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Emmett Plant — The Welcome Wagon

By Emmett Plant
Staff Editor, Linux Today

When I was much younger, and my mother
was in college, she introduced me to one of her classmates, Rob
Small. Rob shared my infatuation for computers, and we used to
exchange software constantly. Rob and I became pretty good friends,
and he pretty much mentored me through fourth and fifth grade. I
was nervous about starting at a new elementary school, and Rob told
me this really great story.

It was my first day at a new school, and I was
completely overwhelmed. I was sitting in the lunchroom, and I was
looking at what was on my plate. It was a weird, breaded fish thing
that was actually shaped like a fish so you had a basic idea of
what you were eating. It looked disgusting. I was sitting by myself
at the table, feeling completely depressed, when some kid in the
school quickly came over and sat down next to me, and said “Hey
there! I’m the welcome wagon! What’s your name?” I felt so much
better right then because someone took the initiative and
introduced himself. I knew that everything was going to be
okay.

The Linux community (although I’m sure Eric Raymond would call
it “the tribe”) is a really great group of talented individuals.
One of the things I admire most about the community is the sense of
diplomacy. They know that it’s not enough to have the best
operating system on the planet. They know that for Linux to
succeed, it will take a strong sense of community and a helpful
attitude from its users.

Learn from the leaders. Richard Stallman may be a maniac, but I
know if he were standing next to you, he’d give you a hand with
disk partitioning if you needed it (while telling you that
everything you know about software is wrong). Eric Raymond would
definitely show you an arcane emacs keystroke. If you could hear
him through the beard and accent, you’d find that Alan Cox noticed
your problem, and was already halfway through telling you the
solution before you realized he was speaking. The chances that you
would be working anywhere near Linus are very small, but I know
he’d help you if he had the time.

There’s something magical about the Linux community in general.
During the last San Jose IDG LinuxWorld Expo, I was in a bar with
Mark Johnson and Clyde Williamson, two of the Time City staff
members. (Time City is an open-source game project which Emmett
founded — lt ed)
We all had nice big glasses of free beer,
and Linus walked in the door, and was trying as hard as possible to
remain as understated as possible. Mark, Clyde and I were on a
landing above Linus, and we all raised our glasses to him. Someone
poked him on the shoulder and pointed towards us. He turned around
and lifted his glass of free beer back at us. Clyde started going
nuts and said to me, “What are the chances you’ll be able to drink
beer with Steve Ballmer anytime soon, Emmett?”

I told him I wasn’t sure, because my luck had been running
really nicely that day, including an extremely chance meeting with
Steve Wozniak on the streets of San Jose.

The Linux community is friendly, interesting and helpful. I
don’t have Steve Ballmer’s E-mail address. I could get it if I want
it, but I don’t. Why don’t I want Steve Ballmer’s E-mail address?
Because I don’t want to talk to him. The chances that he would
actually respond are approximately one to googolplex. On the other
hand, Tom Christensen usually responds to my E-mail within the
nanosecond.

As a community, it is super-important that we keep this going.
We need to be helpful, even when we don’t want to be. We need to
attend conferences and Linux User Group meetings. We need to
arrange install-fests, and follow the example of people like Rick
Moen. We need to be able to pick up the phone at three in the
morning and talk someone through an installation. We need to be as
polite as humanly possible. (If you need a few pointers here, watch
an episode of Due South and emulate Constable Benton
Fraser.) If someone comes to us with a question we can’t answer, we
need the humility to say that we don’t know, and suggest a good
place to find the information they’re looking for.

We can only make the world a better place if we work together
and do things the right way. There are millions of Windows users on
the planet, looking at their desktop as though it’s a piece of
breaded, reconstituted fish that sits on a platter in the school
cafeteria. As Linux users and enthusiasts, we need to sit down next
to that person, hand them a CD and say, “Hey there! We’re the
welcome wagon! What’s your name?”

Emmett Plant is an editor for Linux Today and heads
up the Voice Of Linux Today (V.O.L.T.) Linux radio. His previous
writings have appeared on OpenSourceIT and BleedingEdge Magazine.
Emmett is the founder of Time City, an open-source game project.
Before joining Linux Today, Emmett worked as a Linux network
administrator for a New York City high school.