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Yak shaving
pinkie pie
mendel

This has been one of those weeks.

Mostly the problem has been yak shaving -- where to get one thing done you find yourself in a pile of other related but annoying tasks. For instance, yesterday someone needed to move an old SparcStation 5 that acts as a terminal server onto a new subnet. Yak shaving in action.

What I expected to do:

  1. Log in as root
  2. Edit a few configuration files
  3. Reboot
What I did:
  1. Try to login as root, fail
  2. Realize that the machine has a very old workstation password, and the guy that might know it is away
  3. Wait a day in case he returns
  4. Try to boot off of an install CD to get into single-user mode to change the root password
  5. Dig around for other media after that install CD fails
  6. Take the machine back to my lab after those fail too
  7. Dig around for another Sun-compatible SCSI CD drive
  8. Watch the magic smoke leave the terminal I had connected
  9. Find another terminal, but discover that it requires MMC connectors of which I have none
  10. Find another terminal, but discover that it offers a female connector instead of male
  11. Find no gender changers anywhere
  12. Get an old laptop from desktop guys, boot Knoppix, run minicom
  13. Futz with cables for null-modemness and minicom for proper comm settings
  14. Watch a few install CDs fail in that drive before one finally works
  15. Blank the root password, change the machine's IP address
  16. Replace original CD drive since other one is not slim Sun type
  17. Return the machine to its lab, tell its owner not to power it up until it's all cabled up
  18. Watch as he powers it up before the keyboard is connected
  19. Explain that it's now trying to use a serial console, power-cycle it before it starts dealing with disks
  20. Boot with keyboard and display, see that it can't find an NIS server
  21. Discover that the IP address change was not just renumbering, but moving it to a new subnet which does not, in fact, have an NIS server on it
  22. Talk to lab manager and cabling guys about using the old subnet's interface on its NIS server for the new subnet; inconclusive
  23. Decide that having an NIS slave on a subnet with a single workstation is overkill; try to set up machine to use remote NIS
  24. Realize that it's still running SunOS 4; Solaris remote NIS procedure won't work
  25. Google for instructions
  26. Try; can't reach NIS server
  27. Switch around NIS startup and default route bits in rc.local; works
  28. Reset root password
and wave goodbye to the afternoon!

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Some of the other explanations I've seen focus on a positive kind of yak shaving, the way fixing one item can lead you to redoing all sorts of other stuff. It's extra work, but everything is better for it in the end. That's the sort of thing I do at work quite a bit, trying to fix a problem in one line of code that leads be to rewrite half a module, but for the BETTER.

What's up with the example given at the top of the page, though? Finding the gas discount card involves finding your keys? Don't you need your keys anyway? How do you expect to drive without them?

Re: Oh, shaving yaks

I didn't quite get that either, but the alternative was to point to the Jargon File.


Re: Oh, shaving yaks

Having said that, while looking for an unrelated post, I came across this post from reddragdiva which mentions the canonical instance of yak shaving.

I'd originally thought TeX was the winner, then someone on a mailing list pointed out the Space War game.

Yak shaving... I love it. Another favorite is percussive maintenance.

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