Cans and Cannots

Even a lot of tech geeks aren’t good at administering servers. Some of the even admit it, and this is a good thing. 🙂 They (and non-geeks) frequently hire other geeks to administer servers for them, and this too is a good thing. What’s not a good thing is that it’s very difficult for someone who isn’t a competent server administrator to tell who and who isn’t one as well.

Thousands of people have published online tuturials and walkthrus for installing, configuring, setting up, and administering all sorts of useful software packages. This is great, except that it allows people who only sort of know what they’re doing to look like they’re more knowledgable than they are.

Often, you can literally cut-and-paste lines from a website into a unix shell, and get the results you hope for. But software packages change, and different linux distributions differ, and, frankly, there’s no substitute for good old knowledge and experience. The result is someone who finds themselves, metaphorically, in up to the elbows, and unable to tell the heart from the gall bladder. It’s easy to follow instructions – all too easy, really, though many people seem to fail even there – but much harder to know what to do when something goes wrong.

I bring this up because I was today brought in as hired help to fix a piece of software screwed up by an extremely expensive service consultant on someone’s server. The really expensive guy had installed something, in the processing unnecessarily chmod’ing and chown’ing several directories of files. Apparently he realized his mistake, because he then tried to chmod and chown them back to what they were supposed to be.

Only problem was, he seems to have been following instructions on the web, yet thought he was smarter than whomever wrote the webpage, because he left out a few bits. Namely, when he discovered that “chown user group file” didn’t work, he should have used “chown user:group file”. Instead, he just used “chown user file”, which didn’t work. So too with chmod; he apparently knew enough to know that chmod usually takes three arguments, and decided that properties “1755” and “6755” were both typos for the more-familiar “755”. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

It wasn’t terribly difficult to fix.

There’s nothing wrong with following instructions online, if you trust the source. But it’s fantastically important that you know not only what you’re doing, but also why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be pretending to be a server administrator – and you definately shouldn’t be charging mid three-digit sums to install a single piece of open-source software.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on August 30th, 2006| Comments Off on Cans and Cannots

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