Editor's Note: Penguins in Hot Pursuit
Jun 24, 2005, 23:30 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
By Brian Proffitt
This week I am reading, for the sake of pure pleasure, Mark
Svenvold's Big Weather: Chasing Tornadoes in the Heart of
America. Weather has long held my interest. As a pilot,
knowing the weather is a great way of keeping yourself from getting
But beyond that, I am a bonafide weather geek. As such, I have a
certain fascination with those people who run around the American
Midwest looking for and running towards the cyclonic paths
of destruction that lance down from brackish-greenish skies. In my
common sense-ruled universe the object, it would seem, would be to
But, until I can afford to take the time to galavant around the
countryside looking for twisters, I will have to experience storm
chasing vicariously. Hence the book.
Svenvold seems to have his feet firmly gripped in reality,
though he is as drawn to tornadoes as the chaser community around
him, due in part to his own chance encounter with a tornado in
2000. From then on, he was hooked, and the book chronicles his
immersion into the chaser community in the spring of 2004.
What struck me about this book, though, are his descriptions
about the chaser community. There are luminaries who others defer
to like meteorlogical demi-gods. There are the ever-increasing
wannabees, whose blind exurberance is often countered by their
complete lack of knowledge that either puts them in danger, or
leaves them staring at big, puffy, harmless clouds. Then there are
the commercial chasers who track storms for profit: guiding tornado
tour groups, taking commercial photo and video footage... even
getting sponsorship to drive a custom-built SUV into a tornado.
If those divisions of community sound familiar to you, then I am
not alone. While reading this book, I clearly recognize the
dynamics of the Linux community within the chaser community. Right
down to the commercial entrepreneur that everyone hates because of
his self-aggrandizing, litigious, nature and to the semi-respected
pundits (a.k.a., local weathermen in their slicked up satellite TV
Chasing's goals even seem parallel to Linux'.
There is the goal of helping the common good: tornado chasing
and strudy will lead to better detection and warning. The use of
Linux will promote free and open technological use in almost every
There is the goal of having a blast: Tornado chasing is a huge
thrill. Using Linux is a huge thrill.
Relatively speaking, of course. Even when compiling a kernel, I
never felt my life was in danger. Though the computer's continued
existence might have been.
Like any community, there are differing methodologies for
accomplishing different goals. And many in the community will argue
their points until the cows come home. I have long maintained this
is ultimately good. Lately, many pundits in and out of the Linux
community are arguing that the time has come to stop arguing and
start working. There needs to be more commercial involvement, more
focused app development, a more unified vision for the desktop,
And I would agree.
But, I do not think the diversity should discontinue. Part of
what makes Linux such a force to contend with is its diverse
nature--something its commercial, single-owner counterparts simply
cannot grasp. Heck, sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my head
Why such contradictory statement? Unification and diversity?
Because while I think there is a real need for some focused
projects, it should not--indeed, it cannot--take away from other
development avenues that others are trying. While the resources of
the Linux community are not infinite, I think they are large enough
to allow for larger app projects and smaller, scratch-an-itch
Diverse avenues of development gain us two major advantages:
first, that of technological breakthroughs. If everyone started to
work only on GNOME, then what would happen to a whole new interface
paradigm that might have been evenutally uncovered by the KDE team?
Second: diversity breeds competition, which in turn breeds
energy. When developers compete, they are doing it for recognition,
for funding, and sometimes just to have fun. It's fun to work on
your own thing. When it's part of a greater overall good, like
Linux--or storm chasing--thet's even better.
I am not so worried about the Linux desktop as some of my
collegues. One story this week was a very strong indicator that
Linux will come along just nicely, thank you. That story was the
distribution of a million OpenOffice.org CDs in India. This event,
and others like it, tell me that ultimately, Microsoft is in for a
big decline in market share.
My thought process goes like this: one million Indian users get
OpenOffice. They run it on their Windows machines. They prefer it
to paying for Microsoft Office. Microsoft will start to directly
lose revenue, a fact exacerbated by their inevitiable cuts in
Office's price tag just to compete. To make up for the lost revenue
from their biggest money maker? Increased license and support costs
for Windows and other product lines.
"Increased costs from Microsoft?" Other business owners will say
to themselves, "The heck with that!" And Linux will be even more
attractive. More money will come in for development, and the app
library will grow.
It's a simple line of thought, but I think in the end,
simplicity will rule out over complex business models and paid-for
Microsoft seems to want to try to be the tornado here, cutting a
swath of destruction right through all that is open and free. It
didn't figure on the slightly insane Linux storm chasers to stand
up to it, run towards it, and call it for what it is.