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[humorix] The Nerd Exchange

The Nerd Exchange
June 27, 1999

LINUX, MISSOURI -- Eric S. Raymond's recent foray[1] into
the Land of Microsoft generated much interest and
discussion.  However, it wasn't the only bizarre "nerd
exchange" to occur on the Summer Solstice. While ESR was
confronting a room full of Microserfs, John Birckendorf, a
Microsoft programmer, was confronting a room full of Linux
longhairs.  Birckendorf was handed the daunting task of
giving a speech and conducting a Q&A session at a  meeting
of the Linux Linux User Group[2].

Thanks to the diligent efforts of our Vast Spy Network(tm),
which always seems to be at the right place at the right
time, we have obtained a copy of the report Birckendorf
sent to his co-workers when he returned to the comfort of


It wasn't as bad as I expected.

When I was handed an unprecedented invitation to
participate in a Linux User Group meeting, I didn't know
what to think.  

Frankly, I was a little bit scared about the people I would
encounter. Indeed, some of the things I had heard recently
about the Linux culture were disturbing.  One editorial on
InfoWorld used such terms as "communists", "Marxists",
"utopian balderdash", and "Get-Back-To-Earth spiritualists"
to describe the Open Source movement and its advocates. 
The latest paper by Eric S. Raymond (self-proclaimed Open
Source advocate, Microsoft basher, and "Geeks-with-Guns"
nut) dwells on "magic cauldrons" and Welsh mythology.

I had visions of Linuxers being "hippie pagan spiritualists
promoting Communism and world domination."  I was worried
about my encounter with a room packed full of them.  To add
to my anxieties, my seven year old son was surfing the Web
the day before and said, "This open source thing looks
kinda cool."  To that I was forced to repond,  "Those Open
Source advocates are a bad influence.  Don't think about
visiting any more subversive Linux sites without my

So, after all my fears and worries, I was quite shocked
when I finally came face-to-face with about 200 Linux
"longhairs". Most of them didn't seem like hippies, or
pagans, or Communists.  And while many had a gleam of world
domination in their eyes, for the most part they seemed
relatively normal.  If you can call a nerd normal, anyways.

My presentation went okay.  My laptop crashed in the middle
of my PowerPoint slide show; the audience responded with
riotout laughter. Upon rebooting, the system complained
about Registry corruptions (I've sent a bug report to the
Windows team but I doubt they'll even bother to read it). 
Somebody yelled, "Sorry, but nobody here will be able to
help you!" which generated more laughter.

It's hard to judge how well my spiel was received by the
crowd. Most seemed interested, but were definitely not
agreeing with my assertion that closed-source development
does have certain advantages over open.  (My security
through obscurity argument -- which I feel is rather strong
-- instantly generated much dissent, causing a mini-debate
between me and three other nerds that lasted five
minutes.)  In addition, my laptop's misbehavior tended to
weaken my arguments that Windows doesn't suck as much as
most people let on.

During the Q&A session the belligerence of some of the
audience members showed more clearly.  It was kind of funny
really, fielding defensive questions from
still-wet-behind-the-ears college grads for whom freedom,
quality, and the survival of Linux are so central that they
have trouble understanding how people can use (and make
money from) proprietary operating systems. On some
subjects, their brains just shut down -- the style reminded
me a lot of the moronic people who call the MS tech support
line and then blame their problems on Windows flaws,
ignoring any possibility that their bluescreens might be
caused by flaky applications or drivers made by
non-Microsoft vendors.

The questions were wide ranging, some were offensive and
insulting while others were genuine inquiries into the
secrets of Microsoft's success.  One person asked, "If
closed source software is so responsive to the needs of
consumers, how come that universally despised Dancing Paper
Clip is still in Office 2000?"  I responded, "Well,
actually, I've just received word that Office2K has an
Easter Egg that turns the mouse cursor into a set of
crosshairs and allows you to shoot and kill the paperclip. 
Apparently it's quite relaxing."  Still, some questions
severely tested my patience, such as "How can you sleep at

The general mood of the event seemed relatively positive,
considering the context, although these things are hard to
judge.  For all I know, however, after the event the
Linuxers could have started casting spells against me and
composed jokes and fake news stories about the event that
are propogating across the 'Net even as I write this.

At the conclusion of my presentation, the LUG president
gave me a "Linux world domination... coming soon to a
computer near you" T-shirt and said to me, "In five years I
bet you'll be proudly wearing this shirt in public.  Until
then, I wish you well in Redmond."

And that was that.  


[1] http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/06/23/1834246&mode=thread
[2] http://i-want-a-website.com/about-linux/jul98.shtml#LinuxTown


James S. Baughn

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