|1 April 2004
|Operating Systems on Collision Course|
It all started one morning high in the skies above California's Silicon Valley.
Devil McBribe, CEO of SCOurge Corporation, was piloting his own personal corporate Learjet. He had taken off from Provo, Utah, at 7 am, and now - three hours later - was circling San Carlos, California, expecting to land.
The weather did not look good - a thick fog had settled over San Francisco Bay, and the runway at San Carlos Airport was not even visible. Nevertheless, McBribe was determined to land his jet because he had an important press conference to attend at 11 am. The conference would be held in nearby Redwood City at the office of Rob, Raep, Pillaj & Plunder, Attorneys-at-Law.
The reason for the press conference was this: SCOurge Corporation, owner of the Eunuchs Operating System, had recently discovered that Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, had stolen all of his ideas from Eunuchs. McBribe was going to announce to the press that he planned to sue Linus for $10 billion in damages. In fact, while he was flying the Learjet, McBribe was practicing his speech for the press conference:
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, I am here today to announce that we're going to sue the creator of the Linux operating system, Linus Torvalds. And we're going to sue all Linux developers as well. In fact, we're going to sue everyone who uses Linux. And when we're finished with the Linux users, then we're going to go after the FreeBSD people as well. Ah, ha, ha, hah, we're gonna sue everybody! Sue, sue, sue!"
McBribe was so overcome with emotion that he unfastened his seatbelt, stood up in the plane's cockpit, and began jumping up and down while yelling "Sue, sue, sue." He even grabbed the pilot's radio microphone and started screaming into it, "Sue, sue, sue!" Then he totally forgot himself and broke into a rap song and dance...
Only a million dollars to my name
How am I gonna live down this shame?
Selling software is so lame
That's why I'm gonna sue
Nice guys finish last
I was honest in the past
Now run the Jolly Roger up the mast
I'm gonna sue, sue, sue!
So no more working in the alley
Now I'm flying to Silicon Valley
And watch my share price rally
It's time to sue, sue, sue!
McBribe was interrupted from his rap session rehearsal when the Learjet's radio crackled to life. "This is San Carlos Airport flight control - approaching aircraft, please identify yourself. Over."
* * * * * * * * * *
Down on the ground, Linus Torvalds was at that very moment having to deal with a different sort of problem that had nothing to do with lawyers. He was running frantically through the parking lot of Stanford University, which is in Palo Alto, California. Linus was running because he was being pursued by a group of screaming female Linux fans trying to rip his clothes off.
"Damn these groupies," Linus swore as he jumped into his dark green Toyota RAV4 and fumbled for the ignition key. He managed to get the car started just in the nick of time before the groupies caught up with him. With tires screeching, he drove the RAV4 out of the parking lot exit.
Unfortunately for Linus, that didn't solve his problem - some of his fans also had cars, and began a hot pursuit. "Rats!" Linus swore. "Next time I'll just stay home and write code. Let Richard Stallman give these campus lectures."
With his pursuers gaining on him, Linus raced through the Stanford Shopping Center, then cut across El Camino Real and headed east on University Avenue. As Linus reached the freeway entrance to Highway 101, his cell phone rang. Coincidentally, it was Richard M. Stallman.
"Linus," Stallman said coldly, "I read your interview on DistroWatch this morning. And quite frankly, I'm disappointed."
Linus peered into the RAV4's rear view mirror - the groupies were just three car lengths behind him.
"Ah, Richard, take my word for it, this is not a good time..."
"You called it the Linux operating system again!" Stallman lamented. "You know how I feel about that. It's GNU/Linux! When are you going to call it by its proper name?"
Linus was on the freeway, traveling at high speed, zigging and zagging across lanes to pass slower moving vehicles. He had to drive onto the left freeway shoulder in order to avoid the backup from all the people going to Ikea.
"Look Richard, I'll get back to you on that. Gotta go now. Bye"
The high-speed freeway chase continued.
* * * * * * * * * *
Heading toward Redwood City from a different direction was Caltrain train No. 34. The commuter train of Silicon Valley, Caltrain runs between San Francisco and San Jose, making more than a dozen stops en route.
Sitting in the driver's seat of train No. 34 that morning was 45-year-old Kevin MacNerd, a former software engineer whose job got outsourced to Borneo. Kevin was a loyal customer of products made by Apple Corporation - his home computer was an iMac, while jogging he listened to music with his iPod, and in his car he installed an iTrip. He always downloaded music from iTunes, and watched Apple Quicktime movies on his iBook.
Kevin even brought his iBook to work, and watched pornographic Quicktime movies while he drove the train. This was, of course, totally against company regulations and he would be instantly fired if Caltrain management ever found out. Fortunately for Kevin, he was locked inside the driver's cabin and nobody could see him. Because his mind was good at multitasking, he could drive a train and view porn at the same time - he'd been doing it for years.
On this particular morning, Kevin was watching some very explicit movies that he downloaded from Bigboobies.com, when suddenly there was knock on the cabin door.
Kevin was startled. "Who is it?" he shouted.
A sweet voice answered. "It's Cynthia. Can you open the door?"
Now this was an unexpected surprise. Cynthia Smith was the new conductor, hired just two weeks ago. She was 22-years old and beautiful. Her job was only to check tickets, and she had never even glanced at Kevin before, let alone attempted to talk to him. Not that Kevin expected her to show the slightest interest - Cynthia was a babe, Kevin was old enough to be her father, plus there was the inconvenient fact that he was married.
"Come on Kevin, open the door quickly," Cynthia urged. "There's something I'm just dying to tell you before we get to the next station."
"Uh, sure, just a minute," Kevin stammered. He was in a panic. Sitting on top of the dashboard of the train's control panel was his iBook, displaying a totally obscene movie. Kevin frantically clicked the mouse button and hid the smut with a screen saver (displaying his wife's photo, which was anything but sexy). Then he quickly unlocked the cabin door and flung it open.
"Cynthia," Kevin croaked. "What a surprise."
* * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, on nearby San Francisco Bay, a large hovercraft was moving rapidly across the fog-laden waters. Behind the controls was the richest man in the world, Toll Gates, the chairman of Microshaft Corporation.
"Just call me Captain," Gates said cheerily to the crowd of journalists gathered behind him, "and welcome aboard the SS Monopoly."
The SS Monopoly
"And now," he continued, "we are ready to begin our demonstration of the new Microshaft Autopilot software. I have attached my laptop computer, running Windoze XP of course, to the hovercraft's controls. I've programmed in our destination - the Sequoia Yacht Club at Redwood City. Now all I've got to do is sit back and Microshaft Autopilot will drive us safely to the pier." The journalists applauded.
Captain Gates lit a cigar with a US$100 bill, as was his usual custom.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Requesting permission to land. Over," Devil McBribe said into the microphone.
The reply was immediate. "This is San Carlos Airport flight control - permission is denied. The whole Bay Area is socked in by fog. Please proceed to Buchanan Field in Concord - they have clear weather there. Over."
McBribe was stunned. Buchanan Field was far away, he had a press conference at 11 am, and no way was he going to miss it. So McBribe angrily pressed the button on the microphone. "Who do you think you are? Don't tell me I can't land!" he shouted. "I'll sue you! Over."
There was a brief pause, then the voice came back on line. "This is Tom, the flight control operator at San Carlos Airport. Look, I'm in charge here, and I get to say who lands and who doesn't. And who do you think you are, threatening me with a lawsuit? Over."
McBribe flew into a rage. "Who am I? I'm the CEO of SCOurge Corporation, that's who I am! I've got a team of rabid lawyers at my disposal. One word from me and they'll take you to the cleaners. We'll sue the pants off of you. You're playing with fire. Over."
After a slight pause, Tom was back. "Hey, I think I read about you in the newspapers. Aren't you the guy who sued the Mother Theresa Orphanage? Yeah, I remember now, the kids at the orphanage still have no bread to eat because of that lawsuit."
"Let them eat cake," McBribe snarled."Besides, the orphanage stole my company's intellectual property. We offered them a license at only $667 per orphan, but they wouldn't cough up the cash. Over."
Tom laughed. "Now what intellectual property could the Mother Theresa Orphanage possibly have stolen from you? Over!"
"I can't tell you that - it's protected by a non-disclosure agreement!" McBribe yelled. "But as God is my witness, I swear it's true. I swear on my stock options. Mother Theresa violated our intellectual property. If it's not true, may God strike me down."
No sooner had the words left his lips, than McBribe felt a sharp pain between his shoulders. He gripped his chest, and slumped forward on the aircraft's controls. The Learjet began to spiral out of control.
"What's going on up there?" Tom shouted. You're losing altitude rapidly! Pull up! Can you hear me? Pull up!"
* * * * * * * * * *
With the groupies in hot pursuit, Linus - with tires squealing - made a sudden, sharp turn at the Woodside Road exit in Redwood City and got off the freeway. Just as he successfully completed this maneuver, his cell phone rang again.
"Look Richard," Linus said, "I really don't want to discuss..."
"Hey, this isn't Richard," the voice on the cell phone said. "It's Tov."
"Tov?" Linus muttered?
"Yeah, you know, your wife," the voice said.
"Oh yeah, that Tov," Linus mumbled.
"So how did the lecture at Stanford go?"
"Just fine, honey," Linus lied. His eyes were glued to the rear view mirror. "Damn," Linus swore under his breath - there was still one car of groupies pursuing him.
"What's that you said?" Tov asked.
"Nothing dear," Linus stammered. "I was just swearing at this fog - it's as thick as pea soup."
"Well, drive carefully. Listen, I want you to pick up some things at the supermarket. Have you got a pen?"
"I don't need a pen - I can remember. What is it you need?"
"Don't try to kid me - I know how absent-minded you are. Grab a pen and write this down," Tov insisted.
"Yes dear," Linus said while fumbling for a pen and paper in the glove box. He couldn't find a pen, so he opened up his Transmeta notebook, which had handwriting recognition. He now held a stylus in his right hand, the notebook in the left hand, the cell phone between his jaw and his shoulder, while steering the car with his knee. "OK darling, I've got something to write with - go ahead."
* * * * * * * * * *
Back aboard the hovercraft, Captain Gates was trying to fight off a sneeze. "Think I'm catching a cold in this foggy weather," Gates said to the journalists. He then reached into his pocket, took out a US$50 bill, and used it to blow his nose, as was his custom.
The hovercraft was no longer in San Francisco Bay. It had entered Redwood Creek, and was heading upstream. Redwood Creek is home of the Sequoia Yacht Club.
Captain Gates was glowing with pride. "As you can see, our highly accurate GPS navigation system works like a charm," Gates announced. "In just a moment, Microshaft Autopilot will slow down the boat and dock it right at the Yacht Club pier. I won't even need to touch the keyboard."
But the boat didn't slow down. First it zoomed past Corkscrew Slough. Then it went right by wharf Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. It was still going full-throttle when it passed the Sequoia Yacht Club, and now it was zooming past the Marine Science Institute. At its present rate of speed, in just one more minute the hovercraft would reach the headwaters of Redwood Creek and the Highway 101 bridge - in other words, downtown Redwood City.
The journalists were looking nervous. Gates held the smile on his face as long as he could. At last he spoke, "Well, maybe it still has a few bugs, but nobody panic. All I've got to do is hit ctrl-s and the boat will come to a complete halt."
Captain Gates confidently hit ctrl-s, but nothing happened. The keyboard was frozen.
"Uh-oh," he said.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Hi," Cynthia said as she stepped into the driver's cabin of Caltrain train No. 34. "You're just not going to believe who's on board this train today. Steve Jobs!"
"Go on!" Kevin exclaimed. "Why would he be riding this funky old train?"
"I don't know," Cynthia said excitedly. "Maybe his helicopter broke down. Anyway, I checked his ticket, and then asked for his autograph, and he gave it to me."
Cynthia excitedly held up a piece of paper with Steve's autograph.
"Wow, that's really cool!" Steve agreed. "I'm envious."
"Hey, you brought your laptop to work," Cynthia said pointing to the iBook.
"Oh, that," Kevin blurted. "Well, I'm learning to program. But don't tell anyone - I'm not supposed to have the computer in the driver's compartment."
"My lips are sealed," Cynthia promised. "Whose photo is that on the screensaver?"
"That," Kevin sighed, "is my wife."
"Oh," Cynthia replied. "Well, she's...uh...she looks like..."
"A sumo wrestler," Kevin said.
"Oh no," Cynthia lied, "she looks...nice. Anyway, she must love you."
"Love me?" Kevin laughed, shaking his head. "To her I'm just a cash register."
Cynthia grinned. "In that case, let's get rid of this screensaver." Before Kevin could stop her, she reached over and clicked the iBook mouse button. The screensaver disappeared, revealing a very naughty video.
All Cynthia could say was, "Oh!"
Kevin could have died on the spot. "Cynthia," he pleaded, "try to understand. You've seen the battle-axe I'm married to. And we haven't had sex for a couple of decades. What's a man like me to do? Please don't tell anyone."
Cynthia just stared at the iBook's screen, with an expression of shock on her face.
* * * * * * * * * *
McBribe opened his eyes, and instantly sat up erect. The plane was nose-diving, but McBribe reacted swift as a stunt pilot. He grabbed the controls and pulled back hard. In a minute, the aircraft was flying level again, but it was definitely a close call.
"This is Tom, come in, come in, are you reading me?" the voice crackled from the radio.
"This is McBribe. Over."
"What happened?" Tom demanded. "From what I saw on my radar screen, it looked like you were about to buy the farm. Over."
"I blacked out for a minute, but I'm OK now," said McBribe as he took a Thorazine tablet from his pocket and swallowed it. "Can you tell me where I am right now? Over."
"You overshot the airport, and right now you're over Redwood City," Tom answered. "You'd have to circle around again if you wanted to land at San Carlos, but like I said, we are socked in by fog. Please fly to Concord where it's safe to land. Over."
"Don't start that again," McBribe demanded. "I've got a press conference, and not even hell, fire and brimstone is going to keep me from attending! Over."
"What's so important about a press conference?" Tom inquired. "Has your company developed some hot new technology you're planning to announce? Over."
"Don't be ridiculous," McBribe said. "SCOurge doesn't do technology, we just sue. I'm going to the press conference to announce our lawsuit against Linus Torvalds. He stole our intellectual property. The Linux kernel is ours! Over."
"What! You can't do that," Tom roared. "I'm a Linux geek myself! The kernel was written by volunteers, working for free! What kind of a moral cretin are you anyway? I bet you'd sell your own mother to a glue factory. Over."
"How'd you know about mom? McBribe asked. "Anyway, she had arthritis."
"That's it, dirtbag!" Tom bellowed. "I've had enough of you - you can't land here. Not even an emergency landing. I'm going to park the fire truck in the middle of the runway right now just to make sure you can't land. Hope you crash."
"Wait!" McBribe cried. "You can't do that! Look, I've got to land now."
"Blow it out your ass," Tom replied. "Over and out!"
"No," McBribe screamed, "I'm telling you the truth, Linus stole our intellectual property. I can't tell you what property, but we own everything, and he stole it. As God is my witness, I give you my word. And my word is as reliable as...as...as this jet airplane I'm flying."
Just as those words left his lips, the two engines of the Learjet cut off.
"Uh-oh," McBribe whimpered.
* * * * * * * * * *
"I need some lettuce and tomatoes for the salad," said Tov. "Oh, and don't forget to pick up some milk for the kids."
"Yes dear," Linus said obediently. He was now holding the Transmeta notebook in one hand, the stylus in his mouth, and the cell phone wedged between his jaw and shoulder. He needed at least one hand free so that he could steer.
"Gotta go now, honey," Linus exclaimed as he executed a high-speed turn around a corner. Unfortunately, he lost his grip on the cell phone but there was nothing he could do about it. After several more turns through the streets of Redwood City, he found himself downtown, cruising on Broadway, and headed towards the Caltrain train station. Just then the cell phone rang.
"Damn," cursed Linus. "Where is that phone?"
He then spotted it on the floor of the car, on the passenger side. Linus sighed, and with one hand on the steering wheel, he leaned down to retrieve the phone, completely taking his eyes off the road. He did not notice the approaching train...
* * * * * * * * * *
The hovercraft finally reached the headwaters of Redwood Creek and struck land. A normal boat would have been destroyed, but the hovercraft jumped up the bank and continued. First the hovercraft shot past the cement factory, then the miniature golf course. When it reached the parking lot of Toys-R-Us, panicked motorists fled in every direction. The hovercraft flew through the traffic lane of a McDonald's drive-up window, shattering the glass windows and hurling Big Macs, fries and milkshakes in every direction, but fortunately nobody was injured. The hovercraft then continued past the county courthouse and the law library without slowing down - pedestrians scattered like leaves.
The journalists aboard the hovercraft were in a state of terror, but Captain Gates - still at the helm - remained calm. "Don't worry," he announced, "all I've got to do is hit ctrl-alt-delete and Windoze will restore the boat to manual control."
He duly hit ctrl-alt-delete, and a message popped up on the computer screen. It said, "Death to Microshaft - Long Live Linux!"
"Aha!" Captain Toll Gates exclaimed. "I knew it! It wasn't my buggy Windoze operating system after all. It was those Linux hackers!"
Suddenly one of the "reporters" stepped up to the front of the crowd. "Yes!" he cried. "It's true. Now you and your evil operating system are going to die. And everybody will think it was another Windoze bug that caused the accident. And then nobody will buy Windoze ever again! Ah, ha, ha, hah! May the pox be upon your evil operating system!"
"Who are you!" cried Captain Gates. "Identify yourself, ye mutineer!"
"I'm Ladislav Bodnar of DistroWatch," shouted the crazed Linux hacker. "And I'll see you in hell."
"Grab him!" yelled Captain Gates to the news crew. "Don't worry, we aren't going to die. Windoze will save us...you just watch."
The hovercraft was out of control, moving at break-neck speed. It was heading down Broadway, in downtown Redwood City - heading towards the Caltrain train station.
* * * * * * * * * *
Back on Caltrain train No. 34, Cynthia was still staring in shocked silence at the horribly explicit Quicktime movie playing on the screen of Kevin's iBook. Finally, she spoke. "Wow," she said. "That's really hot." She then gave Kevin a sly, sidelong grin. "But you ought to see my video collection. Hey, they don't call them Quicktime movies for nothing."
"Gosh, I didn't know you were that kind of girl," Kevin exclaimed.
"Well, there's a lot of things you don't know about me," Cynthia said sheepishly. She then stared downwards, and added, "Hey Kevin, is that an iPod in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
Cynthia pushed the door of the driver's cabin closed. The two Caltrain employees grabbed each other in a torrid embrace. Unfortunately, the train was still moving along the tracks at high speed, and was approaching the Redwood City train station.
* * * * * * * * * *
Thus, patient reader, the stage has been set. We are now presented with this scenario:
1) Kevin and Cynthia are making wild and passionate love in the driver's cabin of the Caltrain train. Kevin is - to say the least - not paying attention to his job. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs is sitting in the passengers' compartment, busily recalculating a speadsheet on his iBook, unaware of the peril he is in.
2) Linus Torvalds is driving his RAV4 down Broadway in Redwood City. Linus is fishing around under the dashboard looking for his ringing cell phone, oblivious to the fact that he is approaching a railroad crossing.
3) Approaching the railroad crossing from the opposite direction is a speeding out-of-control hovercraft driven by the President of Microshaft Corporation. Reporters are holding down the crazed Ladislav Bodnar, who is laughing like a madman.
4) In the skies above Redwood City, an out-of-control Learjet piloted by Devil McBribe is plunging towards earth.
All four vehicles are converging on a single point - the railroad crossing in downtown Redwood City. They are on a collision course.
Could this really be the end?
* * * * * * * * * *
With disaster all but certain, it was truly amazing what happened next.
Silicon Valley was struck by an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. Caltrain train No.34 was derailed and came screeching to an abrupt halt. Nobody was hurt, but the locked door of the driver's compartment popped open, and Kevin and Cynthia tumbled straight through it, winding up stark naked amongst 50 staring passengers. Their embarrassment was made more acute when the driver's compartment door slammed shut, locking their clothes inside.
The RAV4 driven by Linus ran out of gas and drifted to a stop. The absent-minded Linus had forgotten to fill the tank. He did manage to answer the cell phone in time - it was Tov again. "Can you stop at Starbucks, dear, and pick me up a double non-fat soy latte, medium but in a large cup, with triple caramel, light foam, and semi-sweet shavings? she asked.
Windoze XP crashed, causing the hovercraft to lose power and stop. Ladislav Bodnar managed to escape - his current whereabouts are unknown.
A large meteorite from outer space hit McBribe's Learjet, instantly pulverizing the aircraft. The wreckage fell harmlessly into San Francisco Bay, and not a trace of it (or McBribe) was ever found.
And who said that miracles never happen?
|Copyright (C) 2004 Robert Storey|
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
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