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July 2012 Archives

Dear Mom And Dad

Dear Mom And Dad,

Many times I've tried to explain to you what I do for a living. "Computer system administrator" or "sysadmin" is a career that is difficult to explain and I'm sure my attempts have left you even more confused. I have good news. Oxford University Press has just published a book by 4 scientists who video taped sysadmins doing their job, analysed what they do, and explains it to the non-computer person. They do it by telling compelling stories of sysadmins at work plus they give interesting analysis with great insight.

Why did they do this? Because businesses depend on technology more and more and that means they depend on sysadmins more and more. Yet most CEOs don't understand what we do. The scientists made some interesting discoveries: that our jobs are high-stress, high-risk, and highly collaborative. We invent our own tools, often on the spot, to solve complex problems. We are men and women of every age group. It is a career unlike any other. These are things that most people don't know about our profession. The book is very engaging: Some of the chapters read like the opening scene of "Indiana Jones"; others like "Gorillas in the Mist." Kandogan, Maglio, Haber and Bailey have put together a very serious, scientific book with care and compassion.

I'm not one of the sysadmins they studied but every story they tell reminds me of real experiences I have had.

I hope you enjoy reading this book. I know I did.

Pre-order it here:

Sincerely your son,

P.S. In all seriousness, I read a preview copy of this book and highly recommend it to others. You may have seen the authors speak at Usenix LISA or LOPSA PICC conferences where they showed clips of the video tapes they made. The book conveys the same stories, plus many more, with interesting analysis. If you think that the profession of system administration would benefit from non-sysadmins better understanding what we do, I highly recommend you pre-order this book and share it. You can pre-order it here: "Taming Information Technology: Lessons from Studies of System Administrators" by Eser Kandogan, Paul Maglio, Eben Haber and John Bailey

More about the book here:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Academic study of SA

Happy Sysadmin Appreciation Day.

Whether you keep desktops running, LOLcats broadcasting, payrolling systems paying, or blogs blogging, or any of the myriad things sysadmins do, keep doing it with integrity, grace, patience, and love. The more the world depends on computers for everything from the water we drink to the food we eat, system administration (or system engineering, or devops, or networking engineering, or storage engineering, or whatever you call yourself) is one of the most important jobs in the world. And the greatest.

Appreciate that!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

If you suffered through my long rant about a totally different way to allocate wireless spectrum which would benefit everyone then you'll be happy to read this Arstechnica article about Obama's PCAST initiative moving forward.

The old way to allocate frequencies was to give different industries their own "block". Each radio station, TV channel, WiFi protocol, etc. gets a block. This is inefficient. The new way is to have intelligent hardware that can share the spectrum: detect if someone is already broadcasting and back off seamlessly. The difference is that the first system is the best 1930s technology could provide. The latter is what you can do with modern systems where a computer can be programmed to actively monitor and control what is going on.

The Ars article made me smile. "The report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) says the "traditional practice of clearing and reallocating portions of the spectrum used by Federal agencies is not a sustainable model." Instead, spectrum should be shared."

I agree.

We have the technology. We have the support of the president. Now we just need to overcome the political will of the incumbent industries that are resistent to change.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

To all my NYC friends: Come see my sister's musical! 6 shows only!

See our video preview here:
Read the Arnie feature in Time Out New York:

The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) Presents
Six shows only beginning tonight - July 13th

BY PHONE: CALL 212- 352- 3101
IN PERSON: at the NYMF Hub, 330 West 42nd Street

Arnie will be at the PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street:
Friday, July 13th, 2012 at 7:00 pm
Saturday, July 14th, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Saturday July 14th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Wednesday July 18th, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Saturday, July 21st, 2012 at 11:00 am
Saturday July 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Arnie, a lovable chocolate-frosted doughnut with rainbow sprinkles, is the happiest pastry in the bakery when he's selected to be taken home by a new owner. But when mild-mannered Mr. Bing trues to eat the unsuspecting Arnie, both are in for the surprise of their lives! Embark upon a hilarious quest to redefine human/doughnut relations in this unexpectedly original new musical that both kids and adults will enjoy. An Official Selection of the New York Musical Theatre Festival's Next Link Project.


Featuring Tom Deckman as Arnie (Spamalot, Good Vibrations, South Pacific, It Should Have Been You), with Thomas Poarch, Jane Blass, Stephanie Fittro, and Jennifer Wren.

Visit Arnie's Website:
Read about us on
Like our page on Facebook:
Follow us on Twitter: @doughnutmusical

This is your chance to feel like a New York Producer -- Donate Now!

Be a part of Arnie's journey -- help bring joy to countless families!
Thanks to an outpouring of support from friends and fans all over the country, we have raised over $25,000 or our $50,000 goal.
Your donation is 100% tax deductible, and goes toward paying for actors, designers, musicians, costumes, scenery, and more.
By Check: Make your check out to NYMF with ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT in the memo line, and send to Frances Limoncelli, P.O. Box 180318, Chicago, IL 60618.

Online: Online donations are accepted via the NYMF website at

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

"Taming Information Technology: Lessons from Studies of System Administrators" by Eser Kandogan, Paul Maglio, Eben Haber and John Bailey

Scientists video tape sysadmins at work then analyse the footage, making interesting observations about what we do, how we do it, and why.

  • For every CEO that thinks sysadmins just lay about all day, this book shows what risky, dangerous work we do.
  • For the parent that doesn't quite understand what their son or daughter the system administrator does, this book spells it out in plain language stories of what we do.
  • For the person that thinks sysadmins just sit around fixing computers with a screw driver and CD-ROM, this book shows real situations where outages cost millions and teams of technical people battle clueless (and not so clueless managers).

If you, as a sysadmin, think our community would do better if more people understood what we actually do, you should promote this book.

I was lucky enough to read a draft copy. It goes on sale July 14th or August 14th depending on which website you believe. My request, dear readers, is that you pre-order your copy NOW. Pre-order statistics are watched by publishers to help them decide which books are worth their marketing efforts. A lot of pre-orders would help justify spreading the word about this book further.

You can pre-order it at many fine book sellers including Amazon here:

Some chapters read like the opening scene of Indiana Jones, others like Gorillas in the Mist. This ground-breaking, in-depth look at the real lives of system administrators is an exciting read whether you are a CEO wondering what your IT department does, a user wondering why your "IT person" is always stressed out, or a parent wondering what they heck your child does for a living. Kandogan, Maglio, Haber and Bailey are the Diane Fossey of the computer world!

A public service message to people in the NYC-area:

From: Hackers On Planet Earth <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, Jul 5, 2012 at 3:44 PM
Subject: [nine-announce] Final Four Days for HOPE Tickets!
To: [email protected]

As we're closing in on HOPE Number Nine, we need to inform you of a very important deadline: advance ticket sales will closing on Sunday, July 10th.

Advance tickets help us to pay for a lot of the expenses involved in putting on an event like HOPE. Renting three floors of a hotel in midtown Manhattan can be a bit pricey, so every little bit helps. Not to mention that it saves attendees from paying the more expensive price at the door.

Please help us pull out all stops in these remaining days so that we can get a dramatic rush of registrations and set some attendance records and also not have to worry so much at the conference as to whether we'll be able to pay for everything. Remember, tickets are transferable in case you have a last minute change of plans.

Of course, we shouldn't have to tell you why coming to HOPE is a great idea. We have well over 100 talks and panels planned with nearly 200 speakers at last count. There will be a ton of activities and hacker events going on simultaneously. If you've never been to a HOPE conference before, this would be a great one to start with. And if you've already been to any of our previous conferences, we'd be surprised if you haven't already gotten your tickets and are only reading this far for your general amusement.

Let's all use these last days to really get the word out to as many people as we possibly can. Let them know The Yes Men and ex-NSA analyst William Binney are our keynotes. Tell them about the lockpicking village or the Segway rides. Pick any of our amazing talks that are scheduled. There are so many reasons to come to New York City this summer and be inspired by what hackers are up to. Please help us get the word out to people who still might not have heard about HOPE.

HOPE Number Nine will be taking place at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City from July 13th to July 15th, 2012. More info at

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

Queue Magazine (part of ACM) has published my description of OpenFlow. It's basically "the rant I give at parties when someone asks me to explain OpenFlow and why it is important". I hope that people actually involved in OpenFlow standardization and development forgive me for my simplifications and possibly sloppy use of terminology but I think the article does a good job of explaining OF to people that aren't involved in networking:

OpenFlow: A Radical New Idea in Networking

I hope that OpenFlow is adopted widely. It has some cool things in it.



Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Tips