We Need A Geek Telethon
Column written by on Wednesday, September 8, 1999
I had the strangest dream last night. Usually I dream about being assimilated by the Microsoft Borg, but last night was different. I dreamt of a Geek Telethon broadcasted on network TV to raise money for geek interests. After giving this idea some thought, it actually seems half-way reasonable: every other disadvantaged group has a telethon. Why not geeks?
My dream went something like this:
ANNOUNCER: Liiivvveee from Silicon Valley... it's the first annual Geek Grok telethon, featuring such geek stars as Eric S. Raymond, Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, and Larry Wall! For the next 24 hours, we'll be raising money for America's beleaguered geek community. Annnndddd noooooooooowww.... the hosts of this year's telethon, Mr. Eric "Bazaar" Raymond and Larry "Postmodern" Wall!
ESR: Welcome, everybody! You might be wondering why this network has pre-empted amateur women's golf to bring you this telethon. Indeed, you might be wondering just what a geek is, and why they are a disadvantaged group worthy of a 24 hour telethon. In this zeroth hour of our broadcast, we hope to answer these questions and -- of course -- get those phones ringing!
LW: To make a contribution, you can call (877)-YES-GEEK, send email to pledges at geekthon dot org, or visit our secure website at aitch-tee-tee-pee colon slash slash double-u double-u double-u dot geekthon dot org. Behind me is our Geek Pledge Board; it currently shows zero, but by the end of today we hope it's at $1E6 or more!
ESR: Before we get underway, I'd like to introduce Eric Jones, a disadvantaged member of the geek community who has been forced to live in a homeless shelter. Eric? Come on out here and tell us about yourself...
JONES: Well, I'm a consultant for a Bay Area corporation. Due to the housing crisis, I've been forced to sleep in a shelter.
ESR: How much do you make?
JONES: Over $100,000 a year.
LW: Wow! And you still can't afford housing or rent?
JONES: That's right. Prices are through the roof around here, and with my salary I can't even afford a treehouse or outhouse. I'm forced to live in a run-down homeless shelter along with other homeless geeks and executives.
ESR: That sounds terrible, Eric.
JONES: It is, Eric. It really is.
ESR: Hopefully with this telethon we'll be able to raise money to fund new shelters for disadvantaged geeks like Eric here. We also have plans for a Silicon Valley Terraforming Initiative in which several square miles of Pacific Ocean will be turned into usuable land for building housing and apartments for geeks.
LW: However, we can't do these things without your help. Eric and thousands of geeks and Silicon Valley denizens are counting on you to come through and help end this social injustice.
ESR: Do I here a phone ringing? That must be our first caller! Let's go and say hello.
(Picks up the phone) Hello? This is Eric Raymond, co-host of the Geek Grok '99 telethon. Do you wish to make a pledge?
CALLER: Hell no! I'm Bob Farrow of Gluckstadt, Mississippi, and I think this entire telethon is a horrible, evil joke!
ESR: (worried) What?
CALLER: Giving money to nerds with six-figure incomes? I can't believe my local TV affiliate is carrying this nonsense... I can't believe I've bothered to call! Meanwhile, schools around here can't afford textbooks more recent than 1960 and I'm living in a trailer with my wife and mother-in-law...
ESR: (hangs up the phone) Sorry, but we seem to be experiencing technical difficulties...
LW: I suppose now is a good time to bring out our musical talent...
(The Geek Chorus comes on stage and sings such songs as "The Bluescreen Blues", "I've Got Two Tickets To Linux Expo", "Geeks Can't Get No R-E-S-P-E-C-T", and "Pick On Somebody Your Own IQ".)
LW: Let's look at the pledge board, shall we? $500? That's all? C'mon people... $500 is barely enough to afford a shrinkwrapped box of Red Hat Linux, much less enough to end the social injustices and hardships that geeks face nationwide!
ESR: This telethon isn't just about helping disenfranchised geeks. We're also here for the betterment of mankind through our research into finding a Cure for Windows.
Each day, millions of man-hours are wasted due to design flaws in Microsoft Windows. Each day, millions of dollars are sent by business and individuals like yourself into a huge black hole known as "Microsoft" for exorbitantly priced software products that should be free.
But don't worry. We've almost found a Cure for Windows. Geeks worldwide have toiled endlessly for the past eight years working on a replacement operating system called Linux. It's almost ready. Now we need to convince the world to use our creation and eliminate the virus known as Windows.
I'd like to introduce you to Linus Torvalds, the mastermind behind Linux and the man striving to innoculate the world against Windows.
LT: (wearing a "World domination. Fast!" T-shirt) Hello!
ESR: Tell us a little about yourself.
LT: Well, many people worship me as a god... Other than that, I have a small job at a start-up firm called Transmeta where we're designing a next-generation CPU architecture that can exec... um, well, I've said too much already. Pesky Non-Disclosure Agreements, you know.
ESR: Linus here is going to do a little demonstration of how his operating system compares with Windows 98. We're going to need some volunteers from the audience... anybody with some experience with Windows? Raise your hands... okay, you, you, you, and you, c'mon on down here!
(Rob Malda, Miguel de Icaza, Tom Christensen, and Trae McCombs, pretending not to be geeks, step forward)
LT: For the record, I've never met any of these people. This is not rigged. Have you all used Windows before?
(All four nod their heads.)
LT: Good. Tove, could you bring out those Windows boxes? Thank you. While she's doing that, why don't you guys introduce yourselves.
MALDA: I work at a, um, uh, a Taco Bell restaurant in Holland, Michigan, where I slash prices and typically don't wear pants.
ICAZA: (with Mexican accent) I'm an antiques and collectibles dealer that specializes in garden gnomes.
TOM: I'm a, um, pearl reseller.
TRAE: I do graphic design.
LT: Okay. You four volunteers are going to play a game called "Crash that Box!" The first person who can cause Windows 98 to display a fatal error message wins.
TRAE: That sounds too easy...
(The "volunteers" sit down and start hacking.)
ESR: While these volunteers are busy crashing Windows, let me point out that anybody who pledges over $25 will receive a free CD-ROM with Debian Linux along with a booklet about getting started with the system...
(At this point Malda's computer shows the Blue Screen of Death, causing the audience to laugh hysterically)
MALDA: I didn't do anything... When the screensaver activated, the system crashed by itself! What do I win? What do I win?
ESR: Let me just reiterate that this demo was not rigged in any way... Windows really is that fragile!
LT: That's right. Now, this other machine here is running Linux. Rob, could you come over here and type 'uptime' at the prompt and hit ENTER?
ESR: Look at that! This machine has been online continuously for 243 days!
(Camera zoom in on the screen, and then pans to an excited audience shouting "Ooooh!" and "Ahhhh!")
LT: (smiling) And that concludes this demonstration.
(Phones start ringing off the hook.)
ESR: Listen! That's the sound of dozens of people donating money to help fight injustices against the geek nation and to help finance Linux world dominat... er, Linux world acceptance. Let's keep those phones ringing!
LW: Building a Cure for Windows isn't the only task that geekdom is confronted with. Geeks everywhere are faced with poor working conditions and discrimination by the rest of the population. These injustices must be stopped... and they can, with YOUR pledge!
ESR: That's right, Larry. Geeks suffer discrimination, ridicule, and bullying at school, work... well, at just about every aspect of life. With us right now are a group of geeks that have suffered these injustices. Meet Eric Sloan, Eric Wiederkind, and Erik Dorfman.
LW: Eric Sloans, we'll start with you. What kind of trauma did you have to put up with?
SLOAN: I was the Head Geek at my high school... the entire school computer system was held together by duct tape, I mean Perl scripts that I had written...
SLOAN: ...Anyways, as a result I was the target of the so-called Jock Rockers, members of the football team who thought they were all going to be NFL players. If I had a dollar for every wedgie I got... Oh, man. Even the teachers hated me... the gym teacher broke into laughter anytime I tried to do a pull-up.
ESR: Oh, that sounds horrible! They made you do pull-ups?!?
SLOAN: Well, now that I've graduated I'm having the last laugh. The football captain knocked-up two girlfriends and is now working at McDonalds, meanwhile my Internet start-up just had its IPO and I'm a millionaire. Oh, and the P.E. teacher was fired after it was revealed that his high school diploma was forged.
ESR: You still had to suffer. I can't... I mean... this just really, really upsets me! Geeks suffering at the hands of idiots... What is this world coming too? This is the key reason why I'm the founder of the "Geeks with Guns" movement...
LW: Aw, geez, not again! Could you save the GWG spiel for later, when we're not on the air? Quickly moving on... Eric Wiederkind, tell us about your experiences trying to get a job.
WIEDERKIND: I was trying to switch into a different career from computer programming. Programming for money sucks... you have to deal with PHBs, 16 hour days, and spending the night in your cubicle half of the time to avoid the Commute From Hell.
ESR: Poor working conditions... That's an injustice all geeks must face. (To the camera) Listen folks, five cents out of every dollar you donate will go to the newly formed Geek Guild, a labor union and trade group devoted to improving working conditions in Cubicle Farms. It's time to fight back against the Suits.
Anyways, please continue, Eric...
WIEDERKIND: Well, like you say, I didn't want to deal with that injustice anymore... I minored in Journalism of all things, so I tried to switch into a job as an IT pundit. You'd think they'd welcome a geek like me with open arms, but they didn't.
Ziff-Davis wouldn't even give me an interview. I was "too qualified" they said. Apparently my technical acumen was too much for their organization, which employs Jesse Berst and the ilk.
It gets worse. I tried to get an entry-level reporting job for a local-yokel paper. After the interview they gave me a "skills test": I had to compose an article using Microsoft Word 97. Since I've never touched a Windows box, I had no clue how to use it. When I botched the test, the personnel manager spouted, "Your resume said you were a computer programmer. Obviously you're a liar. Get out of my office now!"
After several more unsuccessful attempts to land jobs at firms with obvious anti-geek prejudices, I gave up and went back into computer programming. I'm back in a cubicle..."
ESR: (shakes head) What a tragic story. Geek oppression is something that cannot be tolerated.
Alright, moving on... Erik Dorfman, what's your story?
DORFMAN: Everybody keeps blaming me for the Y2K problem, the Melissa Virus, Windows crashes... you name it. When somebody finds out you're a bona fide geek, they start bugging you about computer problems. I frequently hear things like, "Why can't you geeks make Windows work right?", "What kind of idiot writes a program that can't handle the year 2000?", "Geeks are evil, all they do is write viruses", and "The Internet is the spawn of Satan".
I'm afraid to admit I have extensive computing experience. When somebody asks what kind of job I have, I always lie. From my experience, admitting that you're a geek is an invitation to disaster.
LW: I know, I know. I sometimes say that I'm the founder of a pearl harvesting company instead of admitting that I'm the founder of the Perl programming language.
ESR: This is tragic. We can't live in a world like this. We need your donations to fight social oppression and ignorance against geekdom...
The dream abruptly ended at this point when a cockroach ran across my face, causing me to awaken. My apartment complex barely meets city codes, and it shows. It's supposed to be fumigated next week, but I figure the roaches will be back within a month. Hopefully sales of my newly released book, "Business @ the Speed of Windows" will allow me to move to a somewhat more upscale apartment.
Nevertheless, the above transcript is a good indication of how successful a Geek telethon could be. Complaining about geek oppression on Slashdot isn't going to accomplish anything (except maybe raise your "karma" points). It's time to take action.
What do you think? Write me at jonsplatz [at] i-want-a-website [dot] com