Cult of the Mad Penguin

by Tom Adelstein

Last Wednesday, I went to a pub with some people from work. I wore a t-shirt I picked up at Linux World Boston in 2003. As my co-workers left one by one, I moved to the bar to strike up a conversation with the bartender. It was a quiet night and serving drinks slowed down as everyone left.

I started to take a sip from my cold mug of Guinness, when a fellow, who looked around 35, sat one stool away from me. The air was still filled with cigarette smoke and I had a fresh cigar on me. So, I lit up. The stranger on my right, ordered a shot of single malt Scotch and sipped on it now and then.

"Hi!", the guy said. "I see you're wearing a Linux shirt."

I wondered how he could tell. Maybe he guessed because of the large Penguin on the back.

"I went to every Linux World Conference from San Jose 1999 to the last New York Conference," he said looking into his shot glass with absolutely no facial expression. "I just got out of lock-up two weeks ago. I haven't kept up".

"You're right," I replied courteously. "This is a Linux shirt and I picked it up in Boston."

"I knew it," he said. "My name's Joe".

I immediately thought of Joe computer user, but I decided to keep an open mind and then introduced myself. I told him I used Ubuntu as my desktop and Red Hat Enterprise 5 on my web server. He continued staring at his shot glass and finally said, "I haven't heard about Ubuntu and didn't know Red Hat had branched out."

Curiosity got the best of me and I finally asked Joe," what happened?" Then he began a monolog. He never took his eyes off of his shot glass the entire time.

"It began when my mother started hounding me about getting a job. I had a Master's Degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois. After school, I thought I would take some time off. I spent most of my days and nights doing three things. I started the morning off with a cup of coffee and read Slashdot. Then I made my way through the other OSS sites I found on LinuxHomePage.

"I really liked commenting and replying. I also did a lot of research on those guys up in Redmond. I had put together a legal brief and took it to the Attorney General in Chicago. I learned so much about their dirty tricks, my hatred for them grew and grew. So, the second thing I did during the day was research.

"My third activity started with a trip to Starbucks. I took my laptop with me and started coding. I was a core developer on three projects. Starbucks didn't mind my sitting there because I bought a gift card and would drink around ten cups of coffee from the time I got there until closing. I was a little hyper from all the coffee so I stayed up and roamed around IRC.

"Finally, my mother organized this intervention. When I got home one night in September, the living room was full of people and they got me to understand that I was in denial about going to work. I understood the denial part, but I didn't really get it at a gut level".

Joe continued to stare at his shot glass and then drank it down. He order another and I got a fresh cold mug of beer. Then Joe continued.

"I took a job as a support tech at a large HMO. The job wasn't too bad. People would call and I would go to their desks and install something or show them how to do something or fix something. Those were the best days of my life. I could relate to people because they had a PC.

"I brought my laptop to work with me that had Linux running on it. I went to do some deskside support one morning and when I got back, it was gone. I found it in a closet in pieces and the hard drive was gone. I don't really know what came over me, but the people at the State Hospital in Austin have plenty of explanations for it.

"So, I decided to get revenge. I waited that night until everyone left and I brought down the servers and erased all the data in accounting. When I got home, the FBI had a swat team waiting for me. They got me on the ground, hand cuffed me, scraped my face on the side walk and hit me in the knees with a metal club. Then they read me my rights.

"When we got to the station, I asked for a lawyer and the top cop told me that they didn't hear my request. Then he started asking me if I had converted to some religion, trained at a camp in the middle east, had ties with a militia group and so forth. This went on for 24 hours while I stood on one leg. They wouldn't let me go to the bathroom. Then finally my dad showed up with his lawyer.

"I was arraigned and found to be a flight risk. So, I was jailed. But, while behind bars, it was nothing like they portray in the movies. It was worse. But I won't bore you with those details.

"My attorney cut a deal for me and I went into a mental facility where I would stay until the State Social Services deemed me fit to go back into society.

"Therapy was something else. First, they started with drug treatments. That was a crazy time. They probed me for associations with terrorist groups. Then they interrogated me about Digital Rights Management. That went on for months. Then, they stopped the drugs and put me in rehab. During rehab, I went through group therapy and one-on-one with a Freudian psychiatrist who was convinced I had transferred my anger with my father for marrying my mother.

"Later, they brought in the Reverend who decided I had joined a cult. After that, they brought in this former member of a street gang who became a consultant to help people straighten out their lives. He was also convinced I was a member of a cult and tried to reprogram me. He told me that he would find out what cult had brain washed me.

"Then, they put me in a cult rehabilitation program. They had gone to the Internet and looked up my postings. That led to dealing with anger and then anger management. They said I felt persecuted, showed a lack of restraint, dealt in hasty actions, felt threatened, followed a powerful leader.They also pointed out that I felt isolated and used my computer as a social tool. Finally, I followed a philosophy that seemed logical and appears to answer all or most of the important questions of life."

I replied, "Well, you seem to have memorized that list. I think they defined you as an OS Nazi. Is that right?"

"It's what they called me. I came to realize that I felt my operating system was the only one that should be allowed to exist and all others should be abolished. I also ragged on everyone that didn't run my OS. I also tried to convert others to my way of thinking, criticized them and engaged in baseless arguments, personal insults and then shunning friends."

I asked, "So are you cured?" I thought about how he seemed like someone who had a frontal lobotomy.

"Nah, I just served my time," he replied as he turned his head toward me, ordered a Guinness and smiled.