In 1999, Jim Klein, associate professor of computer science, led a group of 31 WWC students to Las Vegas for Comdex, the largest trade show in the world. The groups encounter with a writer at the technology trade show ended up in the recently published book Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary. The book, written by David Diamond and Linus Torvalds, profiles Torvalds invention of the Linux operating system.
The first student, identified as an intense computer student, is Warren Wessels. His classmates in the group are Todd Graham, Chad Halvorsen Jim Lindquist, Sam Rodriguez, and Courtney Shrock. The high school mentioned in the excerpt is Las Vegas Jr. Academy.
Excerpt from Just for Fun: The Story of the Accidental Revolutionary, by David Diamond and Linus Torvald
It seemed like a strategy out of Journalism 101: Find the person who had been waiting the longest to hear Linuss keynote, and hang out with him (undoubtedly, him) in line. What better way to gather insight into the dweebie hordes who follow Linus like hes some sort of vendorware-clad God.
At 5 p.m. Im on an escalator descending into Geek Woodstock. At the head of the vast, snaking line is a intense computer science student from Walla Walla College who eagerly agrees to let me join him. He has been waiting, so far, two and a half hours to see Linus, and he will be waiting another two and a half hours before being let into the auditorium. His classmates, who are behind him in line, arrived in the queue maybe half an hour after he did. They drove down from Washington State with one of their professors and are sleeping in the gymnasium of a local high school. They all seem to have started their own Web design business. They seem to have conveniently divided up the universe of grownups into two groupshackers and suitsand are constantly pointing out members of the latter category in the growing line, saying things like, Man look at all the suits here, the way their Delta Tau Chi counterparts might survey a beach during the spring break and observe Man, Look at all the foxes here. But like their Delta Tau Chi counterparts, they are doing all the usual horseplayslapping each other high-fives, trading insults, although the insults all relate to motherboards or gigabytes.
And then they talk about Linus. His name comes across capitalized, as in LINUS couldnt work at a company that wasnt going to be open source, He just wouldnt. they have been slavish scrutinizers of slashdot and other Web sites where rumors of Transmetas hushed goings-on circulate like the lurid details of a Hollywood starlets love life. This mania and the speculation/fascination isnt happening only among the ardent groupies who arrived here first.
I visit the mens room and take my place at the only empty urinal, interrupting a conversation in progress.
This speech is going to be way boring compared to the Gates keynote, says the fellow to my left.
What do you expect? replies the other guy. Linus is a hacker, not a suit. I mean, give him a break.
When we finally get into the auditorium, somehow we are not up front but toward the back of the middle. My line-mate from Walla Walla forgets, for a moment, about the excitement of seeing his hero live, and goes into a rage about not being in the first row, where be deserves to be. Soon, he is pointing out the suits in the audience. Even though were maybe seventy-five yards from the front, its possible to catch a glimpse of Linus on the darkened stage, seated at a computer. He quickly types into the computer while being surrounded by a few officials. What could be happening up there? Some sort of last-minute software demonstration?
Eventually, Linus, and the others leave the stage. Somehow Linus International Executive Director Maddog (Jon Hall) is introduced. My companion from Walla Walla gets visibly excited. Check out the beard, he says. Then, Maddog announces how pleased he is to introduce a man who is like a son to him. Linus reemerges and gets a big hairy hug from Maddog. Even from back in the cheap seats, I could tell he was nervous.
I wanted to start with a lawyer joke, but that was taken,
he says, a reference to antitrust-suit-plagued Bill Gatess well-received
opening the previous night: Anybody heard any good lawyer jokes?
He proceeds to give a one-sentence hint at Transmetas secretive operation. Then the rest of his speech consists of rattling off the sentences that are flashed on slides high above his head, statements about the growing importance of open source. Nothing surprising. Nothing new.
It is delivered in a tired-but-cheerful monotone. At one point, one of his daughters cries.
In mid-sentence he says, Thats my kid. You could look up at the monitor and see the stage lighting reflecting off the beads of sweat on his forehead.
Afterward, audience members line up for questions. He quickly declines to say which of the Linux word processing software he prefers. When someone asks him how many stuffed penguins he has at home, he answers: Quite a few. An audience member asks how he likes living in California, to which he responds by rhapsodizing about the weather. Its November and Im still wearing shorts. In Helsinki Id have lost my crown jewels by now. A fan walks up to the microphone for audience questions and announces, simply, Linus, youre my hero. To which Linus responds, as if he has heard the same statement a million times and answered it a million times: Thanks.
After the questions are over, hundreds of people flood into the area below the podium, where Linus has now moved and is shaking as many hands as he possibly can.