Editor's Note: Shouting Down a Twister
Jul 02, 2004, 23:30 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
How to Help Your Business Become an AI Early Adopter
By Brian Proffitt
This Sunday, my Great Aunt Blanche passed away, and then my Aunt
Ginny passed suddenly on Wednesday night. As I write this on
Thursday night, I am literally between two funerals and am about to
depart for Louisiana for the second.
I have just returned from Blanche's funeral. She was 103. And
she didn't take nothin' from nobody.
Thursday was the funeral and many people in the small town of
Monticello, Indiana attended the services with my family. While
Blanche did not rate a 21-gun salute, her status as one of the
oldest living residents in White County certainly drew a lot of
friends and acquaintances.
When people speak of Blanche, they speak of her drive,
determination, and faith. She was a widow much longer than she was
a wife, and even living alone, she was determined that life would
not pass her by--cetainly not without a word or two from her.
There is, in my family, a certain family legend about Blanche
that indicates just how determined she was.
On April 3 and 4, 1974, the most destructive outbreak of
tornadoes in the 20th Century occured. According to the
Indianapolis Star, during a 16-hour period, 148 tornadoes hit 13
states, including here in Indiana. The path of destruction
stretched 2,500 miles. More than 300 people died and more than
5,000 were injured. In Indiana, 21 tornadoes struck 39 counties,
killing 47 people. One of those tornadoes ran straight through the
town of Monticello--smack dab through downtown.
The tornado was later classified as an F3, the National Weather
Service says, though right after it passed through the town and
continued the rest of its 56-mile run, it became a stronger F4
storm. So, this was no puff of strong air.
The family legend goes something like this: when Blanche heard
the storm approaching, she marched her 74-year-old self out onto
her front porch and yelled and cursed at the tornado as it
approached. She did this for a few moments, until flying debris
forced her back inside and into the storm cellar.
And though many homes in her neighborhood were severely damaged,
her house was untouched, save for a few lost shingles and one
broken window on the front porch--stove through by a large tree
limb that went through the very same spot she'd been yelling at the
My Mom and I visited Blanche the next day, and though I was just
seven years old, I remember the damage I saw quite well. Tree after
tree just flattened. Homes and the materials inside literally
scattered to the four winds. Except for Aunt Blanche's house--a
tall Victorian refuge in the middle of destruction with its doors
open as a shelter for her neighbors until they could get their
homes and lives pieced back together.
As years went by, the story of what Blanche may have done grew
in my family to legend status. I say "may," because Blanche never
struck me as a person with the low common sense demonstrated by
standing outside near a tornado, and as a good Christian woman, I
have a hard time believing anything like a curse came out of her
mouth. But, it makes for a good story, and an allegory that I carry
with me to this day.
To me, shouting down a tornado is indicative of any fight that
seems to be too big or too overwhelming. When it appears that all
the odds are against me or the cause I am supporting, I think about
this little old lady facing off an approaching storm and
I thought of this example yet again this week, when someone sent
me a link Wednesday to an article on The Center for Public
Integrity's site. The article, "Foreign
Lobbyist Database Could Vanish," details a problem within the
Justice Department's Foreign Agent Registration Unit. Apparently,
their closed-source database that registers foreign lobbyists and
other agents is so corrupt, it may be unrecoverable.
The article goes on to explain how the Justice Department found
itself in this mess, why a critical piece of software is still
running on Windows 95, and how they hope to go about fixing it
before all access to the data is lost.
Since the article did not have anything to do with Linux
directly, I did not post it on Linux Today. But the person who sent
it to me wrote why this article was worth looking at anyway:
"...[H]ere's a great example of the kinds of games one can play
when the source ain't available or the community is not allowed to
participate in something clearly in the public's interest."
And he is right. The government's dependence on closed-source
and proprietary vendors is slowly and surely catching up to it. As
software obsoletes and hardware falls to entropy, there are
increasing pockets of important data that are being rendered
unusable. And, even if there is rescue made, how much money is
wasted in the rescue effort?
Sometimes, in my discouraged moments, it seems to me that
convincing the government here to get away from the closed-source
trap is a futile effort. That proprietary vendors' camapaign
contributions are too big, their lobbyists too influential. I look
at other countries and I wonder why we can't seem to get this
proprietary monkey off our backs. Open source makes sense, but how
will we ever get that sense into our government's collective
There are rays of hope in the US, of course: the recent
migration to Linux by the US Federal Courts, and this week's
migration to a SUSE/IBM law-enforcement infrastructure by the State
of Mississippi. So all is not lost. And, it really never was
Because I remember the story of shouting down a tornado. And how
sometimes, one voice may just make a difference in the face of an
And was it a tall tale? Well, if you look at this
map from the National Weather Service, you would see an odd
little inward curve in the storm's path just southeast of the
town's Central Business District. A curve that shows the tornado
managed to miss Blanche's old house by just one block.
I look at that deviation and I wonder... I just wonder... and I
Programming Notes: First, I must thank Gus Venditto for stepping
in and covering LT for me Thursday and Friday. Also, because of my
sudden travel plans, the feed this weekend will be sporadic, for
which I must apologize. For those of you celebrating this weekend:
be safe and be fun. That goes for the rest of you, too! Peace.