Ask Humorix: So You Want To Start Your Own Linux User Group

Feature written by James Baughn on Wednesday, June 14, 2000

from the having-fun-with-world-domination dept.

Anonymous Superuser writes, "I'm a hard-core geek and Stage 7 Linux zealot living in some podunk town in the Internet B@ckwater... er, the Midwest. I look at the active Linux User Groups in other states with envy. I see members in those LUGs getting free Linux CDs, discounts at Linux Conventions, the secret handshake, job offers at companies that don't use Windows, and the chance to meet Geek Girls. I want some of that! So how do I go about starting a new Linux User Group even though I suspect I might be the only Linux user in a ten-county radius?"

The Humorix Oracle responds:

As it turns out, I'm the founder of the Linux User Group for Non-corporeal Unhindered Telepaths (LUG-NUT) which counts over 250 oracular dieties among its members (including the great Internet Oracle himself). So, I know a thing or two million about starting such a group.

Here is a brief mini-HOWTO:

Finding members

The "Group" in LUG is plural, which means that you'll need to find warm bodies other than yourself. Now I suppose you could become a LUI (Linux User Individual), but that isn't going to get you free stuff or a date.

I'm willing to bet you a copy of Windows 2000 (retail value: US$200, actual value: $0) that there's more Linux users in your area than you realize. World domination is at hand, after all, which means that people other than Silicon Valley eccentrics have to know about it. Heck, I was at the Annual OracleExpo 2000 in some remote town in Kansas last month and I saw signs of Linux usage. A sales rep at Wal-Mart (of all places) demonstrated knowledge of Linux when I asked whether the SuperMaxWidgetMaster Deluxe Professional Advanced GizmoTronX 2000 (at 75% off, an excellent deal even though I'm not entirely sure what it does) was supported by the 2.4 Linux kernel. He didn't know, but he did direct me to comp.os.linux.will-it-run-on-linux.

So, I think there's plenty of Linux users in your area. The problem is that you have to find them. Your typical Linux geek is going to be introverted, hiding in their basement toiling away on some stupid Open Source project or lame Linux humor site.

Your local bookstore is a good place to track down the elusive geek. Hang Out By The O'Reilly Books (HOBTOB) and be on the lookout for anyone who picks up a Linux or Unix related book. Don't say anything until you see the whites of the Penguins on the cover. Then pounce! Casually strike up a conversation about Linux and then happen to mention that you're thinking of maybe possibly perhaps forming a small informal Linux User Group. That ought to get their attention.

While I'm thinking about it (us non-corporeal Oracular beings tend to be a bit scatter-brained, you know): when you're ready to start promoting your LUG, be sure to insert flyers into the Linux books sitting on the bookstore's shelves. If you're caught doing this on surveillance tape, just say to the manager, "What? Your surveillance system must be flawed. It isn't running Windows is it?"

The Computer Science department of your local university (assuming such a thing exists) is also a natural place to look. The stereotypical geek is shy -- until you mention Linux, and then they'll go into a frenzy. You might want to take a bullhorn to the CompSci department (or the dorms where the geeks live) and make an announcement. When the geeks hear the word "Linux" they'll stop their Quake game or Napster session and flock to you like RIAA lawyers to an MP3 site.

You might also try to infect the Windows computers on campus with the Tuxissa virus, which would certainly get the point across, unfortunately you'll be in jail while the first LUG meeting takes place without you. Perhaps it would be best if you just posted flyers around campus, which is the more traditional method least likely to get you in trouble with the Department of Public Safety & Parking Ticket Gestapos.

You'll also want to try to attract other people beyond the usual Linux geeks. There's plenty of disgruntled Windows users who would be happy to venture to the light side (as opposed to dark) and try Linux. You'll need to focus on Linux Advocacy.

There's one thing that binds all computer users together: The Windows bluescreen. This should be used as a rallying cry for converting people to Linux. Everyone has seen the BSOD... and when you can prove to them that there exists an operating system that doesn't have this abomination, they'll be primed and ready for World Domination.

When I say everyone has seen the bluescreen, I mean everyone. Lots of TV stations use Windows boxes for weather maps. Which means, of course, that lots of TV stations have shown the Blue Screen Of Death on-air. I'm not making this up. From airport terminals to big screen displays to local yokel TV stations, the Bluescreen is ubiquitous.

Hopefully you'll be able to find enough geeks (or convert enough Microserfs) to start a LUG. If not, however, there's always another alternative: the Beer User Group (BUG). You should have no trouble finding enough people interested in adult beverages. All you have to do is form a BUG and while everyone is drunk, gently nudge the members into talking about computers, and then, Linux. Before long you'll subvert your BUG into a LUG.

Meeting place

After you've located enough prospective members you'll need to decide on a time and place to hold the first meeting. Your first instict might be to hold it on IRC (your social gathering place of choice), but LUGs are meatspace organizations. You do realize that you'll need to venture outside into the bright sunshine (with sunscreen if your skin is only accustomed to florescent light) in order to meet with other Linux users, right?

The two keys to any successful LUG meeting place are: (a) unlimited caffeine supply and (b) good Internet access (on computers running Linux, of course).

Unfortunately, finding a decent Net connection in the Internet B@ckwater is, by definition, nearly impossible. Broadband is a pipe dream in many places, and yet, you don't win friends with a dial-up connection. Even worse, some particularly remote areas might have obnoxious TPFHs (Telephone Monopolies From Hell) that don't even offer dial-up.

In certain areas of the Missouri Ozarks, for instance, your only choice for Net access is RFC 1149 (but without RFC 2549). You put everything you want to send on a floppy disk and hand it off to a carrier pigeon which transports it to trained monkeys sitting in an office near St. Louis. After relaying your queued data, the monkeys send back another disk with the stuff that you requested to download. The whole process takes about 6 hours. At 1.44MB per disk (and one floppy is a heavy load for a bird anyways) that comes out to around 546 bits per second one-way at peak performance, less during foul weather or if the birds gets too close to Lambert International Airport.

But I digress. Us oracular dieties do have a tendency to venture off on irrelevant tangents, much like the discussions on Slashdot. We've even been known to go off on meta-tangents in which we engage in offtopic babbling about offtopic babbling. But I meta-digress.

Even if Internet access isn't readily available, you'll still want to have a bunch of Linux computers handy if possible. This way your members can show off the latest Unix trick they learned or (more importantly) play Quake against other members.


You'll need to get the word out about your LUG to prospective members. The local newspaper might be a good place to try. If you can get the paper's "tech pundit" interested, then that's great. Unfortunately, the media conglomerates in most small Midwestern towns tend to hire Jesse Berst wannabees as tech columnists. I know of one local yokel pundit who makes the Ziff-Davis staff look like geniuses; not only does he spell Linux as "Lenix" (if he actually mentions it) but he refers to any anti-Microsoft argument as "FUD". Convincing someone like that to do a writeup about your LUG is probably about as likely as Open Source Windows.

Certainly you should be able to drum up support via the Internet. You'll want to post to comp.os.linux.announce and alt.linux.user-groups.i-need-warm-bodies, as well as the various LUG directories. It would be nice if you could get a mention on a local community website, but that might not be possible in extreme parts of the Internet B@ckwater. One, such websites might not exist, and two, they might all be running on Windows NT. One Southeast Missouri links directory has been showing the same ASP error for over a year now (a display that is almost becoming as ubiquitous as the Bluescreen).


Hopefully you'll be able to take these suggestion and formulate a plan for creating a successful (read: contains lots of Geek Girls) LUG. I recommend that you write out a plan ahead of time on a wrinkled napkin while dining in a busy restaurant, which is the method 6 out of 10 dotcom billionaires prefer for composing their business plans. Your Linux User Group won't be a for-profit dotcom, of course... but you never know.

You owe the Oracle one Humorix T-shirt, which the beancounters over at Humorix World Headquarters are too cheap to buy for staff writers.

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