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Penguins Get Tropical? A Sign From Above, Perhaps...

Nov 30, 2000, 08:19 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by TJ Miller Jr)

[ The opinions expressed by guest authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

By TJ Miller, Jr.

Penguins are getting lost off the coast of Argentina. They have been washing up on the shores of Brazil in record numbers, and a stunned population doesn't exactly know what to do with them all, reports abcnews.com.

It's funny that the Linux community is treated in much the same way when the 'L-word' is brought up in a board room, or in any IT planning session, or, well, at Thanksgiving Dinner. No, really - a relative asked me about it last Thursday at dinner. I found that it's pretty hard to discuss the GPL in layman's terms, and why you can copy Linux without actually "pirating" it, all through a mouthful of stuffing...

Preconceptions abound (as they certainly do in the story linked above), and Linux often gets shunted (immediately, too!) into one or two duties, its diversity and flexibility often ignored in favor of the stereotype.

Example: How many people out there have heard "Linux" and "Apache" spoken within mere moments of each other? Raise your hands, please.

Umm, on second thought, keep your hands down - that's a lot of armpits getting a sudden rush of air, and I'd rather not be responsible for the results, thank you.

On the other hand, I mention chaining MySQL to PHP as a viable solution (for students hitting our web site looking for grades and assignments, say...) and the IT director goes apoplectic, spitting out fear-based security scenarios that would give J. Edgar Hoover's corpse a cold sweat. (The director is a "Border Manager forever!" kind of guy though, so I almost expect that from him. It was even funnier when I mentioned Linux and a few very decent tools from Freshmeat as a possible replacement for an old A/S-400 based school financials program that we used to have.) I'm fairly sure that I'm not the only one who has seen an IT director's forehead veins go into hydraulic mode. Fortunately, the revolution of thought continues, with a few very well-placed operatives within his own depar - umm, perhaps I ought to stop there.

But, let's get back to the story.

Like these lost little penguins, Linux finds itself popping up in the strangest places, and at the strangest times (I mean, if I were one of these birds, I'd have had at least enough sense to show up sometime around Carnivale...) Who would have ever thought two years ago that Linux had any sort of future in, say, embedded systems, let alone the bazillion other potential uses people keep thinking up for it? (Me, I'm actually scared stiff that a relative or friend is going to drag their brand new microwave oven up to my house and demand that I fix it, simply because they heard that the manufacturer used Linux in it. At the rate the embedded industry is going, I've already looked into the cost of having a concertina wire fence installed around my house and getting a few rabid pit bulls to roam around inside of that fence.)

But I'm running off on a multitude of tangents, here - let's get back to the meat of this whole spiel. As I read the story, I thought a bit about how the little symbol of our little OS tends to find and do things that everyone previously thought to be impossible; much like the OS itself, no? I also believe that like the birds in question, we're always going to come across people who, conditioned by the Windows3.1/95/98/2k/NT/CE/ME/XYZ school of thought, will always assume mostly mundane and outright limited things about the OS and those of us who enjoy and use it. I for one do not want to be stuck in someone's refrigerator. (Cerveza or no cerveza, I ain't going in there!)

The moral of both the abcnews.com story and my opinionating are pretty much the same here: So long as misinformation and stereotyping abound, it will take those of us who know better to kindly (and gently) inform and educate others about the care and feeding of our little friend, be it feathered or wired.

Of course, I could be wrong, and the real moral is something else - something like: "Maybe we ought to have a world-wide Linux Conference in Rio during Carnivale... whoo-hoo!") But then again, signs from above are always open to interpretation, aren't they?

Regards to all,
TJ Miller, Jr.

For the curious: I am a vocational teacher in the Utah public vocational school system. I merely educate, advise, and in general make a total nuisance out of myself every time I'm dragged into anyone else's meetings. I teach the Microsoft MCSE track, the Sair Linux LCA track, Systems administration classes of almost all description, and Linux/Unix concepts in general. Previously, I actually was a sysadmin and field service technician for FDCS, which was formerly a division of Ford Motor Company.