The Foolish Things We Do With Our Computers
By Ben Okopnik
"Foolish Things" is a now-and-again compilation we run based on our readers' input; once we have several of these stories assembled in one place, we get to share them with all of you. If you enjoy reading these cautionary tales of woe, proud stories of triumph, and just plain weird and fun things that happen between humans and silicon, that's great; if you have some to share so that others may enjoy them, even better. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can even tell us that it happened to A Friend of Yours, and we'll believe you.
Copy and Paste, Repent at Leisure
This reminds me of a disaster I created.
I was working on a Sun Sparc, running Solaris and was trying to get a program to work. The main problem was to get the LD_LIBRARY_PATH set to a value so that all shared objects could be resolved.
Of course, 'ldd' is your friend. Now look for a moment at the output of ldd on Solaris. Unfortunately I don't have a Solaris system at hand, but it would look something like this (fortunately on Linux the output is less dangerous):
> /lib/libc.so libc.so > /usr/lib/libwhatever.so libwhatever.so
etc. I'm sure this is not completely accurate.
So, I had an xterm full of output like that. Then I wanted to grab the mouse, and had an unfortunate motion control problem: I moved the mouse and by accident hit the left mouse button and immediately after that the middle mouse button. Result: I copied and then pasted a large part of the xterm contents into my (root) shell. Immediately afterward I got a message saying "session closed by peer" or something along those lines...
I thought I should share this with you. I can now laugh about it, but when it happened it wasn't funny.
B****, What's My Name???
This one happened a while ago. I still blush when I think of it - and I'm not the blushing type. I'm reminded of it now because I am again doing a backup and a distro upgrade - but this time, having learned my lesson, I'm doing it the right way.
I was about to upgrade the distro on my laptop, and being a good little Linux hacker, I first ran a backup to an external USB drive. Had to let it run overnight - "USB" still meant "very slow" back then - but in the morning, it was done. I wandered over to the machine, half-asleep, plugged in a USB dongle, and fired up the program that would install a bootable version of the distro on the dongle. Yeah, choose the ISO file, OK... oh, look, the USB device is already selected, great... says that it needs formatting - OK, click "Format this device"...
At which point, my brain caught up with my fingers. Um... oh-oh. The name of the USB device that was listed in the one-line window was that of the backup drive. The dongle was there too - but it was below that window, where you'd have to scroll down to see it. I had just formatted the backup drive that I had spent all night filling up.
No, 'gpart' and friends were of no help. Not only did the partition info get wiped out, but the drive had also been reformatted to VFAT - since that's what was used for setting up the bootable distro. A few moments of half-awake typing was all that was necessary to scrap a night's backup.
These days, whenever I'm doing any disk formatting or any similar operations, I 1) unplug any unnecessary storage devices, 2) always triple-check the device name, and 3) make sure that I'm fully awake and focused on the task. Certain things really do require all your attention.
 I know, I know. Most of you are probably screaming "NOOOOOO!!!" because you can see what's coming. Just like a horror movie, isn't it?
Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.
Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory (the recurring nightmares have almost faded, actually.)
His subsequent experiences include creating software in more than two dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals, and teaching on a variety of topics ranging from Soviet weaponry and IBM hardware repair to Solaris and Linux administration, engineering, and programming. He also has the distinction of setting up the first Linux-based public access network in St. Georges, Bermuda as well as one of the first large-scale Linux-based mail servers in St. Thomas, USVI.
After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and
down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in northern
Florida. His consulting business presents him with a variety of challenges,
second brain Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms,
many of which contain exclamation points.
He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.