Bastard Operator From Hell

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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 Magnificent Bastard system administrator (who is also Travaglia's Alter Ego, given that the character's name is Simon the very few times any first name is used at all) who abuses his position to both inflict misery upon those around him and to advance his goals of getting more money, more alcohol, and less actual work. He accomplishes this through the use of a great many Xanatos Gambits, 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 (sometimes often literally) as he manipulates events to progress his goals.

You can read all of Travaglia's work here (older works) and here (newer works).

Tropes used in Bastard Operator From Hell include:
  • A Day in the Limelight: A few post-2000 stories feature the PFY without the BOFH.
  • 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.
  • Bastard Understudy: The PFY often has plans that involve manipulating the BOFH. They sometimes actually succeed, too.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: aka dummy mode.
  • Big Damn Game: The Commodore 64 game (yes, you heard right) 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.
  • Blackmail: A favourite tool of both the BOFH and the PFY.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs:

Boss: Excellent, ten days since the last accident.
PFY: I think you'll find that's a binary number.[1]
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.

  • Butt Monkey: The accounting department, a.k.a. "beancounters," take even worse and more frequent abuse than the rest of Simon's victims coworkers.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Happens on a regular basis, especially when the BOFH and/or the PFY need to speak face-to-face with the Boss or somebody even higher up the orgchart. One particularly funny (and long) example is the first half of "Judge us not by the size of our database, but the size of our augmented reality": saying cloud computing is risky because of wind shear, global warming, and "the ozone layer thing"; complaining about rusty blockchains; claiming they already have Big Data because the converted everything from 8 bits to 16 bits; and this gem:

"What about nanotechnology?" [the Boss] asks, moving on.
"Apple discontinued them in 2017," I say.

  • Comedic Sociopathy: Very yes.
  • Compressed Vice: A couple stories play this for laughs.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: The PFY, on occasion.
  • Crapsack World: 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).
  • Disney Death: The Bastard, more than once.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Exact Words: If you ask the BOFH for more disk space, he'll give it to you. By deleting all your files.
  • For Inconvenience Press One: Happens from time to time.
  • 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.

  • Hyper Awareness: The BOFH doesn't seem to miss a single detail anywhere except when the plot requires it.
  • Innocent Bystander: There are just so damn many of these.
  • Insult Backfire: Calling the Bastard... well, a bastard.
  • Loveable Rogue: The BOFH often shows traits of this.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Luton.
  • Preemptive 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 Problem with Pen Island: What happens when you have the Bastard block "offensive" e-mail.
  • Product Placement: Occasionally satirized.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Invoked by both the stories and also the Bastard's plans.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: The PFY.
  • The Starscream: The PFY has currently 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 many times, including 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.

  • Techno Babble: 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.
    • Also, this is used by BOFH to switch whoever is calling him into "Dummy Mode." That means overloading a luser's brain with so many technical terms that it turns off and has the luser do anything the BOFH tells him to do (such as inserting metal objects into mains electrical sockets, sending incriminating email or starting fires).
  • Technology Marches On: Reading the entire archive from start to finish provides a neat cross-section of just how far computer technology has come. In one early story, stealing 32MB of RAM from the helpdesk PCs was a significant victory. A later chapter quotes that exact amount as a ludicrously weak machine being palm off to some sucker.
  • Techno Wizard: The BOFH, although it's almost always justified by real life technology, or occasionally Twenty Minutes Into the Future.
  • 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"?
  • 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 its a 747-200C or a 747-200F, its technically unidentified, right?
        • Another useful clause gives him the right to call his coworkers "knobface".
    • Explicitly stated in one of the more recent[when?] stories: work obscurity is 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 and the Head of IT certainly don’t and 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 company[2] and the Board will turn a blind eye to his wacky shenanigans downstairs.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: The Bastard and PFY. Very, very vitriolic.
  • Walking Techbane: Many of the users.
  • The Watson: The PFY often plays this role so the BOFH can explain to the audience him the details of the latest Xanatos Gambit.
    • 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
  • Xanatos Gambit/Gambit Roulette: Most of the stories involve one of these. Gambit Roulette is relatively rare and when it comes up, it's usually parodied.
  • 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
  1. two
  2. indeed, he's actually defended it a few times, both from a hostile takeover and from general bad IT purchasing decisions by the various Bosses