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The StartX Files: Real Live Trolling
On the South Shore Railroad...
July 9, 2001
[Author's note: If you're wondering where the next installment for Word to the Wise is, I must apologize here and now for not being able to present it to you this week. Several events, including a family emergency that necessitated a sudden trip to Chicago, prevented me from getting the review done in time. I did, however, manage to have an interesting encounter along the way that I'd like to share with you this week. The Applix Words review will be here next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel.]
Mutter, mutter, giggle.
The voices behind me on the train were annoying, to say the least. They had started their whispering as soon as they'd boarded the train and seen me working on my wife's laptop, which I was consigned to use on my trip to Chicago last week.
This laptop, which has served the family in good stead for about a year now, is-by my wife's unilateral decision-declared to be Linux free. Being that I love and respect my wife (which is husband code-speak for I don't want to get into it with her) I have honored her request and left Windows on this machine. Normally, this does not affect me, but when the screen on my Linux laptop decides to take a powder the night before I am to leave on an unscheduled trip, it sort of rears its ugly head.
Left with a ton of writing to do, I faced the choice of blowing off my entire work schedule (definitely preferred) or doing my work on the Windows laptop. Guess which one I picked.
So, I'm sitting there, typing away on a writing assignment and wondering how I will get the Applix Words review done, when these two yahoos behind me start speaking derisively (in not so low tones) of the laptop I am working on. My wife, sitting next to me, sees my ears turning pink and urges me not to say anything to them.
That's like spitting at a forest fire.
After about 15 minutes of this behavior, I save the document I am working on and turn around to face the two teenage boys snorting and giggling behind me. After all, we are almost to our destination station.
Apparently not thinking this old guy would actually confront them, they clammed up for a second, wondering if I was some sort of knife-wielding psycho. When it became clear to them that at least I was not holding a knife, they started laughing again.
"Nothing, man, nothing. We're sorry," one of them said, trying to keep a straight face.
Not entirely mollified, I pressed on. "Seriously, is there something funny about a guy trying to get some work done?"
The other kid snorted again and smirked. He whispered sotto voce to his companion: "if you can get any work done on Winbloze."
Saints preserve me, I appeared to have found some militant OS geeks! Suddenly a two-hour train trip to Chicago was no longer going to be boring. I could practically hear my wife rolling her eyes beside me.
I wanted to see which camp they were in, so I played dumb. "Winblozes? What's that?"
"It's what you're using on your laptop, man! It totally sucks!"
They would get no argument from me, but I still thought they were being pretty rude.
"Ah, I see" I pretended to ponder. "And what would you use on a laptop?"
They looked at each other, realizing their fun was taking a new turn. These were no dummies I was talking to, rude or no. They somehow sensed the trap I was laying for them. Maybe it was the glee dancing in my eyes.
"Never mind, you probably never heard of it," the first one said.
One more try. "No, no, I'm really interested." "Well we use something cooler, something that works really well!"
"Yeah, and it's totally free to use!"
Oh, please let this be what I think...
"Well, what's it called?" I asked.
"It's called Linux, man. It rocks!"
Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!
When they named the operating system of choice, they did not pronounce it the way Linus does on the sound sample in sndconf. Nor did they use the typical Midwestern "Lih-nux" that most of the people around here use. No, these two knuckleheads pronounced it "Leye-nux," with a long i. I could not believe my good fortune!
"Leyenux, eh?" I reply in kind. "Seems to me I've heard of that. It's that UNIX-based operating system, right? The one with the hat?"
They rolled their eyes at me. "You're thinking of Red Hat Leyenux," the second one explained as if speaking to a small child. "There are lots of different kinds of Leyenux, Red Hat's just the big commercial sellout."
I figured I would see how far into this militant pose they were going to go. My wife is pinching my leg trying to get me to stop. She has this thing about hurting small animals that is apparently motivating her now. "So which kind is best to use?"
The other one chimes in now with "Leyenux-Mandrake! It's the best one, hands down. It can do everything a Windows machine can."
I had to give them points for this one. If they had said CorelLinux, I might have ended the conversation then and there. Still, the train was starting to slow down. I began to pack up my things. "I don't know, guys, it seems that I have heard some pretty bad stuff about Leyenux. How it's not very easy to install, doesn't run a lot of applications..." I trailed off, letting them take the bait.
They launched into the standard diatribe: that Leyenux was far superior to Windows (though not how), that you could run it on any machine, that you could actually get to the source code and manipulate it if you wanted to. Clearly, these guys were well-versed in the Linux fanatic mantra.
But it was time to go. I had never trolled in person before and I found it to be rather empty experience. I told myself that these boys started it, but who was I to egg them on so? Why should I ambush them unsuspectingly?
"...and Leyenux will kick Windows' ass anytime, anyplace!" they finished.
Oh, yes, now I remembered why.
"Well, guys, you certainly give an unconvincing argument. I'd like to congratulate you for getting out there and spreading the word to the masses, but instead your actions today would have likely alienated anyone who was unfamiliar with Linux, so no thanks are coming from me."
The superior looks on their stubbly little faces faltered a bit as I closed the trap.
"If you really want to tell people how cool Linux is, don't just sit there and spout off useless fanaticism. Explain to people why open source and free software are beneficial to them. Talk in real numbers, real advantages. You can't just spray out silly comments like 'Linux will kick Windows ass' and expect people to respond positively. Anyone with half a brain could come back with a just as stupid argument and point out to you that Linux has been around since 1991, just as long as Windows, so why hasn't it happened yet? It's had 10 years to kick Windows' ass, and it hasn't in the desktop space. What are you going to say to that? Are you going to say that Linux has not headed for that direction except in recent years? Are you going to point out Linux's very strong deployment in the server and embedded spaces? Or are you just going to sit there and spew out mocking and hateful little comments trying to boost your own sense of superiority?"
Their jaws dropped as the train stopped and I shouldered the laptop bag. My wife went down the aisle in front of me, sparing them one final glance of sympathy.
"The truth is, boys, you're going to have to do a lot better representation of Linux than what you just showed me here today. Your hearts may be in the right place, but the attitude has got to change. Or no one's going to want to listen to you at all."
And with that, I turned my back on them and walked off the train.
"Feel all better?" my wife asked me as I joined her at the platform.
"Yes, as a matter of fact," was my reply as we climbed the stairs to deal with a new crisis.