Is There A System Administrator?
by Andy Gray
Given that there is a lot of discussion about whether or not our LAN
really does have a System Administrator, and given that no empirical
evidence of the existence or non-existence of the System Administrator is
extant, I thought it would be helpful to have a frank and open discussion
about the issues surrounding the concept.
Here are some popular arguments:
Argument from Design:
1. One looks at a simple computer, and sees evidence of intelligent design.
2. One looks at a Sun Sparc 20 and... um... well... Okay, One looks at a DEC Alpha and sees evidence of intelligent design.
3. It is therefore likely that something created them.
4. One looks at the network and sees evidence of intelligent design.
5. It is therefore likely that something created it. That something is the System Administrator.
1. If you think the network implies intelligent design, you haven't seen *our* network.
2. Even assuming this proves the existence of a System Administrator, there's no evidence the System Administrator is intelligent.
First Causes argument:
1. When my computer comes on, it is because I turned it on. My computer cannot turn itself on.
2. When I turn my computer on and connect to the network, the network is already there waiting for me.
3. I know I did not activate the network.
4. Therefore, something must have caused the network to exist.
5. That something could be the Router, but then what installed the Router?
6. That something must be the System Administrator.
1. So what caused the System Administrator?
2. Still doesn't prove the System Administrator is intelligent.
The Argument from Popularity:
1. Almost everyone believes that the System Administrator exists. Those who don't believe He exists are in the minority.
2. Many respected people claim to have received email from Him.
3. In almost any company since the dawn of the Computer Age, there has been some form of System Administrator myth.
4. Given the universality of the myths, it is unlikely that such myths are not based on truth.
1. Most users are clueless morons who need to believe in the Great Benevolent Super-User, and that He protects and watches over their data.
2. So who's to say it's the System Admin that HR claims to have hired? Why not Brian Kernighan or Cliff Stoll, or Zeus, or Thor or any other such mythical creature?
The Argument from Authority:
1. Management insists that the System Administrator exists.
a. HR insists that they hired Him
b. Accounting claims to have PO's signed by Him
c. MIS has the The Big Book of Documentation, written by Him or His disciples.
1. Since when has Management known what they were doing?
2. Using the Big Book of Documentation as proof that the BBoD was written by the System Administrator is circular. It could be a fabrication.
The Cartesian Argument:
1. No user can create a more Super account than he himself possesses.
2. No user can grant greater system privileges than he himself
3. All users have heard of the root account, and that the root
account is omnipotent and possesses all privileges.
4. Since the concept of the root account is greater than the accounts
possessed by the users, the users cannot have created the concept
the root account. Therefore the concept of the root account must
from something that possesses those privileges.
5. There is an entry for 'root' in /etc/passwd.
6. The root account can only have been created by the Super User, the
1. Statement 1 is a dubious premise.
2. The existence of the root account is not proof that anyone ever
logs into that account.
3. Still doesn't prove that the System Admin is intelligent.
The Ontological Proof:
1. Given: The property of existence is more Super than the property of
2. The SysAdmin is defined as "a user, than which no more Super user
can be conceived".
3. No matter how great a Super User you can conceive which possesses
the property of non-existence, you can then add the property of
existence and make the Super User even more Super.
4. Therefore, the System Administrator exists.
1. Rests on a dubious definition of what is and is not Super.
2. The concept of a Super User is nowhere near analogous to the Super
User itself. I can conceive of something, but that's only the
concept of it, not the thing itself.
The Spinozist Argument:
1. The System Administrator is defined as the most perfect user
2. The property of necessary existence means that anything which
possesses it must necessarily exist.
3. If existence is better than non-existence (see the ontological
proof), then necessary existence is better still.
4. Any perfect user must possess the property of necessary existence.
5. Therefore the System Administrator must necessarily exist.
6. Being perfect, the System Administrator cannot make mistakes,
delete the wrong account, trash the root directory, mess up a
tape load, etc.
7. Being perfect, the System Administrator can not be capable of
goal-directed action, because such action would imply that the
network is somehow less than perfect in its current state.
8. Therefore, the System Administrator is really more of a force of
nature within the system.
9. Arguably, then the System Administrator *is* the system itself.
1. None, since the System Administrator has been defined to the
point where it is a totally useless concept, there's no point
At least this resolves one of the major issues: the Spinozist
argument proves that *if* the System Administrator does exist,
it cannot be intelligent.
Washington Apple Pi IFAQ
lic Monday, May 12, 1997