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[CrackMonkey]

It just, like, showed up in my mailbox, and it had CrackMonkey all over it.
And that stuff's tough to scrape off, let me tell you.
--Rick Moen

Crackmonkey logo Copyright © Rev. Patty Morin, CrankMonkey

  1. Travels with Rick Moen
  2. Pulgas by Moonlight
  3. LinuxWorld Prologue: 2400 N81
  4. LinuxWorld Monday: Slashdot.org
  5. LinuxWorld Tuesday: Copyleft
  6. LinuxWorld Wednesday: 'You are dumb.'
  7. Mercury Theatre on the Net's Diary of a Spectator

1: Travels with Rick Moen

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 heavily featured.
--Pigdog Journal

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 weather).

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, buck-toothed straggler.

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, you know?"

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 incoming calls."

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, please."

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 way down!".

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 your area!)

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 are inseparable.

"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:

BMUG

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 simply "Cool!"

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 puzzles--he doesn't.

2: Pulgas by Moonlight

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 latest SysV marketing fiasco.

"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 questions.

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 newsletter.

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 eat.

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 temple.

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 check).

"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 ride home.

[Pulgas Water Temple in the daylight]

3: LinuxWorld Prologue: 2400 N81

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 (short-sleeved, white).

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 shirt.

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 N81".

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 GNU."

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 Unix.

"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 computing.

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 Foundation.

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."

4: LinuxWorld Monday: Slashdot.org

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 trip.

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 interesting.

"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 all day.

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 sense."

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 computer industry.

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 packages.

"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 satisfaction.

"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.
[Spockin' on the town]

"One look at that man and you just know he's Bad People."
--Mr. Bad

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 direction.

"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."

5: LinuxWorld Tuesday: Copyleft

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 ringing.

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" Jose.

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 edges
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 line hungrily.

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
"I 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!! Buhahahahaa!"

"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 and quiet.
[Jay, Linus, and some dude]

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 Muppet-like chucklesnorts.

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 Torvalds children.

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
The screen 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 labcoat pocket.

"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 everything.

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 road.

"Safely out of San Jose yet again," Rick announced as we hit the city limits.

"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."

6: LinuxWorld Wednesday: 'You are dumb.'

[Live free or die]

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 use.

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.

Bearded inspiration
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 it.

Strange encounters
While 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 press.

"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, however."

"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 color
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!"

The wind-down
Weary and 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 writing."

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 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."

7: Mercury Theatre on the Net's Diary of a Spectator

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 great disillusionment.

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 storm.

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 Pierson.

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.

"Sources suggest..."
"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 newsmedia.

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.

PIERSON

In the meantime, you and I and others like us. . . where are we to live when the Martians own the earth?

STRANGER

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 -- out.

PIERSON

And you meant me to go?

STRANGER

Well, I gave you a chance, didn't I?

PIERSON

We won't quarrel about that. Go on.

STRANGER

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.

PIERSON

That's your plan?

STRANGER

You, and me, and a few more of us we'd own the world.

PIERSON

I see. . .

STRANGER: (FADING OUT)

Say, what's the matter? . . . Where are you going?

PIERSON

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.

     
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