with another guy.

“That sucks,” Javier and I say in unison.

“No f@!#ing kidding,” TFY says. “The worst part is that this dude is a total scumbag and won’t treat her right like I do.”

“So you actually want her back?” I say, incredulously.

“With all my heart,” he mournfully responds.

Javier pulls me aside for a quick consultation. “Listen man,” he whispers, “Women who don’t respect men don’t get no respect, you know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah,” I agree, though I’m pretty sure that rule applies much more generally.

“We need to help this boy out.”

“Why? He fell for some heart-breaking floozy and now pays the price. It’s an expensive but important lesson to learn.”

Javier responds, “Under normal circumstances, maybe, but I’m gonna need TFY’s help to get my results for the conference. He’s useless to me in this state.”

No matter how much TFY really needs to learn this lesson, I know it’s more important to help Javier out. Especially since I’ll be helping Javier out if TFY stays in his funk.

“Is getting her back worth say, 200 bucks?” I ask TFY.


“If I can make it clear to her that she’s made a terrible, terrible mistake, is that worth 200 bucks?” I respond.

“Yeah,” he says, half-crying.

“Then pay up,” I say.

“Why? How?” he asks.

“Don’t ask. You don’t want to know,” I retort, speaking nothing but the truth.

“Fine,” he says, pulling the cash out of his wallet (damn!).

“Javier, head home and get dressed up frat-boy style. Meet me at The Supine Bovine in an hour.”

“Si, Señor,” Javier says.

“I’ll call you when it’s done,” I say to TFY. “And don’t pitch the flowers, you’re going to need them after all.”

I’m halfway home before the plan completely crystalizes in my head, but if this guy is half the sleezebag that TFY says he is, then the TFY’s ex-girlfriend will be giving him a swift kick to the nuts by the evening’s end.

I’m actually beginning to look forward to this.

(To be continued…)

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

It’s 9am in the morning, a quite unusual hour for me to be awake, let alone dressed in a suit and tie, when I stroll into the department chair’s office to meet with the expulsion committee. After shaking the hands of all the committee members and thanking them for their time and consideration of my case, I sit down to face my accusors, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the department’s morbidly obese systems administrators with a penchant for mafia-like theatrics (see this episode). The two of them have stupid grins on their faces. I smile back as I ope my briefcase just enough for them to see the Fritos and Mountain Dew sitting inside. Tweedle Dum hastily suppresses his drool reflex.

This means he skipped breakfast. I’m going to enjoy this.

The Department Chair clears his throat. “We’re here to begin the expulsion proceedings. For transparency, these proceedings, they will be audio-taped. We will begin by letting the accusers present their case and then let the accused rebut it. Let me remind all in attendance that the Honor Code is in effect.”

Now the Uni “Honor Code” was worth about as much as a few sheets of bog paper, if the (unprosecuted) blatant plagiarism on undergraduate research papers was anything to go measure by. But that was largely irrelevant, since Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’s “open-and-shut” case was about to be blown as wide open as Ashley Alexandra Dupre‘s legs, and I wasn’t going to have to utter a single un-truth. Anyway, I reach into my briefcase to crinkle the Frito’s bag again just to get to Tweedle Dum. I sit back and watch the proceedings commence.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum outline their case more or less as expected. They present the log files of the Nessus scans, cross-referenced with connection-level traffic logs from the router (Impressive! I need to give these two more credit) and the IP allocation list, to show which machines had open SSH connections into the server at the time (my home machine, Li’s office machine and the one in the lab). They make no mention of a mercy deal as of yet, probably expecting me to embarrass myself and then offer “clemency” if I turn over the root password. Like hell.

I open my statement by thanking the two admins for their diligent efforts in defense of the department’s system. OK. I just violated the “honor code” with a bald-faced lie. But while the admins are doubtful, the profs on the committee nod along as if they believe it… except for the Department Chair, who seems to detect the irony in my statement despite my best efforts in hiding it. Drat.

I then present my own evidence, including the system logs that show the local privilege exploit run on my box enabling someone to achieve root access. I note that Amy, Li and I were the only people logged in at the time, and an external penetration being ruled out due to their detailed connection logs. As it’s unlikely that I rooted my own box, I therefore submit that either Amy or Li would have had to have done the dirty deed.

I smile as Tweedle Dee steps up to respond, “Those logs could easily been faked.”

“True,” I concede. “Anyone with root access can fake logs on a computer.”

I can see the Department Chair smile as I prepare my response.

“For that matter, your logs could be equally as fake as you feel mine to be.”

Tweedle Dee shifts nervously before finding his response, “But ours aren’t fake!”

I’m surprised he didn’t foresee my use of the he-said she-said defense, as I smile and response, “And neither are mine.”

Tweedle Dum picks up, “Be that as it may, I…”

I open a Mountain Dew as Tweedle Dum, evidently thirsty in addition to being hungry, looks longingly in my direction. I take a long gulp of a product I actually despise, but brought along anyway for it’s sysadmin neutralizing powers.

“Pardon me, I was getting a bit parched. Please continue,” I note.

Tweedle Dum gazes longingly at the can containing the unnaturally yellow-green drain cleaner he desires so greatly. An elbow in the ribs from Tweedle Dee gets him back to the task at hand.

“Be that as it may,” Tweedle Dum begins again, “I think you still have a problem.”

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Sadly, this is one of those times. “Indeed I do. I have been brought before this committee and charged capriciously by two admins who are far more interested in settling personal scores than tracking down the actual security violator.”

The room descends into an icy silence as I finish my outburst. The admins glare at my angry as the seconds tick by. Finally the Department Chair interrupts the standoff, saying, “Do you have anything further to say in your defense?”

“No, Mr. Chairman, sir,” I mumble.

“Well then, all three of you get out of here while we confer.”

This was not how it was supposed to go. I walk out of the room, leaving my briefcase behind. Thankfully, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are as shaken up as I was by my outburst. Mindful of the fact that we’re just outside the Chair’s office, we all stand in a sullen silence. After a few minutes (which felt like a few eternities) of waiting, we are shown back into the room.

“The previous outburst aside,” the department chair begins, “Given the lack of firm evidence tying the accused to the offense, we cannot in good conscience expel him.”

I smile at the committee.

“But given the compromise of his machine,” Tweedle Dee butts in, only to be cut off rapidly by the Department Chair.

“I was just getting to that. You who stand accused, do you have anything to say about that?”

“As far as I can tell, it was a local exploit which our Linux vendor hadn’t gotten around to patching yet. The department systems would’ve been just as vulnerable to the same exploit — so long as the exploiter had an account on the system,” I remark.

“True,” echos Tweedle Dum, “but we…”

Crinkle, Crinkle, goes the Fritos bag. To add insult to injury, I have a little more Mountain Dew. Ahhh….

One elbow-reboot later and Tweedle Dum restarts, “But we’re constantly monitoring for security patches, since it’s our job to do so. We’re far better suiting to handle that role for all department systems than grad students are.”

The Chair winks at me and gives me a your-going-to-go-along-with-what-I’m-about-to-say-no-questions-asked look. I nod back and the chair says, “A point well noted. Would it be fair then to punish the perpetrator of the Nessus attack by removing their root access?”

Tweedle Dee smiles and says, “And get them to make a binding promise to never do it again?”

“Fair enough,” says the Chair.

“And you how do you feel about that?” asks the Chair, still giving me that look.

“Uh, sounds fair to me,” I say, sinking down in my chair to try to affect a defeated attitude.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are positively ecstatic for about 6.2 seconds.

“Good,” says the chair. “Then as per this signed confession I received this morning, you are to apply this punishment to Li immediately.”

“What?” the two obese admins shout.

The Chair smiles. “The confession tells all and my secretary has verified it to be genuine. Now get the heck out of my office.”

The two admins look perplexed as they shuffle to the door.

Feeling a little sympathy for the shafting they received, I pitch the bag of Fritos to Tweedle Dum.

“Except you,” says the Chair, glaring at me.

“Sir?” I ask.

“How did you get that confession anyway?”

“Uh, I guess you can say, I appealed to his softer side.”

“With a pitchfork no doubt. My secretary said he was a complete wreck this morning.”

“The thought of being expelled can cause a man to do strange things.”

“Indeed it can,” observes the Chair.

“Why do you think I let you off scott free? And don’t give me the I’m 100% innocent shit.”

“No idea, sir.”

“I’ll tell you. I’m no cream-puff, and I wouldn’t hesitate to have you dragged off to prison if that would serve as an example of the consequences of breaking the rules.”

“So then why, sir?”

“Because I’ve been looking for a way to humble those two for quite a while. They seemed to be developing a root==god complex, and they needed to be cut down a few notches. Besides, this gives me the perfect excuse to shaft them come raise season and put that dosh to better use. You were merely convenient, that’s all.”

I’m stunned. I never knew the chair was such a ruthless bastard.

Almost as if he could read my mind, he responds, “That’s how I got to be chair.”

“Is that all, sir?”

“Almost. You should probably head to the restroom. The laxative I put in your Mountain Dew should be kicking in any minute now.”


As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

It’s a little after 5, and I’ve snaffled the spare keys from Jimmy the Janitor’s formerly locked desk. Using them to open up the breaker panel in Li’s hallway, I pop the breaker so I can activate Plans #5 and #6 against Li and begin Operation: Confession. After gluing the lock mechanism shut and rigging up the handle, I reset the breaker and head to my observation post (a conference room on the same floor), armed with my laptop, a burrito and a large coke. Webcams with microphones are my friends.

The first 25 minutes or so are uneventful as the pepper spray starts to begin its release. Then suddenly…


In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita starts as scheduled. Excellent. I can hear the sound of shuffling papers and feet as Li wonders who exactly could be playing his least favorite song in the world. The shuffling stops. Evidently Li is going to try ignoring his predicament. A test of wills it will be then. Or perhaps a test of tear ducts, when the pepper spray starts to work it’s effect.

We’re about an hour and a half into the experience when I first start hearing the sounds of tissue use from Li. I’m starting to get excited, when suddenly…


In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida drowns out any sound from Li that the mic might pick up. Unfortunate.

After another half hour, Li gets his first taste of Phase #6 Something like:


Car batteries evidently cause quite the shock. The phone starts slamming against the hook as Plan #2 also appears to be a success.


That would be Li pitching his cell phone across the office as the jammer (Phase #4) works it’s magic. It’s about time for me to slip a couple of door wedges in place so even if Li manages to bust up the glued-shut lock with a few good kicks, the door still won’t open.


Just in time too. Now that I can hear his tears, it’s time to send him the letter. This is the tricky part. The letter can’t actually impersonate a law enforcement officer, since that’s a felony. Instead, I had to carefully craft the letter to be intimidating without quite saying who the intimidater is. The letter reads as follows:

“Mr. Chen,
It has come to our attention that you have been engaged in inappropriate use of computer resources, namely the use of a local root exploit against a university computer, and the execution of a network vulnerability test suite against Department systems. You can choose to lie and claim you were innocent, in which case you will spend the entire evening in this room. Upon release in the morning, paperwork will be filed with ICE requesting the revocation of your visa and your deportation to China. Your academic career will be over and you will likely never be able to enter the United States again.

If you are, however, a wise man and sign the attached confession and pledge to never again do such acts, we will ensure your immediate release and continued academic progress.

Informing any other person of your current predicament either now or at any time in the future will result in your expulsion from the University and deportation. The authorities are not pleased with your conduct, but if you confess, they will ignore it. This time. You have precisely one hour to reply.”

A number of my readers have complained that they would feel a little squeamish about reading a graphic torture scene. To them I say: You’re a bunch of wimps. But this is a family publication, and my editors tell me that I’ve reached the limits of even what Jack Bauer is allowed to do on network television, so I’ll have to cut the rest of the fascinating account of breaking Li. Let’s just say that it took a lot more effort to get what I want than I had expected. I had to resort to the ultimate deterrent, something far worse than the likes of even tubgirl: goatse (ed – Links removed to spare your immortal soul. Please do not google for that word. Ever. We mean it. We will not be held liable for you gouging your own eyes out) .

I drop the signed confession in the mailbox of the department secretary and head home for the evening, full of the knowledge that my biggest test will come in the morning at the expulsion hearing…

Wish me luck, dear readers.

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

Every so often, your narrator gets a little disappointed. Today is one of those days. With my academic status hanging by a thread, none of my faithful readers have anything to offer me to help save myself. Such is life, I suppose.

I sit pondering these deep, dark realities as I wait for Li to leave his office. It’s about 9pm and he’s showing no signs of quitting. Thanks to a webcam I stuck up in the hallway, I can watch Li’s door from the safety of The Love Nest, drinking Mountain Dew and munching on pizza. It’s about 10:30pm by the time Li leaves the office, just after I finish a quick game of Goldeneye against Jimmy on the big screen. Thanking the good janitor, I head up to the department offices with my mystery backpack full of goodies and powertools.

Thanks to her carelessness in a previous episode, the one department secretary with a key to everything has “loaned” me (a copy of) her swipe card. After a quick stop by her office to snag a key to Li’s, I’m ready to go. Mental note: Just copy the key next time.

Once in Li’s office, I carefully remove the grating from the vent and in a personal homage to Star Trek, stash an “enhanced” version of a MP3 player pre-loaded with an In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida marathon up where it can’t be seen. With the speakers (and a large brick) placed at the exact position my calculations had warranted, Phase #1 complete.

Phase #2 was relatively easy — using a modified RJ-11 plug and a set of crimpers, I ensure that Li’s phone will not be functioning correctly tomorrow. While it would be tempting to pull his box out of the wall and install a programmed tone generator on the ‘ring’ wire (the red one, btw) to ring out Li’s “favorite” song every 15 minutes or so, I don’t really want the campus telecom guys figuring out that the phone short was intentional.

Phase #3 is a bit trickier. I needed to time delay the release of pepper spray into Li’s office. Too much too quickly, and he never enters his office in the first place. Too little, and this entire experience ends with annoyance, not the soul-breaking confession I’m envisioning. Enter the (unwitting) assistance of my super. You see our building has a bit of a bug problem. So, the super bought one of these as a way of dispensing pest killer over a long period of time, since the man is too cheap to pay for a real exterminator to come by. With a few warranty-voiding modifications later, the device should switch on a little after 5pm tomorrow and start dispensing its payload every 25 minutes or so. Unfortunately for Li, its payload will be pepper spray. Given the poor state of ventilation systems in the building, I estimate it’ll be at least 7pm before Li’s office becomes a unbearable. It’s only a shame so few people will be around to
see it.

Given the work of Phases #1 and #3, Li will desperately want to leave the office. Since Phase #2 and Phase #4, which is the cell-phone jammer (formerly deployed against Professor Chain Smoker in a previous episode) are in place, he will be unable to call for help. That just leaves preventing him from physically escaping, Phases #5 and #6. Phase #5, involving glue, will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. Phase #6, the car battery rigged to the handle, can be installed in the ceiling right now, but with an open circuit until the stars are right for his return. Oops. I guess I should stop reading Lovecraft before I go to bed.

Regardless, all is set and ready for action. Now all that is left is to wait…

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

I’m sitting in Hellalate shotgunning espressos, staring at a blank sheet of paper, trying to figure out what I can possibly do to force Li to confess. If I had weeks to perform this task, there are a myriad of things I could possibly do to “persuade” Li. But as it is, I am very short on time as the Expulsion Committee is hearing my case in two days. As I stare at that blank sheet, I a single question comes to my mind:

“What Would Jack Bauer Do?”

Realizing that shooting Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in some sort of overly dramatic gun battle would likely land me in the pokey, I start reading the bog-paper better known as “Uni News and Views” out of shear frustration. Turns out the Uni Basketball team lost badly (no surprise) and that some bra-burning feminist group called “Womyn Against Male Oppression” is handing out pepper spray and contact info for the local abortion clinic as part of their most recent PR initiative. How typical of the Uni. The campus police forcibly busted up the AK-47 benefit raffle for “Americans for Private Ownership of Crew-Served Weaponry,” but those pinkos allow Gloria Steinem wanna-bes to hand out real weapons on camp…. hang on. What would Jack Bauer do, indeed.

In a flash, I’m out of Hellalate (which is good, because their coffee has a 75% chance of causing gastro-intestinal distress in those who have not yet mastered the Shaolin art of “Iron Colon”) and onto the Quad, tucking in my tee-shirt and putting on a pair of those ultra-dorky librarian glasses that now seems all the rage. I pause for a moment to get into my new ultra-wimpified persona as I approach the WAMO desk.

“Pardon me,” I whimper, trying my best to sound the emasculated puppy these man-haters view as the only tolerable lifeform with a Y chromosome. “I was contemplating my own tragic failings in preventing the true liberation of womyn from The Patriarchy.” Eyes perk up. I continue laying it on as thick as I can as I inch closer to the box of pepper spray. “I know that as a man, I cannot truly be part of the solution, which must come from the power of womyn themselves, but what else can I do to help other men see the light as I have? How can I help free my sisters?” The three women at the desk, two of which appear to be typical man-hating lesbians (the matching “Dyke & Proud of It” tattoos on their arms give that away), seem to be spellbound by my rhetoric. I slip into a more inspiring voice and start employing exaggerated gestures as I start slipping canister after canister of pepper spray into my pocket. “How can I join the fight against the oppressive phallo-centric system that condemns my sisters to
violence? How can I convince other men to abdicate their position of power allowing womyn to bring an end the war, injustice and violence that are rooted in the oppression that comes part in parcel with men? How, my sisters? How can I do this? Teach me your ways of wisdom!” I end with crescendo and flourish, reducing the two lesbians to tears, and leaving the third, a quiet brunette with a WAMO t-shirt, with a puzzled look on her face. Unlike the dykes, she probably saw through my act, but lucky for me, she didn’t see my slight of hand.

After moments of taking all of WAMO’s literature and consoling the crying lesbians, I high-tail it away from the desk before they can realize their pepper spray supplies have been decreased by about 45%. After a half-hour long session in the can (curse you Hellalate!), I finally stagger to freedom. Despite my crunch for time, I swing by the gym to take a shower, because after all that (and I’m not referring to the side-effects of the espresso) I feel seriously dirty.

Equipped with more pepper spray than I would need to neutralize the national guard, I head over to Ray’s Music Exchange to pick up a copy of the 1995 re-release of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and not just because I’m a fan of Iron Butterfly, but because Li really, really hates the song. I also pick up a really, really cheap mp3 player, extra batteries a pair of crappy speakers. Two more stops and I’m almost ready: the local hardware store for some quick-drying glue and the local auto-parts place for a cheap car battery. After raiding the lab for a soldering iron and several other key pieces of equipment, I’m off the The Love Nest to do some assembly.

What’s my plan? Well, you’ll just have to wait for my next installment to find out, but to give my readers a bit of excitement before the next episode comes out, I encourage you to post your favorite plan of revenge using the tools listed above, plus anything that I can find in the lab. If it’s better than mine, I’ll credit you and adjust my plan accordingly. Who says that Hell’s Own Scientist isn’t flexible (at least when his academic status is on the line)?

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but April Fool’s is over, and you still deserve a few laughs… For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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It’s about 9:30 in the morning when I roll into the office (so sue me, the sun woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep), when to my shock and horror I see the department’s two morbidly obese systems administrators (I’ll call them Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) leaning on our lab table.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I lie, oozing charm. “What seems to be the cataclysmic event which has caused you two troglodytes to risk exposure to the dreaded day star?” Oh well, no charm after all. Drat.

“Very funny,” snorts Tweedle Dee. His cheese-it devouring PLP continues, “You know why we’re here.”

“No, I don’t,” I respond, because I honestly have no idea whatsoever.

“Yes you do,” responds Tweedle Dee, tapping his softball bat against his empty palm. When the last time he could run to first base without having a coronary was, I don’t know. But I don’t like the mafioso-style intimidation.

“Listen, here junior hitmen. Either you tell me why you’re here, or I’m on the phone to the university EEO to complain about the ‘hostile and abusive’ workplace environment you’re creating,” I snip back.

“We’re here about your Nessus activities,” counters Tweedle Dee.

“I don’t know anything about…”

“Save your lies for the expulsion committee. We know you ran Nessus against the departmental servers.”

“And you know this how?”

“It was coming from your server.”

“Which anyone in the research group has access too.”

“Yes, but it was running scans that require root access.”


“Pretty damning, isn’t it?” adds Tweedle Dum, obviously salivating over the thought of finally getting the best of me.

“No. It wasn’t me, but I’ll find out who it is. Nobody roots my server and gets away with it.”

I storm out of the lab and head for The Love Nest, dialing my old college roommate on my cell phone. By the time I get down there, I’ve got him on the hands-free as I’m busy sifting through the server logs.

“Well, it looks like I got myself rooted,” I gripe, staring at what looks like Martian poetry in what should be my /var/log/messages file.

“What great joy,” says the disembodied voice over the phone. “Local or remote exploit?” the voice continues.

“Well, assuming the logs haven’t been doctored, there were three users on. One of which was me.”

“And the other two?” the voice asks.

“One was Amy, and there’s no way she’d know enough to root my box, and the other….”

My face darkens.


“And this should mean what to me?” inquires the voice.

“He’s the cowboy who cracked my memory chip in half a few weeks back.”

“Well, that’s pretty damning. Any router traffic logs?”

“I can’t get those without the cooperation of the very admins who are trying to get me kicked out of school in the first place.”

“True. But it is unlikely they’d fake those just to get you thrown out. If they’re even half-competent, they would have checked those to rule out external penetration before coming after you.”

“You give them too much credit.”

“Perhaps,” notes the voice. “But if they want to get you, a smoking gun pointing to an external source won’t be good enough. Even so, they have you where they want you.”

“Come again?”

“Think. Since there was no external penetration, someone with root access did the dirty deed. You have a log that strongly suggests Li did it, but they can claim you doctored it to save your own tail. Your historical animosity towards Li will aid their case.”

“So? They’ve got no proof. I get off scott free.”

“No. They can’t get you expelled, but they can question your competence as an admin, and make a compelling argument that you’re a security risk…”

“Bloody hell! What they really want is root on my machine for themselves,” I exclaim.

“Correct,” the voice responds. “Which means that unless you can give them an ironclad case against this Li fellow, you’re hosed.”

“Bugger all! How the heck do I do that? As you said, any evidence I present will be suspect.”

“Correct. Consider this thought exercise. Say you wanted to invade a country.”

“You mean, like Iraq?”

“Precisely. You need casus belli, otherwise nobody will buy it. How do you get a reason for war, if the other party isn’t going to give it to you?”

“Get someone else to manufacture one, like WMDs!”

“But who? Someone like…”

“George Tenet,” I exclaim, knowing full well the price of a Presidential Medal of Freedom these days.

“Who has…”

“The credibility I lack. After all, why would he be making this crap up?”

“Back to your case: Who has the credibility to condemn Li which you lack?”

“The Advisor?”

“But would he really back you over his Chinese slave labor?” the voice questions.

“Uh, no.”

“Right, so the only other person who could condemn Li would be….”

“Li himself!”

“Correct again. You need a confession.”

“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, man,” I say as I hang up, grab my coat and head to Hellalatte, a coffee bar who’s only redeeming quality is that it’s not in the building. If I’m going to get Li to turn himself in, I’m going to need one heck of a plan…

To be continued…
Thanks to longtime reader, Angry Sysadmin for providing the inspiration for this story

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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It’s about 10am on Friday when I finally wander into the office. The Greek grad student union had one hell of a bender last night where the ouzo was flowing like water. Those Greeks (as in Athens and Sparta, not as in Lambda Lambda Lambda) evidently like to start the weekend early! anyway, in addition to 16 v1agra emails, 3 “natural male enhancement” emails and 2 “h0t st0ck t1ps”, i finally get down to the only email that actually matters, the one from the department office. “Effective immediately,” it reads. “In light of security concerns, all external building doors will be keycard access only.” The note was signed by Professor Chain Smoker, head of the Facilities Committee for the Department. Now I’m for security as much as the next guy, but these ham-fisted policies often create more inconvenience than they do security. Like the inconvenience of having to walk all the way down to the doorway to let in the pizza guy when we’re having a LAN party in the office. Now under other circumstances, this
email would probably trigger a “Well that sucks” and I’d move on with my life. Unfortunately for Professor Chain Smoker, however, I have a massive hangover and I’m in a completely foul mood because of it. And lets be honest, does Hell’s own Scientist really need a reason to wreak his revenge?

I’m thinking not.

My more altruistic readers might feel it inappropriate for me to retaliate against a poorly thought-out policy which only accidentally inconveniences my non-department-sanctioned video game hobbies. To them I respond that I’m not “seeking revenge,” but rather helping certain key individuals, specifically Professor Chain Smoker, to learn to empathize with the pain of others, specifically my pain.

Feel my pain, big boy.

I grab Javier for a quick lunch (and hangover fix) at The Golden Calf, my favorite sports-bar-cum-burger-joint and we start to plan.

“What we need is a way to blackmail Professor Chain Smoker into revoking the policy,” I say, biting into a bacon cheeseburger with genuine aged Wisconsin cheddar.

“By ‘we,’ you mean, ‘you,'” Javier notes. “After all, I’m not a fan of computer games. I prefer consoles.”

He’s playing hardball. The only reason Javier does that is because he has something I want.

“Another imperial stout?” I offer.

“Make it two.”


Coming back with the beverages, I sit down to hear what sort of wisdom Javier has to offer. And for two beverages of the quality to which we’ve become accustomed, it better be good.

“Blackmail is dangerous,” Javier notes in his sage-like fashion. “It can have legal implications and can be easily traced back to the source if the blackmailer engages in liquor-induced bragging. It is far better to convince the gentleman that revising the policy is his own idea.”

“Go on.”

“What would convince him of that?”

“If he himself were inconvenienced by the policy.”


“But he doesn’t order pizza and if he did, he’d get one of his grad students to go down and pick it up.”

“But what if the professor is at the door?”

“He calls his wife or his secretary or his students and gets them to let him in. I bought two stouts for this?” I was getting tired of this Socrates shite out of Javier very quickly.

“Patience, grasshopper. What if he can’t make the call?”

“What, you mean we jam his cell phone? He can walk out of the range of the jammer, or just wait until someone comes by to let him in?”

“But what if he can’t?”

“That’s not…” Light bulb turn on! “That’s absolutely brilliant! Barkeep, get this man another stout!”

I drop some cash at the bar and leave Javier to deal with the effects of a four stout lunch while I rush back to the office to grab the cell phone repeater we use because the reception is terrible in the office. A few warranty-voiding modifications later and I have a working (and highly illegal) cell phone jammer. Another hour of electrical engineering later and I have a working battery-powered electromagnet capable of scrambling the first year’s student ID from about two feet (Hey, I need to test things somehow, and he carelessly left his wallet in his back pocket, how foolish of him!). After a few hours of actual work (the horror) it’s almost quitting time… and almost time for Professor Chain Smoker’s last smoke break of the day.

You see, the department policy applies to all doors external to the building, no matter where they are positioned. This, of course, includes the doors to the second and third floor balconies that have no other exits. Well, unless you were a ninja or had a grappling hook on your person when you got locked on the balcony. As the webcam shows my new favorite professor heading out on the balcony for a smoke break, I rush to the common area near the balcony and plug the jammer into one of the wall outlets (leaving the actual device in a nearby potted plant). With a piece of old pipe, I prop the balcony door ever so slightly ajar, so Professor Chain Smoker won’t notice it stays open after I come out) and walk out to get a nip of fresh air.

“Hi, Professor.”

“Uh, hello.”

He has no idea who I am. Excellent.

“Ooh, what brand do you smoke? I’m a Marlboro man myself,” I lie.

As he starts to show of his fru-fru cigs and tell me about his favorite smoke shop, I wander over just close enough to…. ZZZZZZ.

“What was that?”

“Probably just Jimmy starting the vacuum cleaner,” I reply innocently. “Anyway, I need to head out. I’ll be sure to check out that smoke shop.”

As I walk out (and un-prop the door), I wonder how long it will be until Jimmy finds the jammer and unplugs it. Well, I suppose I can watch the live, streaming video on the department “look at our new building” webcam to find out.

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia’s BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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It’s group meeting time: an hour and a half of boredom (if you’re lucky) punctuated by The Advisor spewing out a litany of things that you need to try in your research (even though some of them are so obviously nonsense that you wonder whether the old man is reading any of the updates you send him). Since Javier and I nearly got busted a few weeks back for playing Spellcast (right before I cast Finger of Death too!) on our laptops during the group meeting, we’ve been playing it safe and actually paying attention during the meeting.

I have no need to tell you how painful that is.

After listing to The Advisor politely discuss research with Amy, he and Sasha nearly come to blows over a new idea that he’s proposing. Sasha is firmly convinced it won’t work, while the old man thinks its a sure thing. Finally, Sasha storms up to the whiteboard and slams out a few lines of math that’s utterly incomprehensible to mere mortals (and barely comprehensible to me) and The Advisor is suddenly left speechless. Sasha was right and he was wrong. After a embarrassingly long pause, The Advisor suddenly squeaks out, “Uh………. continue on as you proposed, I guess.”

I suppose that’s what happens when you get nailed dead to rights. Or strictly speaking, when you nail the old man dead to rights. When you nail me dead to rights, I get revenge a few weeks later.

After a quick round with Javier and the first year, the old man finally gets to me.

“I found this paper in PRB. I think its a good idea and you should implement it.”


“That’s that. I have a faculty meeting that I’m already late to,” as he leaves the room in an awful hurry.

After a nice long lunch and several margaritas with Javier at Relleno Caliente (Mexican food is the fifth food group), I head back to the lab to look over the paper. Now, perhaps it’s just the margaritas speaking (but on “Dollar Margarita” day, is there any other option?), but while the paper has some pretty results, I can barely figure out what they’re doing, let alone reproduce the results or integrate them into our work.

Actually, it’s not me (or the margaritas) at all, it’s Phys. Rev. B. As a service to various physicists looking to artificially inflate their publication counts the APS has graciously obliged by providing a “Rapid Communications” section in their various Physical Review journals. Designed to help get “breaking” results into print, the crafty editors limit the article length to four pages…. which once you’ve included the title, the abstract, and the list of references you’re down to about three. As a result, there’s about enough room to say, “We did something cool, here’s a pretty picture and trust us on the details.”

Caveat lector.

As far as I can tell, the authors are obscure Bulgarians, from some equally obscure school known back in the Soviet days as The People’s Glorious University in Dobrich. None of these Bulgarians have managed to publish a more substantial paper in English any time since the fall of the Berlin wall. Sure, they have long treatises in Russian and Bulgarian, but that does me no good whatsoever, since my foreign language skills are limited to being able to order a beer. Reading their paper leaves me only leaves me with more of a feeling that these guys are charlatans, and even if they weren’t, the idea is useless for us anyway.

So why did the old man give me the paper? A careful reread of the abstract reveals that the authors’ poor command of the English language might accidentally confuse someone who didn’t read the paper into thinking it was relevant to our work.

Statement 1: Anyone who read only the abstract might think the paper is relevant.

Statement 2: Anyone who read the paper would know the work isn’t relevant and would have a strong suspicion that the authors are crackpots.

Conclusion: The Advisor didn’t read the paper… and it’s only four pages long!

Theory: The Advisor doesn’t read any of the papers he gives us…

… and the only way to test a theory is an experiment. I wander down to The Love Nest, since I don’t want anyone disturbing the work I’m about to perform. It takes me a few hours, but I manage to knock together a quick theory paper. It begins with an impressive abstract, a few convincing looking plots (should The Advisor actually flip to page three) and is filled out with incomplete, contradictory and poorly written theorems. Overall, it would fit in quite nicely at the “crackpot session” of a conference, except for several choice lyrics from the musical artist Gunther (Link is NSFW -ed.) which I have scattered throughout the text.

Another half-an-hour gives me an fake “new issue” announcement from a Phys Rev journal I know the old man publishes in, faked sender and all. A week later, at the next group meeting, he hands the article to Sasha telling her to “study it carefully.” Within the hour she’s at his office cursing in whatever language it is she speaks (and no, it’s not Bulgarian). All I can make out is something about a “Tra la la.”


As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday (well, Saturday this time, but nobody really cares about those details if they know what’s good for them) — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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It’s Saturday night and I’m in the lab. Javier and I are sitting at the lab table trying to figure out exactly how I’m supposed fulfill my part of the bargain with Jimmy the Janitor. Our preliminary recon only served to enhance the immensity of the problem — ever since a disgruntled grad student tried to shoot him about a decade ago, the Columbian Slave Driver’s door (I’ll call him the CSD for short) has been reinforced and alarmed. Even if Javier or I could pick the lock, we’d have a few minutes before campus police arrived and hauled us off to the county jail for the night. The only other door is into his lab, though it’s not alarmed, it’s hinged to make it impossible to enter from the lab unless we drill out the whole lock mechanism.

“This does not look good,” I complain.

“No kidding. There’s no way in the world to get inside that office without seriously damaging either the wall or windows,” notes Javier sadly.

“Yeah, and neither of us can dry wall for shit.” We found that out the hard way at Habitat for Humanity a few weeks back, which we both volunteered for quickly after finding the grad student association (GSA) was shouting drinks afterwards. “If only there was a way to distract him…”

“Well, he’s become a serious skirt chaser ever since his third wife left him.”

We both pause for a moment, and look at the portion of the wall on a direct line to Amy and Sasha’s office.

“I’m not talking to Sasha if I could possibly avoid it and Amy wouldn’t do it,” I protest.

“But she doesn’t have to know,” responds Javier with a sneaky gleam in his eye.

“What do you mean?”

“What if Amy and I go to the CSD’s office about 10 minutes before class to ask for help on an assignment and she has an ‘accident’ to attract his attention?”

I’m sure there’s no way in the world I could bring myself to do this to Amy myself — she’s just too unbearably cute to use as a pawn in my personal wars. But fortunately for me, Javier has fewer scruples than I (not to mention that he doesn’t have a soft spot for midwestern farmer’s daughter types like I do), and he’s willing to do the dirty work, so…

“Excellent. I’ll dash into his office while you and Amy keep him busy.”

Monday afternoon comes and phase one of the plan executes perfectly. Javier and the unwitting Amy head up to the CSD’s office while I wait around the corner, with my backpack full of “operational supplies.” Javier and Amy engage the CSD with some inane homework question, when Javier “accidentally” trips, spilling Amy, her books and all of Javier’s coffee all over the hallway floor. The CSD, not missing a chance to impress a lady, hops up from his desk to help the damsel in distress, while I sneak behind him into his office and dive under said desk.

The next 5 minutes are shear and utter hell as Javier fast-talks the CSD and I try desperately not to make a sound. Soon the door slams shut and I’m off to work. I pop a few ceiling tiles to find that the satellite feed runs right next door into the CSD’s lab. But before I follow the line, I feel obliged to strike some revenge for grad students everywhere.

Into the CSD’s top-left drawer, where he keeps his pens, go about a dozen prophylactics strategically placed to be visible from the other side of the desk. A swimsuit calendar goes up on the back side of the door and a few lad’s mags get placed on top of the stack of unread journal articles on the shelf by the window. I drop a few empty bottles of booze in the trash and open up his bottom right drawer to put in a half-empty bottle of booze only to find, well, a half-empty bottle of booze. I didn’t realize the CSD was actually boozing it on the sly, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that I’m surprised. Realizing that internet traffic logs could give my presence away, I do nothing to the CSD’s computer (which he carelessly forgot to log out of), except (a) leave a trojan which will start visiting http://www.dirtynunsinleatherhosery.com during all of his office hours for the next week before deleting itself, and (b) leave a nice (backdated) thank-you-for-donating letter from Manuel Marulanda Velez, the generalissimo of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). I’m sure supporting a known terrorist group will go over very well with the uni police when they show up after the CSD’s impending sexual harassment complaint. Perhaps he’ll even win an all-expenses paid vacation to Gitmo when the Feds find out (one can only hope).

A quick call to Jimmy to trigger a fire alarm has me escaping the CSD’s office via the CSD’s lab (after I use the rangefinder to figure out exactly where the satellite feed drops through to second floor). I run back to my lab and check the blueprints on my way out and I notice that the feed drops to an instructional lab on first floor, where Jimmy and I could easily use a masonry drill to run a line to the basement. Excellent. I finally wander outside and catch up with Javier and instruct him to use his newly found tactical tripping skills to ensure that the department’s own Man-Hating Dyke is the first person to make her way up to the CSD’s office after we’re let back inside.

Javier doesn’t even ask any questions as we walk back into the building and the stream of profanities soon heard from the direction of the CSD’s office make me grin. It appears that Operation FARC You has been a success…

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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The Advisor is pretty pissed about what happened to Li and seems to think that I was at fault in the matter, even if, to the trained observer (and the university police, for that matter), it appeared to be nothing more than an unfortunate accident. Despite spending the evening in university hospital, Li seems not so particularly worse for wear and is “excited about getting back to work.” This means that my offensive did not have the desired effect — instilling fear in Li. That must be rectified, but first I need to switch to defense mode. I must protect the server.

As the only guy in the group who does any computing beyond the “Excel” level, I use about 95% of the non-idle cycles on the server (yeah, ok, that counts BitTorrent), so protecting the server from idiots like Li is high on my priority list. As any decent admin knows, physical access is root access (or in Li’s case, break-memory-in-half access). Ergo, I need to come up with a better place of stashing the server than in the lab so Li and his ilk keep their bloody hands off. Seeing as I don’t really have an office — Javier, the first year and I work in the lab — there’s no obvious place to put it. The thought of leaving it in Amy and Sasha’s office makes me shudder… the prospect of putting in some spadework with Amy is overshadowed by the prospect of having to interact with Sasha at all. I will need another plan.

After finishing off a few rounds of Xevil against the first year and the condensed matter guys down the hall who’s advisor is gone all week, I grab my coat and head out to McSweeney’s for department happy hour. On the way out, I see the Jimmy the janitor and invite him along. Despite the fact that he’s on the clock, he joins us. I like this man’s work ethic. A few hours (and more than a few stouts) later, I’m sitting with Jimmy and Javier and discussing the server problem.

“… and you see, after the memory chip problem, I need to put the server somewhere more secure.”

“What about the department server room?” says Jimmy offers.

Javier and I laugh heartily. “Uh, No.” The departmental web site has been rooted 3 times in the last six months (OK, one of those times was me and Javier), so I wouldn’t trust those guys further than I could throw them (which, given their computer-user physiques isn’t very far).

Jimmy responds, “Well I suppose I could keep it in one of the janitorial closets.”

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, what about moisture?”

“I’ve got the perfect dry space in one of them. And nobody has access but me.”

“And if I need to get to the machine?”

“Come by any time I’m on shift and it’s yours.”

“Well, I’d need to see the facility,” I note.

“Not a problem,” smiles Jimmy.

Now Jimmy is probably about 50 with the libido of a 18 year old. Even the normally oblivious female grad students notice his naughty leer and make it a point to avoid him. Even given his Dirty Old Man status, I’ve made it a point to shout Jimmy a few beers — in the large, heartless bureaucracy that is the university, a janitor is one of the best friends you can possibly have.

After happy hour ends, I head back with Jimmy to inspect his proposed server site… in the basement. I wonder for a moment whether or not I’ve just stepped into a slasher flick when Jimmy opens the door to the room. Needless to say, I’m impressed. Ecce love nest.

Jimmy’s “closet” is almost as large as the lab, and it’s equipped with a large flat panel TV (so that’s where the screen from conference room 234 went), a mini-fridge, a fully stocked bar, the complete collection of the works of Ron Jeremy and a bed that’s so gaudily decorated it looks like it came from a motel with hourly rates. I whirl around to face Jimmy.

“Uh, man, if you’re a thinking that I’m…”

“I’m not a fuckin’ queer, you moron,” Jimmy retorts, “This is for the ladies.”

I ponder in disgust as to what kind of “ladies” would find their way here. Swallowing my doubts, I ask, “Where do you think I can put the server?” Jimmy responds by pointing to a nice area in the corner, near a powerpoint where I could easily place the machine and have it completely undisturbed.

“Well that will do quite nicely. What’s the catch?”

“Come again.”

“I know I was buying drinks, but if there’s an off chance I might be interrupting your escapades, this is going to cost me a lot more.”

Jimmy smiles and says, “Son, you definitely have your head on straight. I’ll tell you what I want. The department just installed a satellite HDTV feed up on the roof, and I’ve heard they have all the special channels. You’re going to get me a feed.”

I shudder to think exactly how many porno channels that thing will carry. But it’s either give the man his porn or have Li’s hands all over my server… an easy choice, but a tough job. I’ll need to tap the line, run cable all the way to the basement and do all of this without anyone noticing or caring. I pause for a moment.

“For that much work, I want a key. I won’t use the bed, I promise.”


After a quick trip to city hall in the morning, the next afternoon Jimmy and I are inspecting the dish — it’s a pretty nice system. I can only begin to dream about watching the Super Bowl in HD in one of the conference rooms. I jar myself back to reality by realizing that snow has started falling. Quickly I pull out the laser range-finder and find that the dish is precisely 465 feet from the west wall. Looking over the blueprints for the building (thank you Mr. Mayor!), I trace my finger across them to find out exactly where the feed will drop. A chill comes over me as my finger settles on the office of the professor known as the “Columbian Slave Driver.”

Gulp. This is going to be much harder than I thought.

(to be continued…)

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