- Travels with Rick Moen
- Pulgas by Moonlight
- LinuxWorld Prologue: 2400 N81
- LinuxWorld Monday: Slashdot.org
- LinuxWorld Tuesday: Copyleft
- LinuxWorld Wednesday: 'You are dumb.'
- Mercury Theatre on the Net's Diary of a Spectator
LOSCON, or, Travels with Rick Moen
Crackmonkey travels to an LA SF convention and does unspeakable acts
of cruelty to goths and Mac freaks. Rick Moen
So, with only a day left to pack up and move out, and some early-morning
admin work to do at SuSE, I sit here
bleary-eyed and try to make some sense out of the past week or so.
I had agreed to ride sanity with Rick Moen down I-5 (the most hypnotic stretch of nothing in the
whole of California) to attend LOSCON XXV. Thursday
evening I set out from my grass hut in the Richmond in order to BART over to Dublin, only to find that
the whole damn city was deserted for the holiday. Even the bums were
all shored up in mercy shelters and volunteer dinner huts (which seem
to invite them in based on media potential of a day, rather than the
So, without a single soul on the street, I shuffled beneath
the glowing navy-blue sky to the BART station and hopped aboard. I
was the only one on the train, but there seemed to be several people
at the Dublin station. I phoned Rick and stepped outside the gates,
only to briefly glance over the reciprocating gaze of a scruffy,
He perked up as if to say "Oh, I know you!" and lumbered over
to me. He asked if I had had a good Thanksgiving dinner.
"Oh yes." I mumbled.
"Was your turkey this big?" He made a gesture with his hands
indicating the size.
"Something like that."
"My mother wanted me to sleep with her, but that wouldn't be
right--she's not really my mother, but it wouldn't be right,
His every mumble seemed to demand feedback. He barely let the
breath escape his lips as he talked about his drug addictions and his
incest history. It was only through intense lipreading that I was
able to deduce that the man was barely able to complete a thought,
never mind hold a conversation.
Unfortunately, my instincts had failed me miserably. The
opressive throng at the Dublin station had taken me off-guard, and my
citydweller's nature had deserted me for a moment. I had managed to
position myself with my back up against a wall, and the man was
leaning into my face and jibbering rather psychotically.
"Excuse me, but I have to make a phone call." I informed the
man, directing my eyes at another person in the station. He followed
my gaze, and shifted target instantly. I punched buttons on the phone
for a few minutes, but the damn thing wouldn't accept coins--and that
seemed to be phone company policy. I can't imagine why these phones
were even at the station. They may as well just put a sign up that
says "Phone does not complete outgoing calls. Phone does not accept
Soon, however, Rick Moen arrived with the
getaway car, and we were on our way.
I don't know if any of you have ever driven the stretch of I-5
from the East Bay to Burbank, but it is miles and miles of just...more
miles and miles. The scenery is static, unchanging for hours on end.
The most excitement we had was an oil fire at the junction of 5 and
46, which glowed with an eerie orange ball of wet flame while the
creepy voice on 1610AM repeated over and over "Please do not report
the fire West of I-5 and North of 46. It is an oil fire and will take
several days to extinguish. The authorities are attempting to put it
out. Message repeats...".
Of course, Rick Moen was suffering from sore
muscles brought on by intense shaking the previous morning. After
rescuing a rather frazzled Mae Ling Mak from the inner airlock of the
CoffeeNet building, she had
volunteered to administer a flu shot to him.
"I give myself shots all the time," She had told me as we rode
to Stinson Beach just hours after the injection. "I know how to
make them not hurt."
What was missing from the equation seems to have been Mae
Ling's taste in barbiturates. Given a bad case of the shakes, she'd
probably just toss down a few muscle relaxants and go back to sleep.
Rick, however, had no warning or remedy. He wasn't even sure that it
wasn't a heart attack. His only clue was that his chest hurt, while a
heart attack mostly hurts in the area of the arm.
What was the poor man to tell his family? "I'm sorry mother,
but before my quixotic young friend took our intoxicated bipolar
associate to the beach to calm her down, I decided to have her inject
foreign substances into my body. This seems to have paralyzed me, and
I won't be eating any solids this Thanksgiving. Pass the potatoes,
To be fair to all parties, the injection was an act of
kindness on Mae Ling's part in order to look after Rick's best
interests, and she did take the necessary precautions to prevent
shock. Still, I listened to Rick grunt and creak loudly as I unpacked
the alertness kit and set to distribution. At the last gas station
before Nowhere, I had picked up the following supplies:
- Six power bars (two apple, two wild berry, and two oatmeal)
- One bottle ibuprofen (for the inflammation in my wrists)
- One liter diet coke (easy to digest--just water and caffeine.
Helps the ibuprofen go down)
- One pair sunglasses
- Two Red Bulls
The Red Bull is for emergencies only. It's a gimmick drink from
Austria or something. It's got the latest hype-vitamin, and lots of
caffeine. The trick, as I explained to Rick, is "If you have to drink
the stuff, for God's sake don't let it touch the sides on the
The getaway car made it to Burbank in record time. We checked
in and went looking for some beer to take the edge off the caffeine
and powerbars we had been consuming all night. Wheeling around
Burbank on Thanksgiving at 1am looking for booze isn't the easiest
task on Earth. After hastily pulling out of a parking lot, Rick
spotted the local constabulary, and nearly ran us off the road trying
to fasten his safety belt in time.
"Maybe we should ask him where we can get beer." I
muttered, half serious.
"I'm sorry occifer!" Rick blurted out.
"We're looking for trouble!"
"In all the wrong places!"
"Do you know where to find some?"
We drifted through the quaint part of town--nothing a good backhoe
couldn't fix. We did find beer, and fairly decent stuff, in a local
Ralph's or Fred's or something. (Ask about franchise opportunities in
Skating back to the hotel, we investigated the TV's potential
as a display mechanism for Rick's VCR, so that I could get caught up
on the epic Babylon 5 series as I went to sleep. It turned out that
the damn thing was fully tamper-proof, right down to the inability to
plug your Commodore 64 into the damn thing. What kind of proprietary
backwater world do we live in, anyhow? If I bring a C64 into a hotel
room, I damn well expect it to work with the local TV!
So I sipped a few anchor steams as I read about BSD4.4 and
drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, we ran into Jim Dennis and Heather Stern at the
breakfast buffet. Other than that, the first day was rather
uneventful. I buzzed from panel to panel trying to suss out the LA
SciFi crowd, and generally found that they reminded me, for the most
part, of people I'd known in high school. There were a lot of folks
in flimsy capes and bejeweled staffs, goths, and the
usual portly convention attendees.
Rick and I noticed that there was to be a Macintosh panel at
10am the next day. The title was "freeing yourself from the shackles
of WinTel", and it seemed like an opportune panel to crash, after
downing the Red Bulls (my kingdom for those damn caffeinated penguin
mints!). Rick could argue Linux, and I could talk about NetBSD, to
the dismay of the folks who seemed to think that Macintosh and MacOS
"The description said nothing about MacOS," Rick noted. The
man was right. Macs make damn fine machines once you install an operating
system on the things.
"The Mac OS is an interesting proof of concept," I told a
hallway straggler at the floating suite parties that evening, "but it
really doesn't make use of the full potential of those machines."
But I didn't realize how bad it was until I turned the corner
and stumbled into the Mac room. Suddenly I figured out where all the
goths came from--the room was filled with iMacs, and they were being
attended by a scrawny guy in a white polo shirt with the "Think
Different [sic]" logo. Rather than try to explain adverbs to the poor
bastard, I panicked. I left the room with a start.
This is too much. We're in enemy waters, here. We're already
two San Franciscans on the outskirts of LA, and I'm almost completely
outside the sphere of fandom. But to have these Cupertino vultures
descend upon the place---that's too much. They brought those damn
breath-mints-cum-computers with them, but why? To free themselves
from the WinTel shackles? How does running a machine with integrated
IE4 free you from the WinTel shackles? And what the fuck were all
those damn goths doing there? This required thought. This
required planning. This required...
"A childish, yet pointless act?"
Rick hit it square on the nose. There's a time for this sort
of thing. There's a time when you just need to make a scene. It
won't change anything, but it'll make a damn fine scene!
Gnawing on a carrot from the Conolulu party ("In Hawaii,
carrots are used as talismans of fertility" I told one woman who was
perusing the ancient onion dip of Maui), I realized that we couldn't
tip our hand too soon. To cause a serious scene here would be
remembered by no one. We were just two men against an army of goths.
How could we stand up? No, we needed to regroup, and we need to hit
them at the nerve center:
The next day, we wheeled over to the Fry's next door to buy a
television. "They have a 30-day return policy." I assured Rick.
Unfortunately, we mustn't have looked like paying customers, because
the only man who attended us only spoke ancient Sumerian. I tried to
do the best I could, but communication in the middle of 500
televisions all playing different channels is damn near impossible.
Finally, we picked up a universal remote, and hit the mute button.
Golden silence enveloped us, if only for a moment. The TVs in our
area were now the only silent ones, and we were waving $20 bills
around like madmen screaming "We have money to give
to you! We wish to give you our money! There's
more where this came from! Is there anyone who will
take our money? I'll give $270 to the first person to come
and hand us a television!"
Strangely, we were suddenly able to flag down several reps in
quick succession. I told each one "I've been trying to buy a TV for
over an hour. We want that one." I must've sent off a hundred of the
little ants to fetch me TVs. Fortunately, we soon had it, and we were
back off to the hotel.
While hauling the bastard in, we ran across several people
from the con. "I'll be damned if we use Conrad Hilton's television
sets!" I screamed at a woman with a large daisy-hat. Her response was
In the elevator, eyebrows were raised over the thing, which
was obviously quite new.
"We're CrackMonkeys." Rick explained.
After watching Neverwhere, several episodes of Babylon 5,
and The Avengers (the black-and-white TV show, not the wretched color
movie), we hauled the thing back to Fry's for return. We'd only had
the damn thing a day, and we had all the parts, so there's little they
could do. Still, they asked me "Was there something wrong with it?"
"No," I replied, leaning in close to the sales rep. "I just
didn't like the color."
All in all it took an hour to buy the TV, but only fifteen
minutes to return it. I can only assume that Fry's wants to give us
money more than it wants to get money from us.
The goths left the convention under cover of daylight in the
large brown vanagon parked in front of the hotel. As we watched them
pack their black rucksacks into the thing, I turned to Rick Moen and
told him something Jason McKee once said to me on the subject of goths:
"I don't care if you're a 7th generation Gangrel! Clean that
grease trap or you're fired!"
The only panel of note was the Babylon 5 session, where the
writer of the series paraded the actors for his new sequel series up
and down in front of the crowd. This taught me one crucial thing
about LA: TV actors are very stupid people. One gentleman was wearing
a leisure suit and chewing gum the whole time. Someone asked if he'd
researched his part (an archaeologist).
"Oh yeah!" he replied, "I read this book! You know how many
cultures have, like, vanished? Like seven!"
After refusing to pick up the Open Source Hitchhiker ("I'm
writing a book."), we decided to high-tail it in the getaway car up
101 to San Francisco. I'm not sure my frail constitution could have
taken I-5 on a second go--not with all those oil fires out there.
We slurped down the Red Bulls and enjoyed its long-term buzz
for a hundred miles or so, watching the coast go by. It was a far cry
from I-5 and the tedium of its ever-present aqueducts and empty plains.
We stopped in a Danish town called Solveng for dinner, finding
the place closed tight. We finally got the smorgasbord at a local
inn, which was quite satisfying. The whole place is gingerbread and
phony windmills, but apparently bits of it are quite authentic. A
local coot gave Rick directions while I eyed the stairwell for any
traps. You never can tell with the Danes.
By the by, don't ever ask Jim Dennis if he knows any cool word
I think I finally see why that reporter described the Robert
Austin CowPalace events as being half COMDEX, half Mos Eisley
Spaceport. The whole place is a mess of booksellers, CD-ROM peddlers,
and hardware unloaders--all milling around in the din of a hundred
tinny speakers each playing music or movie soundtracks.
It was FreeBSD Installathon day, and the pamphlet mistakenly had me
up for another round of seminars with Rick Moen.
We figured we might as well drop by.
I walked past the Scientology booth on the way to the Installathon
tables, only to be asked by a perky young dianeticist with a pale blue
e-meter "Would you like to take a free stress test?".
I didn't even acknowledge her existence, save to flash my extended
mid digit in her direction.
"Looks like you followed the directions on your shirt!" she
burbled, referring to my "release your inner nerd" SlashDot t-shirt.
I spun on my heels and glared into her flummoxed eyes. "It sounds
like you're under a lot of stress."
Joe Grosch met me at the Installathon table, and was friendly as
ever, but some of the BSD bigots weren't in the mood to hear anyone
talk about Linux any more than was necessary. Some see it as just the
"Linux does a lot." I pointed out to
Rick Moen on the way back to San Francisco to pick up
directions. "BSD just does what it does The Right Way."
Of course, I spent the whole Installathon explaining that the two
systems run all the same software. "Is that what Linux looks like?"
someone asked, pointing at the WindowMaker installation I had just
done. Some people just assume that a GUI is what makes an OS.
Rick and I ventured bravely through Alameda county, New Alameda
County, and Southern Extended Alameda County to Hayward for a good ol'
suburbanite-bashing Linux killing spree. ("Scientific equipment,
coming through! Scientific equipment!") We lighted upon a clueless
social club of a PC users group in the livingroom of some poor slob's
house. The host was perfect suburbanite white-flight trash, right
down to the bleach-white-haired sun-dried prune of a wife complete
with overdone makeup.
The man who was directing this spontaneous Linux SIG was marginally
clueful, but was completely RedHat-centric. Rick and I directed the
event through loud and concise explanation of topics. We put out some
fires, but these are the types that commend you for your knowledge and
experience but never wait to hear the answers you give to their
It wasn't until intermission that everyone finally realized that we
were responsible for refund-news.
We'd even brought a color printout of issue two (complete
with KatyRant) for their
enjoyment. One OS/2 freak with spontaneous gout was overjoyed to read
the thing, especially since we mentioned his favorite OS in the
The thing is, everyone there pretty much was in the Anything But
Microsoft crowd, but they were all dismayed that the demo of Linux
didn't look just like Windows. I got fed up pretty early on, and
stopped being polite when they interrupted my answers. Only one woman
(who was thankful to Linux for saving her hundreds of dollars by
allowing her to move her $150/mo web site colocation and DNS hosting
to a cheap ISDN line and a 486) seemed at all interested in what I had
to say. Miserable South Bay wretches, the lot of them.
So Rick and I wandered around Foster City trying to scope out
some good gathering points for the February 15th Windows Refund event. He pointed
out Blyth Software's old site and his old San Mateo home (which was
within biking distance of the Blyth sites). Having had enough of the
island of Foster City and Rick's stinging nostalgia, we headed off to
Coming out of an Italian restaurant in San Carlos ("Here we have a
town," Rick noted. "that is almost completely without charm."), we got
into the getaway car and wandered through back streets and suburban
windways until we came to Cañada road.
We seemed to be skipping 280 altogether. I didn't know what was
up, but I trust Rick's topographical sense and knowledge of Bay Area
geography, so I just enjoyed the increasingly beautiful scenery. We
shot the breeze about user communities and how all the seriously
adventurous people had already tried Linux, so now all we have is
clueless users who fear partitioning.
Rick pulled to a stop by a clearing in the woods. We had been
following the Hetch Hetchy pipelines for a while, and I spotted
something just over a brief ridge in the landscape. Rick promised
that if he were forced to vacate (the park land was closed, you see,
and the CHP might ask him to
movealongnothingtoseehere), he'd be back ASAP.
Hesitantly, I hopped out, crossed the roadway, and climbed down
into the basin--not sure if I'd even have a ride there when I got back.
The first thing you see when you enter the grounds of the Pulgas
water temple is a giant greco-roman gazebo of sorts glowing in the
blue-grey moonlight. Ten Corinthian columns hold up a giant
ring-shaped roof that is open to the sky. Then, as you climb down,
you notice a reflecting pool and a raised dais with bushes of some
sort planted in it. Elongated cypress trees line the pool like
gendarmes at attention, and the rushing sound of water begins to ring
in your ears.
As I climbed down, I caught a family of deer in my gaze. I held
them there for a lifetime before exhaling them off into the foliage.
I wandered closer to the reflecting pool, cut off from all signs of
life. The road had long since disappeared behind the ridge of the
basin, and I was climbing imperceptibly downward toward the pool and
As I neared the pool, I could hear the sound of rushing water
more clearly. Though I lacked a shadow (the moonlight was pretty
evenly diffused by the canopy of cloud), I was pretty sure that
anything that was around could see me pretty clearly. I stumbled
closer to the water temple, and climbed up the steps.
The rush of water turned to a roar the moment I reached the
foot of the steps. Bracing myself, I climbed up into the temple,
where a large cylindrical urn was screaming like an enraged lion 500
foot tall. I grabbed onto the edge and leaned into it, seeing only a
crude metal grating.
The sound was like all the waters of the pacific being forced
through a firehose. It was God's drinking fountain. It was
deafening. I stumbled back and read the enscription on the side of
the basin "ERECTED MCMXXXVIII".
Peering up, I could just make out the following quotation from
Isaiah inscribed on the ring-shaped roof:
I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert to
give drink to my people.
Breathing heavily, I staggered back to the getaway car. Rick
grinned from ear to ear. He crunched the car into gear and lurched
back onto the roadway. He saw the awe that was still left in my eyes
and still dripping off my clothes. His gestures were all over the
map, his arms steering with whatever surface was closest to the
steering wheel at the time. He pointed, sketched in the air, and
fumbled madly in his hip pockets for dental floss.
"That was a public work!" He explained, obviously impressed. "That
was built by government lackeys! Bureaucrats! Engineers!"
"Geeks!" I chimed in, not missing the significance.
"We're right on the San Andreas Faultline," He said, still drawing
buttresses in the air and pointing at chasms. "and this dam was built
just prior to the 1906 quake, which hit this region pretty hard. This
bridge we're driving across survived it without so much as a crack."
Those geeks had reason to be proud. They had reason to build
monuments in tribute to their accomplishments. They were civil
engineers in the peak of their form. They were gods among men. I
remembered descriptions of the glory of water engineering in those
times from Cadillac Desert.
"The pipeline that carries the water to us from the Sierra Nevadas
was the longest tunnel in the world when it was built. Just
think! It has to cut through two mountain ranges to reach us!"
If only geeks of this era could gather up all their aesthetic sense
and build a classic monument to the achievements of our time.
Something more tasteful than cartoon penguins and camels. Something
more timeless than TRS-80s on bumper stickers. Something more classy
than electronic-optical fonts designed to scream "Computer!" (though
really evoking the sense that you're reading the bottom of a personal
"The water temple is the meeting place of three major water sources
for the San Francisco supply. The entire water supply for San
Francisco goes through that structure."
"I could tell." I exhaled, leaning back in my seat to enjoy the
History lesson on a t-shirt
One of the best things the Linux community ever did was to realize
that t-shirts are really neat. As Chris Hillmer once told me, "You'll
never go naked in this industry!" It was quite a chore to weed out
the t-shirts to pick the ones I'd wear at the conference.
I finally decided on three: a Slashdot.org shirt (long-sleeved,
black), a shirt with the copyleft symbol on the front and the GPL
preamble on the back (short-sleeved, navy), and my old "You are
dumb." t-shirt that I wore to all the conferences this past year
The "You are dumb." shirt is quite simple. It just says "You are
dumb." in black text on a white background. I wore it to a Linux
conference in spring of 1998 and had everyone from Maddog to Alan
Cox to Linus Torvalds coming up to me to ask what on earth it was
about. I've since worn it every time I attended an event where any
of these people have shown up. If nothing else, they'll remember
The Linux community creates t-shirts the way some religions create
bumper stickers. The basic formula is to have some easily
recognizable logo or image, a catchy slogan or quotation, and an
affirmation of personal beliefs. A Linux freak might wear a shirt
with a penguin and a slogan about the power of the availability of
source code, or a shirt with a gnu's head and a mantra from the Free
Software Foundation, or even a corporate logo from a Linux-friendly
company and a list of open source successes.
When it came time to choose a t-shirt for the Sunday night banquet I
attended, however, I chose something far older and more obscure. I
was going to be dining with some of the capos of the Linux Mafia
(including the infamous Rick Moen), some representatives of the EFF
and the press, and Richard M. Stallman. This was a crowd, I
reasoned, that had seen all geek shirts before. I needed something
obscure and historical to spur conversation.
My banquet attire
So I chose a shirt I made several years ago with a plain black
t-shirt and red iron-on letters. It says, quite simply, "2400
Now I'm sure that there are readers who catch this reference
immediately, and some for whom this rings a bell. There will be
some, of course, who have no idea what it means. Most assume that
it's a street address somewhere.
Rick Moen and I walked from the CoffeeNet to the Empress of China
restaurant, where Richard Couture had made reservations for 10. We
took the elevator up to the top floor and were instantly spotted as
hackers by Sylvia Paull, a Berkeley-based PR professional who is
currently doing some work for the Free Software Foundation. She
picked up on the jeans-and-cryptic-T-shirt look on me, and the
long-hair-with-sportshirt look Rick Moen managed to pull off.
Shortly Richard Couture, Mike Higashi, and Richard M. Stallman
showed up. We sat in the bar for 15 minutes discussing history with
Sylvia's associate, who was "seriously considering Linux as an
alternative to Windows." The man was quite pleased with himself and
seemed to assume that we'd praise him for his foresight and good
taste. What he hadn't counted on was Richard Stallman.
What's in a name? Funny you should ask
As most people are aware now, RMS has a campaign to inform the world
of the origins of the OS we call Linux. "It's actually the result
of a project I started in 1984," he began. "Linux is just the
kernel, and all of the utilities and the infrastructure came from
While Stallman becomes quite frustrated at the fact that the press
seem only to go back to 1991 in Helsinki to explain the history of
Linux, I find it a little misleading to go only as far back as 1984
in Cambridge. One could easily also credit BSD by going back to
1977 in Berkeley, or show the hacker spirit in action as far back as
1969 in New Jersey at Bell Labs.
Stallman listened politely as I informed the man of the giveaway
magtapes labeled "Love, ken", the photocopied editions of Lions'
Commentary on the Unix Sixth Edition Source Code, and the Net/2 and
4.4BSDLite freely modifiable redistributable release of Berkeley
"According to Marshall Kirk McKusick," I pointed out. "the Net/2
release was only possible because the hacker community saw the need
to create a free OS to continue the tradition of sharing and
hacking. In many ways, BSD wouldn't have happened the way we know
it if it hadn't been for the GNU project."
I think I received some kudos for this, and Stallman even asked to
see the essay I had slapped together (an early draft is available at
crackmonkey.org) on this subject. Part of the aim of discussing
freedom, I argued, is to convince the other person that the freedoms
in question are natural and necessary. My goal is to point out that
the 1980s were a hiccup--a short Dark Ages in the history of
The history lesson wound up with Stallman reasserting that people
should refer to the OS as "GNU/Linux." Richard Couture countered,
saying that he'd much prefer "GNU&Linux," since Stallman didn't
pronounce the slash, and that made it sound like the Linux kernel
was a product of the GNU project.
"I think you'll find that the animosity level will go down if you do
this," he argued. He noted that it's also far more accurate, since
they're two separate pieces that have been put side by side. RMS
was quite receptive to this, and pronounced it a good idea.
Rebecca Eisenberg (who introduced herself to me as a card-carrying
columnist when I met her at the Windows Refund Day party two weeks
ago) showed up at this point, and countered Stallman's requests for
her to credit the GNU project when she mentions Linux by pointing
out that her editors have the ultimate say. Apparently they have
some stock phrases they want her to put into her columns, and
it doesn't help to stray from those.
Eisenberg and Stallman did the majority of the talking at the dinner
table that evening, with heavy contribution from Tara Lemming, the
recently appointed executive director of the Electronic Frontier
The conversation went from intellectual property and privacy issues
to privacy to genetic engineering to Hanlon's Razor as it explains
Microsoft APIs. The only interruption was when someone said to me
"I'm sorry, but is that your prison ID on your shirt?"
I quickly went around the table, and roughly one-third of those
present got the reference, the last being Ms Eisenberg. "Um, oh,
wait, I got it. It's 2400 baud, and then the control info -- no
parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit."
This of course begged the question why. It was simple, I told
them. One of the first community programming experiences I had was
with the Citadel BBS software. This was at a time when 2400-bps
modems were the standard, and all bulletin board systems of the era
put their modem characteristics by the phone number when
advertising. It was the dot-com of the late 1980s in a way.
The banquet was lavish, and the evening proved to be quite serene by
my normal standards. The dinner gave me a chance to prepare for the
LinuxWorld mayhem that looms before me. Be strong, folks, as this
should be all sorts of crazy.
Copyright (C) Web Publishing Inc. Written by Nick
Moffitt. Permission to redistribute verbatim copies of this chapter
is permitted provided that the following notice is included: "First
published in LinuxWorld, an electronic publication of Web
Publishing Inc. March 1999."
First full day in the hinterlands
Popping one t-shirt off the stack, I found myself Monday
morning sporting a Slashdot logo. Pulling on a fresh pair of black
jeans and boots, I tossed several caffeinated peppermints down and
scampered in a frenzy over to the CoffeeNet (a Linux-based Internet
cafe in San Francisco) to meet with Rick Moen.
Rick shook his head when he saw the rest of my ensemble. I
had tossed on my unnervingly difficult-to-explain Spock Mountain
Research Labs labcoat, and was carrying an ancient leather valise.
To complete the effect, I had put on the pair of CHP-style "you in a
heap o' trouble, boy" sunglasses that I had picked up on a prior road
Trying as hard as possible to avoid the questions about what
the state of the art in Spock Mountain science is, I hustled out of
the building with the man. We hopped into the getaway car (Rick's
reliable-junker Honda with the "Xena for president" and "Evil
Geniuses For A Better Tomorrow" bumper stickers) and tore down 101 in the
blinding morning glare.
Rick's customary response to my attitude about San Jose is,
"Now Nick, let's not be provincial." To a staunch advocate of "The
City" (as locals refer to San Francisco), San Jose represents
everything that is wrong in the world. One can find anti-San Jose
and pro-San Francisco rants by people like Jamie Zawinski with little
trouble, and the rift only seems to be widening.
I was well prepared to turn my nose up as high as possible
upon arriving, though I worried that the yellow air and omnipresent
sunshine might render that impractical. When the getaway car finally
pulled into the neighborhood of the convention center, it was clear
that we needed to get out of the sun and rest for a while. Ducking
low-flying jet aircraft, we scurried into the building.
The Linux community in the Bay Area is notably small and
tight. The early setup periods at most conventions are hampered by
the vast time lost to wandering from booth to booth saying hi to old
friends and offering help to various people. It may even be a mixed
blessing that union rules take so much work out of our hands, or
else we'd never get so much as one proper booth up.
The day went more or less uneventfully, and most of the real
bustle was involved in the registration process. It wasn't until
roughly 4 or 5 p.m. that I noticed practically the entire Debian
booth emigrating en masse to a nearby hotel.
Not wanting to be left out, I followed behind them, figuring
that anything the Debian folks were doing as a group had to be
"It's all right," I told Joey Hess, one of the developers.
"I'm a scientist."
It turned out that they were headed to a banquet
being held by InfoWorld for exhibitors and speakers. I pushed
through the crowd ("Scientific equipment, coming through! Scientific
equipment!"), and realized for the first time that I hadn't eaten
At the spanakopita tray, I came across Steve Savitsky, host of
a rather popular Wednesday-night event in the South Bay.
"Oh, I'm still having the party on Wednesday," he chuckled.
"It's always there. It's an open-house potluck in the open source
I pointed out that his party also had a longevity and life of
its own that is commonly ascribed to open source software. I
reminded him that the first time I came to his party, he and the other hosts
had been on vacation in Florida. There's no single-manufacturer
hegemony at the Savitsky household, I can assure you!
Floating about, I must have explained the role of Spock
Mountain Research Labs in the information economy no fewer than 20
times. Perhaps SMRL branding could be the next big thing in the
Hans Reiser caught me as I was greeting the infamous Mae Ling
Mak and her SegFault.org comrades. He spoke with the usual serene
mischievous calm as he peeked one eye out from beneath his leather
walkabout hat. Reiser is currently in the process of suing Microsoft
for restricting his entry into the filesystems market by designing
its operating systems to not work with third-party filesystem
"I'm in the appeals process now," he explained. "Microsoft
originally stated that there was no market for filesystems without
an operating system, and I cited examples. Now they're saying that
there's no market for filesystems on their products. I think I've
got them now."
I pointed out some rumors I'd heard that one could install
Oracle to use its own filesystem as part of the Oracle server. One
just points the database program at an uninitialized disk partition,
and it stores all of its information in its own format. His eyes lit
up as he thought of being able to cite a filesystem that doesn't
even need an operating system.
"You'd better hurry up, though!" I advised, "Oracle's working
on making its database an OS in and of itself!"
After a rendezvous with Rick Moen at the cluster of Red Hat
and VA Research folks, I spotted Jay Sulzberger at a table. He was
proclaiming his wisdom to the heavens -- and to the poor press
representative who was trying desperately to quote him to his
"In any school there will be at least one student who is a
hacker," Jay pontificated. "If the school is running free software,
then that student can become the school's sysadmin."
Doubtless I will receive an e-mail about my ruthless
paraphrasing, but it was a grand bit of rhetoric about how there
will be no limits on what this student can learn when he or she uses a
free OS. I sat down and introduced myself as the editor of the
Windows Refund Day newsletter. Jay had been my New York counterpart,
though we had never spoken before.
"My only disagreement here is that for once Richard is
insufficiently grandiose!" Jay proclaimed, referring to the issue of
crediting the GNU project whenever Linux is mentioned as an OS. "The
whole free software movement is what it is today because Richard
founded the FSF and produced the GNU GPL. If GNU and the Linux
kernel and every other piece of free software disappeared tomorrow, but we
had the GPL and we knew that a free OS had once existed, we'd hardly be
set back at all. In a year we'd write another free OS."
Rob Malda, king hacker and manager of Slashdot.org, announced
a party to follow the banquet. He put a blurb up on Slashdot itself
and spread the word within the banquet hall. Jay immediately stood
up and addressed the crowd.
"There is to be a party at a cafe known as Babylon! If you do
not attend, either it is because you are uninformed about it or have
already reached enlightenment!"
We poured out as a herd and pounded the streets of San Jose
looking for the place. Most people took the Slashdot logo on my
t-shirt as an indication that I knew where I was going ("No ma'am, I
work on Spock Mountain"), and followed me down the proverbial garden
path. I found out all too certainly that the part of San Jose that
hosts the conferences is a Disneyland-like high-rent district, and
that walking as far as four blocks from the center takes you into a
rather depressed neighborhood. By the time I did find my way back
into Conferenceland, Babylon was already packed.
"One look at that man
and you just know he's Bad People."
There were, of course, more than a few offhand jokes about
how the famed "Slashdot effect" (the publicity caused by Slashdot's
coverage of a Web site straining the site's resources) had taken on
a physical nature. The AbiSource people had taken the opportunity to
capitalize on the popularity of the event by taking pictures of
people next to their cuddly cardboard ant mascot.
"You should be warned," Jay scolded. "that Steve Jobs holds a
patent on adorable cartoon insects."
Numerous photo opportunities emerged as we realized that
Christine Schoedel (acquirer of a refund for the unused Windows
software that came with her eMachines computer) was there along with
many other Refund Day folks. Moving on, I chatted with a Nebraskan
about the Citadel BBS software (there seems to be a renaissance, and
even Eric S. "Nick, I read Crackmonkey and you're entirely
nonlinear" Raymond calls a Citadel BBS in his home town!); Ian Kluft about
reusable launch vehicles and kerosene-driven spaceships; and Jay
about programming and magic-bullet myths. ("There are magic
bullets! Didn't spreadsheets kill an entire category of programming?")
Stumbling over the scorched-earth South Bay landscape to the
getaway car, I exhaled deeply in Rick Moen's
"End of act one," I sighed. "Begin intermission."
Copyright (C) Web Publishing Inc. Written by Nick
Moffitt. Permission to redistribute verbatim copies of this chapter
is permitted provided that the following notice is included: "First
published in LinuxWorld, an electronic publication of Web
Publishing Inc. March 1999."
The ghetto, mad scientists, and post-keynote entertainment
Having discovered for the first time in over a decade that there is
indeed a 6 o'clock other than the one in the evening, I hurled my
alarm clock into the bathtub. This turned out to be counterproductive
to my id, as the curved basin merely served to amplify the incessant
Admitting defeat, I took the clock's place under the warm stream of
water for a while and then popped the next t-shirt off the stack. This
time, I wore the ultimate in chic-geek-ideology shirts: the Copyleft
symbol. The simple mirror-image of the circle-C copyright symbol is
complemented neatly by the passionate verbosity of the preamble to the
GNU General Public License printed on the reverse side.
Richard Stallman, when he stays in San Francisco, usually crashes at
Rick Moen's place above the CoffeeNet. I recall
stopping by at 11 a.m. during one of Stallman's visits to find that
the man had only just awakened.
"Good morning," I greeted him, expecting silence in response.
"The only good morning," Stallman growled, "is a dead one."
Not wishing to repeat the experience with Rick
Moen, I silently prepared to move my scientific equipment
to the getaway car and washed a few caffeinated peppermints down with
a strong cup of the house coffee. After a few pointed
not-a-morning-person glares, we were on our way back to San "LA North"
While scrambling to file the Monday report before my noon deadline, I
discovered that the press computers were all running Microsoft
software save for one Macintosh system. I had counted on the ability
to get at my personal machine through ssh, and my prospects of meeting
my deadline looked grim.
As luck would have it, Polly Sprenger (whom I had met at previous
Linux events) overheard me demanding Linux from the desk staff. She
asked if I could give her a quick tour of the exhibit floor, since I
likely wasn't going to be able to do much writing before noon.
Hacking around the
Admitting defeat, I overlooked her skepticism
of my scientific credentials ("This is no science you've ever seen
before, Polly!") and led her past the glitzy megacorporation
superbooths and multimedia indoctrination centers back to the ghetto
of unadorned 10x10s. Only around the perimeter of the exhibit floor do
you see the real hacking going on. The folks at the Debian booth had
all manner of obscure hardware set up running Debian GNU/Linux, and
the Free Software Foundation's booth (featuring the GNOME project) had
set up a small pool table where two young hackers were concentrating
intensely on lining up their shots.
We left The ghetto so that I might ask Greg Kucharo for the use of one
of VA's machines for an hour as a last hope for getting my work done.
Strangely, the moment we stepped into VAspace with our bright green
press badges, we were instantly surrounded by VA's PR people. Polly
distracted them by arranging for an appointment to interview Larry
Augustin, and I slipped back to talk with Greg and say hello to Larry.
"Why not just use the machines in the back?" Greg asked, puzzled. My
jaw dropped. I had been all over the exhibit floor and had completely
missed the rows of VA boxes with the flashy copper ssh icons on the
desktops. I excused myself to both Greg and Polly and made a mad dash
to the machines.
Weary and hungry from standing and typing for an hour, I mopped my
brow with the sleeve of my lab coat and limped down to the press
lunchroom. A press conference had just finished up, and there was a
catered buffet lunch all laid out and ready. Waiting in line, I
realized that I was behind Nate Oosterdorp of Block Stackers Inc. (the
Slashdot company). He was wearing a green press badge that identified
him as Rob Malda.
"Well, nobody knows me or Block Stackers; but if you say you're Rob
Malda, everyone treats you like royalty." He shrugged, watching the
As the crowd thinned and the conversation about Windows Refund Day
wound down ("Microsoft's used to being outcoded; but with Windows
Refund Day, the Linux community ran circles around them in the PR
arena!"), I looked up to see Eric S. Raymond eagerly loading up a
plate. He sat down next to me, grinning like a scoundrel.
The cackle of cackles
grok CrackMonkey," He announced. "I met with SpiceMonkey and
HappyMonkey and they pronounced me JediMonkey."
"I'll set up a mail alias immediately!" I proclaimed, pointing to the
heavens and grabbing my lapel like a carnival barker.
"It's bad science, mostly," I admitted, answering Eric's queries as to
the nature of my research at Spock Mountain Research Labs. "We're bad
people of the future. Actually, most of my work is nearly complete;
there's really only one thing left to do -- Cackle madly!!
"One of my many pastimes," Eric explained, "is live-action
role-playing games. The moderators of these events usually create a
mad-scientist character for me to play. It's a specialty of mine."
I was then fortunate enough to receive a prime example of a proper
Eric Raymond mad-scientist cackle. It was a performance in miniature
-- a little poem! Eric managed to sum up the madness of centuries of
mad science in but a few brief seconds. I vowed to make it my
meterstick for future cacklings.
As I left, Eric promised to spread a heresy that the CrackMonkey is
merely an aspect of Eris, goddess of chaos.
"A Dischordian heresy in CrackMonkey!" I cried, "Perfect! This calls
for mutual excommunication! I'll draft the papers immediately!"
The crowd for the keynote speech was deceptively large. I found the
secret Masonic back-door entrance for press and VIPs only, and rushed
up to the third row. Jay Sulzberger was already there, his wild grey
mane emphasizing his manic grin. He was uncharacteristically attentive
Jay Sulzberger receiving the
IDG/Linux Torvalds Community Award.
Photo courtesy Marc Merlin.
After Linus's keynote, which was attended by thousands, Jay was handed
an award for his work with LXNY. He took the microphone ominously, and
held the stage for several minutes telling tales about his experiences
in the New York school system. The organizers obviously hadn't counted
on this, and shuffled uncomfortably while he spoke. They were
completely unprepared for his boisterous attitude and Ernie the
After a similar award was given to the Stampede project, thousands of
people poured out of the auditorium and overflow room and trudged to
the smoke-and-lasers party going on next door. I wandered back to the
stage area, where various Linux luminaries were fawning over the
I sat down with Chris DiBona and some other VA representatives to rest
my feet for a while. After a discussion of the difference between
spocktails and the drinks being served at the party, I was interrupted
by an announcement coming from the sound system. Art Tyde of BALUG and
LinuxCare took the stage to announce the evening's entertainment.
Such as it was
that had been displaying logos and trivia questions (the answers were
positively riddled with Rick Moen fnords)
switched to a video presentation of Windows Refund Day. I walked up
behind Eric Raymond just as his image was displayed on the screen --
twice the size of God -- and gave a subdued cackle.
Any conversation was interrupted, however, by a rather tedious mock
interview with a Bill Gates impersonator. The basic assumption of the
skit was that Bill Gates is a good programmer, though there has been
no evidence to back that up in the 20 years that his programmers have
been producing software. The skit was a lull -- an awkward silence. It
left most of us turning around hoping that we'd each be funnier than
what was on stage.
The room cleared out completely, however, when Man or Astroman took
the stage. My roommate, Donald B. Marti Jr. of the Linux Mafia, is an
avid fan of these folks. Somehow, I get the feeling that he
represented a minority in the crowd.
Rick Moen caught up with me and hollered, "I
think you need to be from the Midwest to appreciate this kind of
thing," referring to Don's Indiana upbringing.
The crowd moved, amorphous, out into the hallways, balconies, and
stairwells of the convention center. We were on a high point, and we
weren't going to let a minor irritation stop our fun. Larry Augustin
came up to me, ecstatic.
"Do you have an appointment?" I asked, pulling a notepad out from my
"This was the largest keynote IDG has ever had at one of these
events!" Larry raved, ignoring my feeble attempt at humor. "Linus
Torvalds drew more people than even Steve Jobs!" He continued
on down the hallway, spreading the good word as he went.
IDG had been planning on losing money on this event, apparently. The
overhead involved in setting up a show of this type is staggering, and
the original plan was to build up attendance slowly. This changed
Deirdre Saoirse and Rick Moen cornered me and
announced their plans to head back up to The City and rent Tron on
DVD. Casting a glance over the mob, I said my goodbyes and we hit the
"Safely out of San Jose yet again," Rick announced as we hit the city
"Yeah," I mumbled, peering over the freeway divider to the towns
below. "But if those grid bugs get us, we've had it."
Copyright (C) Web Publishing, Inc. Written by Nick
Moffitt. Permission to redistribute verbatim copies of this chapter
is permitted provided that the following notice is included: "First
published in LinuxWorld, an electronic publication of Web
Publishing, Inc. March 1999."
Wednesday morning found me guzzling any fluids I could get my grubby
little mitts on. The blistering San Jose climate coupled with the
ineffective air conditioning (not enough to cool the place, but just
enough to sap all the moisture from the air) had dried me to a
withered pulp. I snatched the last shirt from the bottom of my stack
and returned the space it had once occupied to the free list.
It's a plain white shirt with the sentence "You are dumb." written in
black courier type. The kicker is that the folks that printed it up
put a tiny trademark symbol to stake their claim on this particular
notification of idiocy. Somehow I think this article qualifies as fair
Shoving my swinging CrackMonkey toy in the pocket of my lab coat, I
rushed out. Fortunately for me, my cries for Linux in the press room
had not gone unnoticed. I compiled ssh on one of the two VA machines
that had suddenly arrived and resumed the disconnected screen session
on my box.
I finally ran across Shayde, my Tapping the Source colleague,
at the LinuxWorld booth. We shot the breeze for a while, and
I overheard a most amusing tale. It would seem that the security at
the convention center wouldn't let Linus Torvalds himself onto the
exhibit floor. He had to walk down to the foyer to file for a pass. A
crowd of geeks had already formed and were ready to walk in a wedge
formation to sneak the kernel hacker in.
I said my farewells to Shayde and company and headed over to the
Compaq booth where they were giving away license plates. The first
Unix shop I worked in had the old "Live free or die!" mock-New
Hampshire plate that said "UNIX." I've been waiting for someone to
make the same plate for Linux for years now. I proudly hung the thing
from a buttonhole and let it clang and clatter as I walked.
Stopping in at a conference room, I
waited to hear a lecture on IPv6 (the new addressing protocol for the
Internet). At exactly 1:00 p.m., a large beard walked into the room
followed almost immediately by Seth David Schoen. Seth and his mighty
beard are an officer in CalLUG, the UC Berkeley Linux Users Group. His
wit is so sharp and his beard is so impressive that there are numerous
ASCII pictures of Seth David Schoen with embedded Latin phrases hung
in the meeting place of the CABAL. (There is no CABAL.)
Seth David Schoen should be an inspiration to young hackers the world
around. Sensitive, yet serene and focused, Seth David Schoen is able
to calculate tenth-order partial differential equations in his head
between strokes of his vast curly beard. An agent for social change,
his war against the UC system loyalty-oath requirements have raised
him to such a status that his wonder often precedes him by several
minutes (though his beard often precedes him by several seconds).
Seth's talk was lighthearted yet full of information. He managed to
convey the philosophy and ethics of networking protocols as well as
mere technical details. His modest slides were but HTML Web pages
displayed on lynx (the text-only Web browser), and they often
elaborated on what he was saying aloud rather than merely outlining
waiting for Seth to finish talking with the owner of the infamous
egg.microsoft.com (who appeared remarkably interested in open
compatible standards), I was approached by another gentleman of the
"Are you folks exhibiting here?" he asked, referring to the Spock
Mountain Research Labs logo on the back of my lab coat.
"Not today," I informed him, "I'm just here conducting field research.
My compatriots from Spock Mountain will be arriving tomorrow,
"Oh really? What do you folks do?"
"We provide Spock-based Linux Internet solutions for the enterprise,"
I rattled off, not even blinking.
Seth and his beard came out just in time to join Rick
Moen and me for lunch. On our way out, however, we were
confronted by a nacho-carrying Jay Sulzberger.
"Please! I insist that you take one!" he hollered to those of us
within arm's reach. Seth and I exchanged glances and then asked if the
dish was vegetarian.
"There are no dead animals on this plate!" he punctuated with a
trademarked chucklesnort. "Of course, we have denied food to some of
their young." We politely each grabbed a chip and then headed out.
"That Jay," I chuckled. "He's wandered through the proscenium, man.
He's broken the fourth wall!"
"He's through the ceiling more like," Rick mumbled.
We happened to run into SVLUG's own Ian Kluft taping up posters. Ian's
the sort of clean-cut young man that respects authority in all forms.
Ian's a boy scout, a model citizen. Ian always signals his turns when
in a parking lot and follows the guidelines for model rocketry safety.
("Come on!" Don Marti once sneered, rolling his eyes, "What kind of
rocketeer isn't missing a few fingers?"). He's also, as my friend Eve
once phrased it, rather immune to irony.
Rick spotted the topic of the meeting, entitled: "Holding an Effective
Installfest." This is a subject on which Rick can rant for hours
without stopping for breath. He's had more experience with
installfests than most people in this country, given that he goes to
just about every single one in the Bay Area.
"Can I come and heckle?" he teased, hoping to induce a laugh from Ian.
"No," Ian responded categorically. "That would be bad."
I discreetly raised my right hand in the Boy Scout salute. "I hereby
swear that I will follow the model rocketry safety guidelines ..."
The oppressive sea of humanity that had crystalized the previous
evening to hear the keynote was notably absent. The hallways were
populated, but no longer did one need to squeeze and excuse to get
from point A to point B. It was in some ways anticlimactic, and in
others a relief.
BOFs of a different
After a moving panel discussion where Richard
M. Stallman managed to make his points heard in a manner that inspired
rather than offended, we all wandered briefly over to the
birds-of-a-feather sessions. BOF sessions are traditionally just a few
breakout rooms where one can reserve space throughout the show to talk
about a particular subject. Often a tangential thread will arise in a
talk, and the speaker will simply advise the audience that there will
be a BOF session to cover the subject at such-and-such time.
The BOF sessions here were rather different. A large room with roughly
fifteen or twenty tables (each seating about eight people) was
reserved for a period of an hour or so. The noise level prevented
passionate, Jay-style discussion, and the limited timeframe meant many
people couldn't make them.
The SVLUG meeting provided one conclusion by Deirdre Saoirse: All LUGs
need (and probably have) a Rick Moen to hold
them together. Rick stood up and advised the crowd to "Ask about
franchise opportunities in your area!"
dried out by the hostile environment, Rick and I headed over to the
Savitsky party in Deirdre's off-road hackermobile. The atmosphere at
the party was rather more subdued than usual, and there was no filking
(humorous folk singing) being done. Several people from the show
arrived ("You're out of context!" I cried, taking yet another page
from the book of Rick Moen), and we all shared
our experiences of the show with one another. I grabbed a drink from
the ice-filled bathtub and collapsed in an office chair.
Steve Savitsky was poking around on one of his Linux machines in
preparation for his talk the next morning.
"When we started all of this two years ago, we all had a feeling that
it should be open source," he told an onlooker who had just shown off
his new Athena widgets. "It's a really nice system, and it doesn't
look like a programming language to the folks that do the technical
Steve Savitsky's project is called PIA, and it seems to be some sort
of proxy server that allows you to link code to particular tags in an
SGML-based markup language. It looked like an amazing system, but my
attention span was getting shorter by the minute.
I faded out quickly, and the last thing I remember was drowsily
mumbling to Deirdre on the way home, "Tomorrow the SMRL team will be
here. Tomorrow will be Geeks With Guns."
Copyright (C) Web Publishing Inc. Written by Nick
Permission to redistribute verbatim copies of this chapter is
permitted provided that the following notice is included: "First
published in LinuxWorld, an electronic publication of Web
Publishing Inc. March 1999."
We know now that in the early years of the twenty-first century this
nation was being watched closely by groups more vicious than ours and
yet as mortal as our own. Organizations vast, cool and unsympathetic,
regarded this country with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their
plans against us. In the first year of the twenty-first century came the
I woke up Tuesday morning to the radio, not because of any noise, but
because the frightened tone of the NPR anchors reached my inner
paranoid. I came to right as the voice said "Ohh-okay... s-so, just to
explain again, two passenger jets have crashed into the World Trade
Center in New York City. It's-it... I'm sorry ..."
The thing's raising up. The crowd falls back now. They've seen plenty.
This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words . . . I'll
pull this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the
description until I can take a new position. Hold on, will you please,
I'll be right back in a minute.
I called my girlfriend, who had been trying to call and wake me up all
morning. I agreed to stay away from tunnels and tall buildings for a
while, and we agreed that the bridges weren't such a hot idea either. I
pretty much resigned myself then and there to bunker up in my own
neighborhood for a while.
San Francisco didn't get off so easy, though. SFO, which normally has
about eight or nine planes just waiting to LAND at any given moment, has
been eerily quiet what with the state of emergency. The local news said
that muni was working fine on surface streets, apart from the places
where it had to route around Willie's tomb (our gilded city hall,
rennovated by Willie Brown, our so-called mayor). The school closing
announcements made the whole thing sound like there had been a snow
I have been requested by the governor of New Jersey to place the
counties of Mercer and Middlesex as far west as Princeton, and east to
Jamesburg, under martial law. No one will be permitted to enter this
area except by special pass issued by state or military authorities.
Four companies of state militia are proceeding from Trenton to Grovers
Mill, and will aid in the evacuation of homes within the range of
military operations. Thank you.
When my girlfriend called me later in the afternoon, she still had the
frightened edge that we both shared that morning. She had been cut off
from all news about the event, while I had done what any red-blooded
American would do: I plonked my laptop in front of the TV and worked to
the tune of CNN.
She's movin'! Look, the darn thing's unscrewing! Keep back, there! Keep
back, I tell you! Maybe there's men in it trying to escape! It's red
hot, they'll burn to a cinder! Keep back there. Keep those idiots back!
The whole situation is so unreal. The last time this many Merkins died
in a single battle was our civil war some 150 years ago. The last time
we lost a major institution to it was 1812 when the British burned down
our capitol. Merkins aren't used to having bombs dropped from above --
just planted in our back yard.
The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred
miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.
So what better way to deal with it than to make it more unreal? Just
keep looping the footage, like hitler's fabricated looney-dance.
Eventually, you file the collapse of both your nation's administrative
center and focus of commerce alongside the Rodney King videos, Clinton
sex scandal interviews, and car commercials. Been there, done that.
Now a tune that never loses favor, the ever-popular "Star Dust." Ramo'n
Raquello and his orchestra . . .
So I watched the 9AM of New York safely from the 9AM of San Francisco.
Three hours of catastrophe divided up into easily inserted digestible
bits. Overlay that with interviews and tired reporters having to make
noises of shock and disapproval for the umpteenth time and you've got a
spectacle to last all day.
We have dispatched a special mobile unit to the scene, and will have our
commentator, Carl Phillips, give you a word description as soon as he
can reach there from Princeton. In the meantime, we take you to the
Hotel Martinet in Brooklyn, where Bobby Millette and his orchestra are
offering a program of dance music.
The disaster was spread out over an hour or so, so people had time from
the first strike to get out their camcorders and start filming. One
doctor fellow had a running commentary going as the plume of dust
engulfed him. He wandered the streets, borrowing oxygen from firemen and
joining paramedic teams in the rescue effort. The whole scene looked
like Portland after Mt. St. Helens erupted, or some sort of nuclear ash
winter, or snow day.
As I set down these notes on paper, I'm obsessed by the thought that I
may be the last living man on Earth. I have been hiding in this empty
house near Grovers Mill -- a small island of daylight cut off by the
black smoke from the rest of the world. All that happened before the
arrival of these monstrous creatures in the world now seems part of
another life. . . a life that has no continuity with the present,
furtive existence of the lonely derelict who pencils these words on the
back of some astronomical notes bearing the signature of Richard
George Bush's speech was without his usual stutters, likely due to his
heavy use of a teleprompter. We picked out the quotables, such as
"quiet, unyielding anger". It's no "day which will live in infamy", but
then again this *isn't* Pearl Harbor. The enemy flew no flags, and we
have not yet heard any demands.
Citizens of the nation: I shall not try to conceal the gravity of the
situation that confronts the country, nor the concern of your government
in protecting the lives and property of its people. However, I wish to
impress upon you -- private citizens and public officials, all of you --
the urgent need of calm and resourceful action. Fortunately, this
formidable enemy is still confined to a comparatively small area, and we
may place our faith in the military forces to keep them there. In the
meantime placing our faith in God we must continue the performance of
our duties each and every one of us, so that we may confront this
destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated
to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. I thank you.
Of course, this doesn't stop people from speculating wildly on the
perpetrator. I think I heard the phrase "It was Osama Bin Laden" danced
around in more ways than I can count.
"Confidence is rising that the perpetrator was..."
"Few groups have the sophistication to pull this off, such as..."
Add to the confusion that we chose this day to begin reporting in
earnest about Israeli tanks rolling into Palestine (which, given my
tendency to listen to the BBC World Service radio, is not really news to
me) and the civil war in Afghanistan. The way the hams up at CNN told
it, we were bombing them already for giving OBL a place to crash.
Here's a bulletin from Winston Field, Long Island: Fleet of army bombers
carrying heavy explosives flying north in pursuit of enemy. Scouting
planes act as guides. They keep speeding enemy in sight. Just a moment
please. Ladies and gentlemen, we've run special wires to the artillery
line in adjacent villages to give you direct reports in the zone of the
advancing enemy. First we take you to the battery of the 22nd Field
Artillery, located in the Watchtung Mountains.
It wasn't until I found the BBC America TV station that I caught their
Wednesday Morning coverage of the event. They weren't afraid to talk
about the collateral damage, economic effects of the stock market
closing, insurance claims on the companies and lives lost to the event,
etc. They said it plain and simple. Our economy was being propped up by
consumer confidence. This shatters that.
The last thing I noticed was that this event had turned the BBC morning
TV program into NY-1. NY1 is often referred to as "the station where
they read the paper to you". Issues of the Guardian, the Times, and the
Star ("END OF THE WORLD?") were held up. All of them had the cinematic
footage of the exploding second plane, save the Star, which had a shot
of a jumper.
Like the economic effects, jumpers were also somewhat taboo on the
merkin stations. I saw dozens of falls over on Univision before I
realized that I really should change channels. People would talk about
it on the US networks, but the footage was solely the domain of foreign
So I'm sitting here in my relatively safe outer mission flat. The US
Dollar is in the tank, everyone's going for gold, and we're likely to
see our civil rights eroded even further by overzealous legislators who
want to put their names in this chapter of the history books. Looters,
all of them.
In the meantime, you and I and others like us. . . where are we
to live when the Martians own the earth?
I've got it all figured out. We'll live underground. I've been
thinking about the sewers. Under New York are miles and miles of 'em.
The main ones are big enough for anybody. Then there's cellars, vaults,
underground storerooms, railway tunnels, subways. You begin to see, eh?
And we'll get a bunch of strong men together. No weak ones; that rubbish
And you meant me to go?
Well, I gave you a chance, didn't I?
We won't quarrel about that. Go on.
And we've got to make safe places for us to stay in, see, and
get all the books we can -- science books. That's where men like you
come in, see? We'll raid the museums, we'll even spy on the Martians. It
may not be so much we have to learn before -- just imagine this: four or
five of their own fighting machines suddenly start off -- heat rays
right and left and not a Martian in 'em. Not a Martian in 'em! But MEN
-- men who have learned the way how. It may even be in our time. Gee!
Imagine having one of them lovely things with its heat ray wide and
free! We'd turn it on Martians, we'd turn it on men. We'd bring
everybody down to their knees.
That's your plan?
You, and me, and a few more of us we'd own the world.
I see. . .
STRANGER: (FADING OUT)
Say, what's the matter? . . . Where are you
Not to your world. . . Goodbye, stranger. . .
Russia feels our pain, England stands in solidarity (Blair and Bush, the
Ronnie and Maggie of the 21st Century?), Afghanistan even feels our
pain. But me, I don't feel it any more. I just watch until I'm too tired
to worry any more, flip off the TV set, and crawl into bed.
This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure
you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the
holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre's own radio
version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying
Boo! Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your
garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We
annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the
C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it,
and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye
everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That
grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant
of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there,
that was no Martian. . .it's Hallowe'en.