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The problem is due to…

by Jeremy L. Gaddis on September 30, 2010 · 2 comments

in Humor

If you’ve been hanging out on the interwebz for very long, chances are good you’ve heard of the Bastard Operator From Hell.

“The Bastard Operator From Hell (BOFH), a fictional character created by Simon Travaglia, is a rogue system administrator who takes out his anger on users (often referred to as lusers), colleagues, bosses, and anyone else who gets in his way.” –Wikipedia

The BOFH and his Pimply Faced Youth, or “PFY”, were constantly being irritated by their users (and the Boss). They would exact revenge by trapping them in elevators, putting them on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, or smashing their testicles in desk drawers. Suffice it to say, the BOFH was a hero to many.

The BOFH also had a desk calendar that provided a daily excuse he would give to users to explain why an issue was occurring. In one early story, for example, after deleting a user’s account and blowing away his files, he said: “Ah well, that’ll be the problem, there was a virus in our system this morning, the… uh… DE VINCI Virus, wipes out users who are logged in when it goes off.”

BOFH-style “excuse generators” have been around on the Internet for years, but those typically require you to launch a web browser and actually navigate to them — way too much work! Jeff Ballard wrote one that’s accessible by using telnet to connect to port 666 — how appropriate!

$ telnet 666
Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
=== The BOFH-style Excuse Server --- Feel The Power!
=== By Jeff Ballard
=== See for more info.
Your excuse is: incompatible bit-registration operators
Connection closed by foreign host.

Good sysadmins are lazy sysadmins, of course, so let’s go one small step further. We’re only interested in the actual excuse that it spits out, so we’ll strip out the rest:

$ nc 666 | tail -n 1 | sed -e 's/Your excuse is: //'
The monitor needs another box of pixels.

There we go, a quick and easy way to immediately generate an excuse to provide to curious users who insist on asking what is causing the problem.

Even better, create an alias and add it to your .profile, .bash_profile, or whatever, depending on your shell:

$ echo alias bofh="nc 666 | tail -n 1 | sed -e 's/Your excuse is: //'" > .profile

You can quickly have an excuse at any time just by running “bofh” in a terminal!

Now that’s good, but…

A true BOFH would take this one step further. Every helldesk nowadays has a mail alias (e.g. “”) that users can send an e-mail to when they have an issue. A real BOFH could use something like the following (untested, of course) in .procmailrc to automatically reply to those users so that they don’t ever have to see the user’s e-mail!

* $^TOhelp
* !^X-Loop:
| (formail -rt -A"X-Loop:" ; \
	nc 666 | tail -n 1 | \
	sed -e 's/Your excuse is:/The problem is due to/') | sendmail -t

When a user sends an e-mail to your “help” alias, they’ll quickly (and automatically) receive a reply letting them know just what the problem is:

The problem is due to The Internet is being scanned for viruses.


Note: I am not responsible for any firings that may occur as a result of actually using this knowledge. =)

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