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Literature / Bastard Operator from Hell

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Bastard Operator From Hell (often abbreviated to BOFH) is a long running series of short stories by New Zealand writer Simon Travaglia. First published in 1992, it is about a system administrator (who is also Travaglia's Author Avatar, given that the character's name is Simon the very few times any first name is used at all) that abuses his position to (a) inflict misery upon those around him and (b) advance his goals of getting more money, more alcohol, and less actual work. He accomplishes this through the use of a great many plans abusing his skill with electronics to great effect.

The first wave of stories took place with the title character as an administrator for an unnamed college campus. They were almost always revenge stories against clueless computer users that would either bug him about completely obvious computer problems or make demands for more disk quota, often with them acting hostile to him as they demand he fix their problems. He never does, though, usually getting them to do incredibly stupid things to their computers or just twisting their words around as he complicates their life. After a period of time, the setting was changed to a London corporation, the character was expanded to being a selfish asshole who manipulates those around him for self-profit, and he was given a sidekick with the "Pimply Faced Youth" (PFY).

Despite the fact that the title character really lives up to the name, he has become a bit of an icon of the computer networking subculture as the perpetrator of things that many an administrator only wishes he or she could get away with. Much of the appeal can probably be attributed to the fact that while most people in these positions have to smile and nod while the user yells at them over inconsequential things, this character instead gets revenge. He almost always wins through just sheer wit and skill, getting away with murder (often literally) as he manipulates events to progress his goals.

You can read all of Travaglia's work here and here

This series provides examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: On occasion, such as the one with the crew of Star Trek: The Original Series and the one with an android Boss.
  • Almighty Janitor: The Bastard, though he's just a sysadmin, is without any doubt the most powerful man in the corporation. The stories also occasionally feature George the cleaner, who has access to a lot of interesting information.
  • Anti-Role Model: Subverted with the BOFH, who shows all the traits of a very bad employee... and gets away with them.
  • The Apprentice: Originally just the PFY. However, two Story Arcs created two more...
    • The first story arc has the tables turned with Simon as the Boss and the PFY as the new Networks Admin, while the former boss has taken the PFY role. The old boss learns quickly. Spoiler 
    • The second arc shows a guy named James who wants to see and modify a security program of the BOFH's making. By the end of the arc, he's already starting the defenestrations. Namely, the current Director.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: In one episode we find out that the cattle prods have two settings. "Stir Fry" operates normally, while "Stun" causes the high voltage to fry the person brandishing the device. This is then used by the Bastard when he suggests the Boss use the cattle prod to stun the PFY.
  • Bastard Understudy: The PFY often has plans that involve manipulating the BOFH. They sometimes actually succeed, too.
  • Big Damn Movie: A fan-made Commodore 64/PC game sees the BOFH fighting off crazy activists who have evacuated the building and taken all the computers hostage. He's not aiming to save the day, mind you, but simply to regain his beloved control and power.
  • Book Ends: In this story.
    "HE PUNCHED HIM IN THE FACE!" the Director shouts, gesturing both wildly and furiously at the absent PFY's desk.
    "Well yes," I say calmly, "but let's be reasonable about this - he WAS asking for it."

    "SHE PUNCHED HIM IN THE FACE!" the Director shouts, gesturing both wildly and furiously at Gina, once the ambulance has left.
    "Well yes," I say calmly. "But let's be reasonable about this – he WAS asking for it."
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs:
    Boss: Excellent, ten days since the last accident.
    PFY: I think you'll find that's a binary number.note 
    BOFH: And that's only because we don't count disappearances as accidents.
    PFY: Or people who don't work here.
    BOFH: Or disappearances of people who don't work here.
  • Break the Motivational Speaker's Neck with own briefcase even.
  • The Bully: The BOFH loves nothing more than tormenting the hapless employees at his workplace, who are powerless to stop him, for his own amusement.
  • Butt-Monkey: The accounting department, a.k.a. "beancounters," take even worse and more frequent abuse than the rest of Simon's victims coworkers.
  • Catchphrase: If the BOFH or PFY utters the words "There has been a terrible accident!", it means that it's time to ring the employment agency and ask for another candidate to fill the job vacancy that just opened up.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much:
    • If the BOFH or PFY are talking about the fate of a previous boss/user/salesman/other annoying person, it'll often take this form, often including a veiled threat that if you try pulling what they did (such as trying to move IT to the cloud), you'll suffer the same fate. The previously-mentioned Catchphrase could also count.
    • The Christmas 2010 instalment includes an instance of this in rhyme with the second-last paragraph ending in:
      An hour after that, Security find
      Tragic misadventure (misadventure underlined).
  • Crapsack World: As noted below, it's implied that everyone else in the world is as much of a bastard as the Bastard himself. He's just a lot better at it.
  • A Day in the Limelight: A few post-2000 stories feature the PFY without the BOFH.
  • Dead End Job: The post of Systems Supervisor. Said supervisor is killed off by the BOFH or the PFY once they become too dangerous. Whether or not this can also be said for the Director of IT post is debatable.
  • Disney Death: The Bastard has "died" once after getting shot, only to be brought back in the next episode.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The end of 2014 saw the arrival of Gina Barker, formally a consultant for a company where she was the only partner as her other partners had died in "accidents," and eventually used her second job as a lawyer to become IT Director. The Bastard is so impressed, he asks to marry her after their first encounter (where she managed to extort two thousand quid from him).
  • Electric Torture: By means of an over-voltage cattle-prod, or by simply talking the (l)user into electrocuting himself.
  • EMP: The PFY created a focused one for the purposes of getting revenge on a vending machine in the London Underground. He, the BOFH, and the Boss decide to use it at several other spots for other revenge, and it's all in good fun. Until they accidentally set it off while riding the lift.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Averted, the BOFH has no problem getting his mother to wipe an important disk because she didn't let him stay over at a friend's when he was 11.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Depends on how you define "evil". Most of the people that the BOFH antagonizes aren't very nice people. After all, the vast majority of his blackmail schemes wouldn't work if the targets didn't have some fairly substantial skeletons in their closets.
    • His conflicts with vendors in particular. The BOFH is frequently using his cunning and unscrupulous actions to counteract various vendors' cunning and unscrupulous manipulation of others in the company (usually his bosses).
    • Part of the joke is that most of the people the BOFH deals with are only marginally better than him. The helpdesk is utterly incompetent, the beancounters are out to screw everyone out of their budget, the Security people are stupid and greedy, all of upper management are Pointy Haired Bosses or Corrupt Corporate Executives or a combination of the two, and vendors and head-hunters are out to screw everyone just to increase their bonus. Demonstrated best when one nosy boss got killed not by the BOFH or PFY, but the CEO and Security because he was nosing into dodgy tax situations and conflicts of interest.
  • Exact Words: If you ask the BOFH for more disk space, he'll give it to you. By deleting all your files.
    • And don't tell the PFY to "fire her up" when you want him to start a computer; you'll be calling the emergency line soon after.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": Happens from time to time.
  • Groin Attack: Also known as a Non-Maskable Interrupt.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: In this story, Simon tries to decide between "making the most of it" and "exacting petty revenge" with a coin toss. He flips it.
    BOFH: Heads. Revenge it is, then.
    A freak earthquake shocks the coin to 'Tails'.
    BOFH: Revenge it is then. Edge was so close, too.
  • High Turnover Rate: The Bastard's various bosses, to the point that the employment agencies start sending their absolute crap there in hopes that he'll get rid of them, which he usually does. Accountants and auditors also have a tendency to "disappear" or suffer "accidents".
  • Hyper-Awareness: The BOFH doesn't seem to miss a single detail anywhere except when the plot requires it.
  • Karma Houdini: The bastard gets away with almost every last thing he does. The only times he doesn't is when another bastard is involved, but it certainly won't lead to any justice (directly or indirectly).
  • Magical Computer: Mostly averted due to the fact that Travaglia is a computer professional himself, but there are still some rare moments where it comes up in order to facilitate the plot.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Duh.
    • Recently, Gina Barker came in as a "consultant" from Lightfoot, Barker & Ellice. Seems she's also legal counsel. Oh, and she's now Simon's girlfriend.
      • Turns out she's also a Magnificent Bitch, since her partners have met with untimely deaths. Lightfoot apparently had a "pillow-related sleeping accident", while Ellice died due to a "vision-related illness" (he didn't see a van coming).
  • Millennium Bug: After finally getting fired in early 2000 for faking his death, the BOFH revealed that he'd left the company a little gift in the form of total Y2K un-compliance (with near-viral microcode designed to completely annihilate the network on Leap Day, February 29th). He then points out that he when did this, he was merely following the boss's Exact Words in getting the system "Y2K Complaint Ready".[1]
  • Nepotism: Subverted. When he was first introduced, the PFY was the nephew of the CEO, which (because he usually doesn't completely screw over the CEO) was the reason the Bastard didn't get rid of him. The PFY hasn't made use of it for any other reason. By the time the blood relationship was no longer relevant, such as the post-2000 stories at a different company, the work relationship between the two of them was solid enough the Bastard probably couldn't get rid of the PFY if he tried.
  • No Name Given / Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The BOFH's name is Simon, which does get the occasional mention. Less used is the PFY's real name, Steven. The Bastard also doesn't bother referring to his boss by any real name due to the position's high turnover rate.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Any workplace with the Bastard in it rapidly becomes this. Mind the lifts...
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": While no swordfish variants have popped up yet, the series often mocks how the average user doesn't know how to come up with a secure password to save their life... Sometimes literally.
  • The Plan / Gambit Roulette: Most of the stories involve one of these. Gambit Roulette is relatively rare and when it comes up, it's usually parodied.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Luton.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Semi-justified in that after a while, the high turnover rate of the Systems Supervisor job pretty much means that agencies will only send their absolute worst to fill the position.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration:
    • Among numerous other examples, in an argument with an engineer...
      PFY: Well maybe not Alzheimer's, but what about a bang on the head?
      Engineer: I haven't had a-
      >CLANG< >thud<
      PFY: You have now...
    • The BOFH explains his ability for "predictions" here
      BOFH: Just a word of warning. If you say - or even hint - that it's because you might want to print them on the very expensive "True-Colour" auto laminating printer that you had us install just outside your office door there's a very real chance that my assistant will pop upstairs and PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE.
      (L)user: *gasp* Are you threatening me?
      BOFH: No, not at all. This is a friendly warning. Like a storm warning in a weather forecast. Think of me as a meteorological expert as far as IT support beatings go. I look at high and low pressure regions and predict - to the best of my abilities - what might come as a result of them. And my long range forecast is a beating on the horizon.
  • The Problem with Pen Island: What happens when you have the Bastard block "offensive" e-mail.
  • Product Placement: Occasionally satired.
  • Pyromaniac: The PFY has "a thing with combustibles".
  • Refuge in Audacity: Invoked by both the stories and also the Bastard's plans.
    • A particular example stands out: via manipulation of CVs, Terrible Interviewees Montage and good old blackmail, the BOFH manages to hire as his new boss a person who doesn't exist. The boss is not visible the first day (visiting clients) or the second (sick leave, and somehow a computer program manages to sound like a sick man high on cough syrup), though he still manages to authorize an extensive series of purchases and business trips. When the head of IT storms in demanding an explanation, they reveal that sadly, Roger has been run over by a delivery van that very day.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: The PFY.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: The BOFH finds himself contending with a delivery of "Crisco" equipment in here.
    • Also an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) named UPS and made by UPS, Ltd. here. Of course, Hilarity Ensues when they actually put these things to work...
  • Side Bet: The Director and Boss-of-the-time once bet on how the BOFH and the PFY would dispose of a Health & Safety inspector trying to get into the server room.
  • The Starscream: The PFY temporarily usurped the BOFH's position thanks to mains electricity, an office chair and a lot of tinfoil.
  • Story Arc: Sometimes a series of entries has an underlying plot, such as moving to a new building in 2008.
  • Stupid Boss: The BOFH actually likes having a stupid boss. He can get away with a lot more with a stupid boss than one with some brains.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: Done deliberately to annoy the Boss here:
    Boss: These network computers are great! Sonya's just been proselytising us.
    BOFH: Really? I can't say I approve, but hey, what's good for Amsterdam is good for London!
    Boss: No. I mean she's converted us.
    BOFH: So you're all prostitutes? Wouldn't quit the day job if I were you!
    Boss: I'm talking about network computers!
    BOFH: Of course! And the prostitution?
    Boss: There's no bloody prostitution!!
    PFY: Of course there isn't! Walls have ears and all that.
  • Take That!: A fine example in this conversation...
    BOFH: Right, I think I made my point! Now, I think it's time you took a couple of weeks' holiday.
    PFY: How kind. But where will I go?
    BOFH: Somewhere where they know nothing about computing...where they wouldn't know a RAM chip from a potato chip!
    PFY: But I don't want to visit Microsoft!
  • Technobabble: The BOFH can masterfully combine technical terms into something that sounds impressive to the boss but which an informed reader will easily spot as being complete nonsense.
    • The BOFH also uses this to switch whoever is calling him into "Dummy Mode", by overloading the luser's brain with so many technical terms that it turns off, at which point the luser will do anything the BOFH tells him to do (such as inserting metal objects into mains electrical sockets, sending incriminating email, or starting fires).
    • Bonus points for this being a human-based version of the classic "buffer overflow" hacking technique that many attacks make use of, overflowing the computer with information so that your commands get accepted.
    • The first sign that Gina Barker is a force to be reckoned with is that she manages to stand up to it. Twice.
  • Techno Wizard: The BOFH, although it's almost always justified by real life technology, or occasionally 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • Tempting Fate: The Quantum Law of Negative Event Probabilities.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Why do the users keep calling him directly when it seems that the Networks department is responsible for 95% of the workplace "accidents"?
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Onion Bhajis.
  • Trash Landing: Occasionally used against lusers.
  • Ultimate Job Security: In the real world, just the simple fact that the accusations against him would take up a file cabinet would get him fired in no time at all. Might just be that he has more blackmail material than they have proof.
    • Or the termination clause in the contract is suitably crucifying. The BOFH is a techno-wizard, but that's nothing on his manipulation of contract and employment law.
      • That's an understatement. The contract he and the PFY have includes all sorts of weird clauses, only one or two of which have actually been used in a story. One example involves the sighting of a UFO from the workplace.
      • That clause has been used. After all, if you're not sure if it's a 747-200C or a 747-200F, it's technically unidentified, right?
      • Another useful clause gives him the right to call his coworkers "knobface".
      • Crucifying is putting it mildly; there are no reasonable grounds to terminate the BOfH or the PFY whatsoever, not even engaging in behavior that could result in arrest and prosecution, and the company has no legal grounds on which to sue them, not even for outright sabotaging the IT systems altogether. The kicker is that the company has to give two years notice if they decide to terminate their contracts, and pay out the difference if they decide to fire them on-the-spot. And the only concession given for this legal carte blanche is that the BOfH and the PFY have to give two years' notice (or else pay two years' worth of their own salary to the company) if they decide to leave.
    • Explicitly stated in one of the more recent stories: work obscurity = work security. The less they know what you're actually doing, the less courage they'll have to fire you.
    • When he was at the University, the boss who wanted to fire him ended up resigning. When he got a job in industry, the PFY's uncle was the CEO. Since then, no-one has managed to avoid being fired, arrested, hospitalised, or killed for long enough to fire him.
    • A file cabinet full of a flammable material (paper) that’s probably mislabeled something so boring nobody would ever want to look at it even if they knew it existed, which his bosses & the Head of IT certainly don’t & won’t. The only ones with a chance to fire him would be the Board. He’s certainly had some run-ins with the CEO, but yes he does probably have enough blackmail material given the CEO certainly isn’t interested in any pop quizzes from Inland Revenue, so they’ve probably reached an accord. Simon doesn’t completely ruin the companynote  & the Board will turn a blind eye to his wacky shenanigans downstairs.
    • And, of course, anyone who knows what happens when he DOES get fired would never want to fire him, because the only way he can be fired is if he WANTS to be fired, which would normally seriously hamper his chances of ever getting hired again... unless, of course, the company that fired him were to collpase catastrophically within, say, the next two months...
  • The Watson: The PFY often plays this role so the BOFH can explain to the audience him the details of the latest plan.
    • One of the later Bosses of the pre-2000 episodes, who seemed slightly competent after he and the BOFH had a brief position exchange, had filled the role a few times. Other Bosses, generally the more competent ones, also served this role well.
    • The last episode of 1999 found here is written from the PFY's perspective as though he were Watson to the BOFH's Holmes, detailing the struggle against Arty Murray. There are plenty of Holmes references including the BOFH apparently dying in the 'Right-Out-Back faller' only to return in the next episode
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: One story has the perfectly organized server room cause the title character to stop being a bastard for a while. This causes the PFY to suggest that he be brought to "a professional that cares".
    • Another story hints that he has actually tried being nice as a New Year's resolution a couple of times. His latest attempt lasted 17 minutes before another idiot user pushed him over the line and back to The Dark Side.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Ye Bastarde Operatore frome Helle