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The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of Edinburgh University Computing Services as a tribute to Rob, who died in January. Originally published in Edinburgh IT Forum magazine in October 1991. Rob's original format has been retained.

The Essence of an EUCS Unix System Manager

(Rob McCron)

It occurred to me recently that should I ever go under a No. 42 instead of getting onto it, several titbits of wisdom with regard to running the central EUCS Unix machines would go to waste. The thought depressed me, so I decided to select the most important points and commit them to paper. Please note that I hope not to insult one solitary person; I was kind of hoping to insult everyone.

0. Unix is not EMAS. This must be point number 0, since although it may seem obvious, a large number of our users still seem confused.

1. Unix is not VMS. This does not confuse many people at all. I include this point only because I have a set of 4.3 BSD boot tapes for the VAX and was wondering...

2. Unix is often not Unix. This happens for two reasons:

3. Unix is not MS-DOS. There are lots of versions of Unix for the PC though (see point 1 above).

4. Unix most certainly is a useful and flexible tool. Many have compared this with the usefulness and flexibility of your average length of sturdy rope. It is interesting to note the high proportion of people who, when handed a useful and flexible length of rope, will promptly tie a noose in it. Others prefer to twist it to form a well known Edinburgh acronym.

5. Unix is widespread. All over the world, commercial and academic users ply their various trades using Unix. The interchange of data, software and ideas is encouraged by the similarities of the systems used. Skills learned on one Unix are as portable as the system itself. Many regard this universal pervasion in the light of the telephone or aircraft. Others find themselves thinking rather more readily in terms of the common cold.

6. Unix supports users from all types of background and institution, performing tasks from cheque counting in banks to genetic modelling in universities.

7. Point 6 is a pain. Not only must we try to supply all the packages that our users need and love, but we must try to understand the users themselves. The latter part is ofter the hard bit. I'm quite used to receiving email which states "Mail on this system is broken - please fix it"; phone calls claiming "I've changed nothing but all my commands have gone away!" I no longer raise an eyebrow. One user having problems logging in claimed "I pad in, type my username, type what I know is my password, but it says 'User authorization failure'.". We ascertained that he was calling ERCVAX instead of castle. (See point 1 above).

8. Edinburgh users are a demanding bunch. We must run the most bang up to date versions of all software that comes out of GNU, MIT, or off the network. At the same time, this software must be rock solid and 100% tested. We must be running the most up to date version of the operating system at all times; this is to be achieved without any down time. I understand that I am to blame for all hardware faults, air conditioning failures and lightning strikes.

9. Unix is not insecure. Stop laughing. Kernel bugs in Unix are rare, and are usually associated with new functionality, an example of this being when Sun's Network File System was integrated with other vendors' Unixes. Most security bugs on Unix systems are due to what third party software vendors get up to when tripping out on caffeine and cough mixture. The sheer number of systems out there means that there is a huge wealth of knowledge shared amongst thousands of users. You can't expect them all to be well behaved! Not Guilty.

10. Occasionally, having taken the system down to perform maintenance, it may be possible to complete the required tasks in record time and bring the system back sooner than expected. Note that this does not mean you did well and got the system back early; it means you booked it down for too long.

11. Sometimes users phone or send mail to say "Thank you". Should this happen simply remain seated until the shaking stops.

12. Last but absolutely the most important point. Anything that goes right is a fluke.

There you go, my top tips. You may note there are 13 of them; it is unlikely that this is a coincidence.

Ground Breaking Contest for UK Students

The Linux/Open Source Foundation, 4linuxjobs.co.uk and 1venture.co.uk plc Targets UK Students with Ground Breaking Contest.

Students in the UK are being offered a chance to win cash prizes by entering a ground breaking contest announced today by sponsors The Linux/Open Source Foundation, 4linuxjobs.co.uk and 1venture.co.uk plc.

The Linux/Open Source Foundation (LOSF) is a trust with the sole purpose of supporting the development of Linux/Open Source by arranging contests and sponsoring events. This contest, which opens on the 24th of January and closes on the 31st March 2000, is being organised and run by 4linuxjobs.co.uk, the free job finding and recruitment service aimed directly at the Linux community and 1venture.co.uk, a public limited company dedicated to developing innovative Linux, e-commerce and mobile communications businesses. There will be three cash prizes, £2000 for first place, £1000 for second and £500 for third position.

The contest is aimed at UK residents, who are full-time students and in the spirit of Linux, contestants are invited to submit an outline of their innovative program ideas, which must utilise the standard distributions for Linux, freely available on the Internet. The judges are looking for Internet service based innovations that could be from a range of disciplines such as communications, games, distributed systems or even security. The submissions must be used through a browser or something similar - again freely available via the Internet.

Judges selected by 4linuxjobs.co.uk and 1venture.co.uk plc, will be looking at categories concerning innovation and originality, the technical level and detail of the application, architecture and scalability, usefulness and ability to solve real problems, and finally presentation and visual appeal. To find out more or to make a submission students should go to www.4linuxjobs.co.uk.

About Linux/Open Source Foundation
The Linux/Open Source Foundation (LOSF) is a trust with the sole purpose of supporting the development of Linux/Open Source by arranging contests and sponsoring events.
About 4linuxjobs.co.uk
4linux.co.uk is the free job finding and recruitment service aimed directly at the Linux community. Programmers and developers are invited to post their C.V. for prospective employers to view and in reverse, employers can post opportunities for potential employees.
About 1venture.co.uk plc
Founders Peter Fallenius and Rebecca Mills-Fallenius vision for the recently formed 1venture.co.uk plc is to develop innovative Linux, e-commerce and mobile communications businesses taking advantage of convergence opportunities between computers, media, financial services and mobile communication. 1venture.co.uk plc has applied for admission to Ofex.

For further information, please contact:

Peter Fallenius
1venture.co.uk plc
Suite 411
107 Fleet Street

Tel: 020 7936 9371

Michele Durban/Monique Chambers
The Genuine Article
Park House
Park Street

Tel: 01628 784600

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