Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Airplane to Geekland

I leave tomorrow for Atlanta where, after a few sidetrips hither and yon, I arrive on Sunday at the Marriott Marquis for the Usenix LISA conference. This is a conference for system administrators, and while I am not a system administrator myself I write documentation for system administrators and therefore I am part of the "sysadmin community." At my first few LISA conferences I spent a lot of time explaining that "I'm not a sysadmin..." but after a while I realized that the important question at a LISA conference is not whether I am a system administrator but whether I am a geek. The answer to that question is, "Yes, but not the same flavor geek as the rest of you."

After my first LISA conference in 1996 I wrote up an extensive report for my department (more a memoir, really) which you can find here if you have a whole lot of spare time.

I always have a great time at LISA, as if it were a vacation. Which is odd, because it is nothing like a vacation. I attend classes or presentations all day long, I attend "BOFS" (birds-of-a-feather sessions) in the evenings, and then I close each day by sitting around a hotel hot tub with my longtime LISA friends so we can continue to talk about system administration until the hotel management kicks us out. Then we go to the bar and drink vodka-based drinks and talk about work.

I'm not being entirely fair here, it's just that social conversations at LISA work backwards. People start out by discussing big issues (like security holes and Sendmail revisions) so they can work their way up to small talk. That progression can take years.

My favorite LISA story is one I have told many times, but it continues to amuse me. At a LISA conference in San Diego my friend hgybear (who lived in San Diego at the time) came by the hotel complex to visit me and we decided to join my friends in the hot tub. At one point I turned to him and said, "Watch this: I can get them to start talking about security holes." So I said something like, "I have a question about the ypcat command..." and before I could finish the sentence somebody jumped in and started ranting about about the security holes in ypcat. At which point somebody responded with a claim that some particular patch addressed those issues, and soon there was quite a debate going about whether the patches made any difference or whether the ypcat command was inherently insecure. Honestly, it took only my single half-sentence; I didn't have to say another word. hgybear whispered to me, "You're good!"

But that's not the story. The story is that over time nearly everybody who was sitting in that hot tub that night has become a friend of mine, and at some point I have told each of them about what I was doing. At first I say, "Do you remember that night in the hot tub in San Diego when we were talking about security holes in ypcat?" and of course they do. Then I explain the background and, inevitably, they respond, "But there are security holes in ypcat!" and sometimes they want to tell me specifically what they are. Yes, yes. I know there are security holes in ypcat. It is, in fact, the only thing I know about ypcat. But they can't help themselves.

That was the year, by the way, when yesthattom dressed as the ypcat command for the Halloween party. (He was wearing a cat outfit and ripping out leaves from a yellow pages directory and tossing them about.)

Oh, I'm so looking forward to next week.
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