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Tales From the Linux Dark Side

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 8, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Halloween may have come and gone for another year, but that doesn't mean the exchange of horror stories has come to an end.

Tales From the Linux Dark Side

No indeed -- prompted by a recent post on TechSource, Linux bloggers have continued to terrify and amaze each other with tales of Linuxy horror such as many of us have never imagined.

"After a real bad crash and having been an admin (on an RS/6000) for less than a month, we got to test our backup," began the post, quoting a classic story from one Bill Pociengel. Let's just say the "rm" command gets involved, bringing Pociengel to the end of his story: "Ya know it's kinda funny (in a perverse way) to watch the system just slowly go away."

The horrors went on from there, many of them drawn from an older collection compiled originally by Anatoly Ivasyuk.

As a big fan of spookiness herself, Linux Girl was inspired to take her own little poll. "What Linuxy horrors have *you* experienced?" she asked her fellow patrons over a fresh round of drinks down at the Punchy Penguin.

'I Had Logged in as Root...'

"Today, with students in the lab, I had logged in as root via SSH to my terminal server and thence to a client machine which I was dist-upgrading from Debian Lenny to Squeeze," blogger and educator Robert Pogson began.

Linux Girl immediately felt a shiver down her spine.

"I was part way through the process when a student pushed the power button on the target machine, causing my session to end with the client," Pogson continued, beginning to tremble. "I did not notice and was paying attention to students, etc., and resumed typing.

"To my horror, I realized I was doing brain surgery on a working terminal server running Lenny and in production," he croaked.

'It Was a Horrible Day'

Rather than undo the mess, "I continued the process during lunch and it worked smoothly," Pogson continued, regaining his composure. Then, "later in the day, I managed to botch the surgery on the client and re-installed over the LAN."

In short, "it was a horrible day," Pogson shuddered. "I added hours to my day for little benefit."

Of course, there's always a bright side, he pointed out: "It could have been worse. My RAID could have been fried without a backup."

'He Started to Move the Files Around...'

Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack had a tale of equally horrifying proportions.

"I had taken over some servers from a guy who really loved partitions, and his install was textbook '4 gb /var 9 gb /usr/ 4 gb / 100 gb /home' etc.," Mack began.

"The only problem was that he didn't take into account that the textbooks are 15 years old and the space requirements have long since changed," Mack explained. "As he ran out of space he started to move the files around to partitions with more space and symlink them."

'I Had Just Taken Out the Server'

One day, "after he was long gone, the server was running low on space and I found a copy of /var where it shouldn't be, so I confirmed that /var pointed somewhere else and cleared what I thought was a backup," Mack added, the sweat visible on his brow.

"Turns out that the place he had moved var had also run out of space, so he symlinked again rather than moving the original symlink," Mack said.

Bottom line: "I had just taken out the server," he groaned.

'I Had Finally Gotten ALL the Hardware to Work'

Not to be outdone, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had a tale of his own.

"Out of the four machines I was testing Linux on, NONE worked right OOTB, but I found laptops were by far the worse, and this one was a bear," hairyfeet began.

"It had taken me days of wandering the endless darkened maze that is the forums, but I had finally, FINALLY gotten ALL the hardware to work," he explained. "Cue mad scientist laugh! Well, wouldn't you know it, it wasn't two weeks before the dreaded six-month update rolled around."

'I Find That My Wireless Is Trashed'

At that point, "I did what I was told like a good little user and didn't touch it for the first month, which meant I'd be a month behind, but I did what I was told," hairyfeet went on. "What happened when I finally ran the update? I was thrown into a lousy single-user mode with black screen of death, and when I finally got that fixed -- which, frankly, if this had been my only machine would have been impossible -- I come to find that not only is my Ethernet hosed, but my wireless is trashed! ARRRGH!"

Hairyfeet then went back to the forums, where he was told, "'Oh, you shouldn't use that!'" he recounted. Instead, "'You should use Atheros!'" he recalled.

Looking back, "it's funny now, as the chipset they recommended is now borked in the 10.x branch from what I've been told," hairyfeet concluded. "That was enough Linux horror for me, thanks."

It's All Relative

Of course, the horrors of Linux are few and far between compared with those of certain other operating systems, Linux Girl feels compelled to point out -- not to mention alongside all the many rewards associated with using the open source OS.

What horror stories have you experienced -- on any platform? Share them in the comments.

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