Beer and Clothing in San Jose
or
It's LinuxWorld, You're Just Soaking in it
or
Stop Me Before I Think of Another Silly Subtitle

There are some good LWE pictures (two with me in them! [1]) at Scott's page.

This travelogue will probably never be finished. It stands as a searing indictment of my inability to finish what I start. As Jake Berendes says, "I have indictments of that nature so searing that they can be used in medical procedures."

Happy anchors of convenience:

(I've put a line between the anchors that currently work and those that don't).
  1. Personal Hygiene Time
  2. The Way to San Jose
  3. Cupertino Kool-Aid
  4. Lunch with Lisa
  5. Where the hell is the Convention Center?
  6. Skip all this travelouge crap, I want LWE information!
  7. The gang's all here
  8. RMS gets his own anchor
  9. Non-RMS booths
  10. Scrounging stuff that's already free
  11. Illiad will have his revenge on Trae
  12. The keynote
  13. Jay Sulzberger: a man among wusses
  14. Partay or mere party?
  15. The tearful goodbye
  16. The way from San Jose
  17. Java technology to the rescue!
  18. Sleep technology to the rescue!

So it was March 2, 314 AB, and time to go to LinuxWorld Expo, the grand Linux Expo-preempting corporate sponsored event. I figured it would be a good chance to see some machines not running Linux (I was not disappointed; there were Windows machines doing many of the demonstrations, and DOS machines for the registration), so after much bizarre changing of plans, I was to hit the road with fellow LUGger Mark Fasheh. Our mission: To get to San Jose, see the sights, meet luminaries and friends, and be back before class the next day.

Knowing how sensitive Mae Ling is to body odor, we began the day by making our way to our respective showers and carefully showering. Using a washcloth and soap, I cleaned inside and behind my ears, and between my toes. Kerosene and a match gets rid of the earmites. Upon leaving the shower, I sprayed the magic stuff [2] that keeps mildew from forming in your shower, and brushed my teeth. I can't speak for Mark on any of this, but he assured me that he did take a shower.

Having taken care of my personal hygiene for the day, I dressed in the traditional solar system T-shirt, jeans, and ratty hiking shoes. I needed only one ingredient to be the next Brian Kernighan: suspenders. Mark brought the requisite suspenders, and we were off.

Stuck in LA commute traffic, we cranked the Zappa. (Yes, Zappa makes everything right. A message from the Zappa Council.) By the time we had gotten out of LA, it was time to enjoy Mark's contribution to the driving music collection: Kraftwerk's Autobahn. Rockin'. I tried to get Mark to divulge Kraftwerk's attitude towards their subject material, ironic-distance-wise, but he doesn't think in those terms and I was unable to get a good answer.

Drive, drive, drive. Talk, talk, talk. Kraftwerk, Zappa, Kraftwerk. We took the 5 up to the 152.

Our primary goal was LinuxWorld Expo. Our secondary goal was to have lunch with my friend, professional hypemonger Lisa Poulson (hi Lisa), formerly of Javasoft, now laying on the spin for Sun's legal affairs department. Being the highly wired, on-the-go students and total chick magnets that Mark and I are, we were already used to living the lifestyle of pervasive computing that the people in the office next to Lisa's are touting, and rather stupidly assumed that we could take Mark's beeper far, far away from the 818 area code and still be able to recieve Lisa's page. We couldn't. I had to shell out quarters sufficient to do a full load of laundry in order to call LA and get Lisa's number from her mother. (I measure quarters in units of loads of laundry, it's just a little thing you develop living in an apartment with a rip-off laundry room).

We had not been so wired as to neglect planning anything with Lisa in advance. We knew that she had a meeting until 11:00. It was about 11 when we reached the 152-101 junction, so we pulled over and I lost another load of clean laundry determining that the number I got could not be completed as dialed (yes, if your call cannot be completed as dialed you do not get your money back). Curse this technology, Smithers! I had triple-checked the number, so I knew that it was the phone company's fault. We decided to try again once we got closer.

Soon, Silicon Valley loomed ahead. If you've never been to Silicon Valley, what can I say? It's one big, poorly-designed strip mall. There are lots of identical towns full of identical buildings and streets that have all the logic of paved-over mule tracks. A real nice place to raise your kids up.

In Mountain View, where I would have been staying had I flown up to stay with Trae McCombs, we decided that we were close enough. We grabbed a pay phone and, although Lisa was not in the same area code, the call was a local call. Lisa was there! Whee! She gave us highly complex directions which we managed to follow to some extent.

Lisa used to be in Palo Alto, in the huge main Sun campus, where they have an awe-inspiring cafeteria (not that I've been there). She was now safely isolated from the engineers in a special PR building in Cupertino, one of two old Apple buildings which were sold off along with the Newton. We drove around Cupertino for a while, marvelling at all the Apple buildings. Every building was an Apple building. A guy from Apple flagged down our car and tried to hire us. I don't know whether I'm kidding or not.

Finally we found the two buildings of which Lisa had spoken. They were only the two tallest buildings in Cupertino, and we had only driven right past them twice. Pulling into a public parking lot, we found a 15-minute parking place and dashed into Lisa's building (CUP03).

Wowing the receptionist with our charm, we got her to call Lisa for us (that, and it was her job). While Lisa took the elevator down, we filled out little badges and signed the obligatory NDA. ("I will not disclose to any third party any aspects of SUN's future marketing campaigns.")

Lisa came and gave us her Marketing Person Handshake. She's a hoot. She then took us to her office. All the sections of the building are color-coded. The best one I saw: "Unmellow Yellow".

Lisa has this ultra-mighty SPARC workstation on her desk which she uses for email. I wouldn't call it gloating, exactly, but... There are also various anti-Microsoft clippings and paraphenalia in her office, as one might expect. After a thirty-second tour of Lisa's office, we went back downstairs so as not to be in violation of the fifteen-minute parking space time limit.

We tore over to a nearby Chinese restaurant, where Sun and Apple folks eat lunch. The key, says Lisa, is to not talk loudly about what's going wrong with your project during the lunch hour.

When Mark and I got our soda glasses, we simultaneously burst into laughter. They were these little thin cylinders, the kind of thing you might drink a daquiri out of while on a desert island. No way could you get away with giving someone a soda in that glass in LA. Even in the trendy vegan places in LA you get real drink glasses.

This was also the first Chinese restaurant I'd ever eaten at where you had to mix your own potsticker sauce. They really didn't make it easy, either. They gave us little plates to mix our sauce on. We had a little dish of salsa and a little dish of vinegar, and some soy sauce. The Chinese restaurant should take a tip from Apple, methinks. I am a big potsticker fan, and frankly the potstickers at this place didn't cut it.

However, the rest of the food was good. The fried rice had baby corn in it, and the hot and sour soup was good as long as you pretended not to know what was in it (tofu, and what looked like eggplant but was probably just seaweed (I have no problem with eating seaweed; it is, after all, a full-fledged brown algae, and how often do you get to eat a brown algae? Eggplant, on the other hand, is a mad scientist's experiment gone horribly wrong, and tofu is the vegetable kingdom's answer to Spam.)). The sweet-and-sour pork was okay. The chow mein was excellent. We got a lot of take-out for later, and Lisa tipped lavishly. This was all on the company card, of course. I could see the PC Week headline already: "Sun loses $150M in Q1 1999".

The conversation was wild and varied. We talked about Microsoft, Silicon Valley, the Poulsons' new dog, Linux, and Microsoft. Among other things.

All too soon, the time had come to take Lisa back to Sun, a full block away. This we did, after getting directions to San Jose.

We followed Lisa's directions to San Jose, but were unable to follow them to the extent we would have liked. Ideally, we would have followed the directions to the convention center. Unfortunately, we got lost, and ended driving around a rather bad part of town, finally making it back to the fashionable artsy ghetto where we felt the convention center must be. We asked a lady for directions (Mark felt this to be an emasculating experience) and she directed us to the arena instead of the convention center. I grabbed another payphone and tried to call Mae Ling's cellphone, but it was busy.

We finally found a sign saying "Convention Center" with an arrow. We parked in a nearby lot, got out, and couldn't find the convention center. I went into a Starbucks and asked where it was. It was a mile away. We went back and drove out of the parking lot. Add $5 to the amount of money wasted on this trip.

The lesson is: Always have a city map!

By the time we found the convention center and parked (again), it was 4 PM. We had about 2 hours to spend on the exhibit floor. We had planned for twice that, at least. But we had come this far, and were not about to turn back now. We rushed in to LinuxWorld Expo. I flashed my badge and got a holder. Mark shelled out cash and filled out the little computer registration form to get his badge.

There were a lot of people on the exhibit floor. By Linux convention standards there were a LOT of people on the exhibit floor. So say people who have been to other Linux conventions. I've only been to one computer show before, when I was 5 or 6, and this seemed to be about as crowded, so that should tell you something. What exactly, I'm not sure.

I headed for the VA Research booth, hoping that Scott or (inclusive or) Garrett would be there. I first found Trae McCombs, my would-be host, who pointed out the nearby Garrett.

I couldn't get over how much Garrett looked like one of the rednecks I went to high school with (I myself am a redneck, but I try not to look like one). It may have been the slightly sunburned look, the Rance Grigsby haircut, the halfway-buttoned polo shirt, or the baseball cap. The fact that the baseball cap and polo shirt had Linux-related logos on them diminished this impression somewhat, but not a whole lot. We greeted and began yakking it up. Garrett had just gotten a job at VA Research, working on the linux.com portal (aaah, a portal!). Lousy graphics people with their job-obtaining skills...

Warning: "Marketplace Morning Update"-esque intro ahead

What could all the commotion be about? That's what Scott was thinking as he made his way towards Garrett. He soon found out, greeting me with some suitably sarcastic remark about my tardiness. Scott, too, looked somewhat redneck-ish (baseball cap and slightly sunburned), but not as much as Garrett. I don't go around mentally tabulating people's resemblances to the redneck archetype, it's just that there was a fair resemblance in Scott and Garrett.

At the time I arrived, Eric Raymond was supposed to be at the VA booth, but I didn't see him, nor did I see him at any other time I was at LinuxWorld Expo. In fact, I've never seen Eric Raymond, and until I do see him I shall consider him to be merely a sophisticated AI with no actual physical realization.

Mae Ling was not at the VA booth either, but that was not a problem. We went to look for her. She was at the Slashdot booth, and squealed when I was introduced, as though I were a famous rock star (I am not a famous rock star, unfortunately, as I rather enjoy the sensation of girl-squeal-upon-introduction which I first experienced previously in this sentence). Scott had gotten a similar welcome from Mae Ling the previous night at a party, when she had run around a room screaming "IT'S THE SEGFAULT GUY!"".

The question is, do we deserve all this adulation? Most people who know of our work, upon being introduced to Scott or I, would say "Ah." or "I like your site.", or throw rocks at us. But with Mae Ling it's this obsessive Beatlesesque fan-worship. My opinion, which I lay down in a Walter Winchell/Jesse Berst manner, as if it counted for something: we don't deserve it. We'll take it, but we don't deserve it.

I was afraid that Mae Ling would turn out to be a snobby goth chick. This particular fear turned out to be unfounded, as she is quite groovy. Mae Ling represents a new breed of kinder, gentler goth. Or something. She's not as pale as the pictures that used to be on her homepage, either, but since those pictures make her out to be the palest human on Earth, counting albinos, this is not much of a trick.

Anyway, the three nutty "Segfault guys" and the nutty "Segfault chick" set out to go around the "ghetto", which is what the trade magazines called the low-rent section of the show floor where all the action was.

The Debian booth was out of CDs. Bastards.

Then we spotted the mighty RMS. The others, with their cynical RMS attitudes (Me: "I like RMS." Scott: "You are alone in this room."), left me to sit and gawk at the master.

Talking to RMS is not like talking to any other human being (at least not any other human being I have ever talked to). It's very client-server. You send queries and commands to RMS, and he gives you some data back. He doesn't process anything, or else he processes it very quickly.

I did get him to show emotion. I introduced myself as the guy who wrote the wacky GNU acronym overflow article (surely a 10 on the kooky-meter if ever there was one), and his face lit up like a pinball machine (not an original analogy) the instant he understood what I was talking about. "I thought that was very funny.", he said, (or something very much like that). He said that humor is important, and that it's especially important to make it free. You'd think I'd have a better recollection of his exact words.

Strange, this seemingly simple yet unfathomable man. I am reminded of Kevin Murphy's epitath for Frank Zappa [3]:

Sometimes emberassingly preachy, but always calmly polemical, like an advocate for reason in a world gone mad and stupid.

I wrote that from memory, and it's right, and I'm not just saying that to show off because I'm going to segue into the fact that I never understood what the word "like" was doing in there.

I was briefly interrupted by Miguel de Icaza, GNOME mastermind, who wandered into RMS' space (a GNOME demonstration was part of the FSF booth, and a little garden gnome (What a load of old crap! That's a hippy he's just killed! He just killed a hippy, everybody!) which people were supposed to give money to) and started talking about some technical issue with RMS. Miguel went off, satisfied, and I attempted to get RMS' autograph.

I had removed from its place of honor on my wall my copy of the email RMS sent me asking if I would give permission for my acronym story to be reprinted on gnu.org, hoping to get RMS to place his signature on it. Cruel fate being what it is (cruel, and fate), I could not find the note in my backpack (it turned out to be wedged between two pages of my math book). In desperation, I grabbed a copy of "GNU Project Testimonials" from the table and asked RMS if he would sign it. RMS went into his spiel about preferring to autograph books that people had bought which supported him. I was giving my lame excuse about being a student with no money (RMS has the power, which I attribute to a radioactive spider bite, of making even good excuses sound lame) when he decided to stop making me squirm and said "...but since you've contributed to the GNU project, I'll sign this" (again, a paraphrase).

I might have felt more like a special case had not he used this line on everyone else who wanted his autograph ("...but since you attended the first Conference on Freely Redistributable Software, I'll sign this", "...but since you said 'GNU/Linux' instead of 'Linux' I'll sign this" (not really on that last one)). I gather that it is not in RMS' nature to deny people his autograph, so long as they are not autograph-scrounging pond scum, which fortunately I am not. (I got the autographs of some local Bakersfield DJs when I was about 11, but that's it.)

As I prepared to leave, RMS looked me in the eye and said "Happy Hacking." This shook me to the core of my being for reasons I cannot explain. I don't think it has anything to do with my RMS idolatry. Jake agrees with me: "yeah, that would be awkward.". I cannot deal with someone looking me in the eye and saying "Happy hacking" as a farwell. Perhaps it has something to do with my lack of 3-space exposure to hackers. The memory taunts me. I probably mumbled something and trudged off.

My RMS autograph says:

Happy Hacking
Richard Stallman

Fortunately, the autograph does not taunt me.


Footnotes af gorgonopsidity:

[1] They are:

  1. sort height ($garrett, $iliad, $leonard, $scott)
  2. Uh, Scott, where's your other hand? Taken by Illiad.

[2] Note: Stuff is not actually magic.

[3]The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, Episode 523, p.109


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