The Haunted Server Room

Fake News written by Dances With Penguins on Tuesday, October 29, 2002

from the lawyers-vultures-congressmen-oh-my! dept.

Witches? Ghosts? Monsters? Chain-saw murderers? Orcs? Zombies? None of these traditional forms of Halloween evil have any impact on geeks. Haunted houses, B movies, and "Very Special Halloween Television Specials" simply don't instill fear in the hearts of American nerds.

But that doesn't mean Linux longhairs can't be scared. Evil definitely abounds in the world, and the South-Southeastern California Linux User Group hopes to capitalize with its production of the Zeroth Annual Haunted Server Room.

"It's just like traditional haunted houses, but this is actually scary," explained SSCLUG Benevolent Dictator and founder Eric Steverson. "Any geek that can make it through the entire tour of the haunted server room will get their US$5 admission refunded. (Offer not valid if you pee in your pants.)"

Money raised from the Halloween event will help support professional hobby open source programmers who will be able to continue working on half-baked KDE and GNOME applets that will never be finished.

This reporter was invited to a beta-testing session of the Haunted Server Room. I've never been more scared in my entire life. Since only five regular readers will read this, I don't think it will be too embarassing if I admit that I didn't make it through the whole complex.

The Linux User Group has leased an office building to put on the haunted production. This isn't just any building; it was once home to a small but prosperous software development company that developed a software product in competition with Microsoft. Within days the company suffered a violent death when it became embraced-and-extinguished. Some say the building is haunted in its own right because of its checkered past. The place vibrates with psychic energy -- the pain experienced by its former inhabitants is etched into its walls and floors. Or something like that.

When first entering the building on the tour, you see an innocent looking computer lab filled with PCs running Linux. Then unexpectedly, the power goes out and one of the "tour guides" screams, "We're being attacked!" One by one, the computers display the Windows splash screen... and then the Blue Screen of Death. "Code 3! Code 3! Our machines are being infected!" another tour guide shouts. Before long the entire room glows blue from the light of the Operating System From Hell.

The whole thing is just a show, but it was orchestrated so flawlessly that it sent my heart pounding.

And this was just the warmup.

Before anybody could catch their breaths, men in black suits busted the doors down and rushed into the room yelling "We're from the BSA! This is an audit!" They are followed by another batch of attackers carrying briefcases emblazed when the logo of everybody's least favorite monopoly. "We're from Microsoft! This is a raid! Everybody step away from the computers until we can inspect them for pirated Microsoft software!"

I nearly had a heart attack right then and there.

During the next part of the tour of the Haunted Server Room, the audience was led one-by-one into a hallway. Large advertisements are projected on the walls -- all from companies on the Official Register Of Big Evil Companies That Should Be Boycotted. Loud, blaring commercials play in the background. And computers along the wall feature pop-up advertisements -- literally. At random intervals, robotic mallets connected to the computers pop up and slap you over the head while playing pre-recorded promotions for AOL, Unisys, Verisign, and other despised companies.

Finally, one of the tour guides announces, "Welcome to the future!"

The audience is then herded to another room decorated like a prison cell. One actor, dressed in prison stripes, says desperately, "I'm was locked up when I made a typo when entering a URL and accidentally stumbled on top-secret FBI documents!"

Another "prisoner" screams, "I made a GIF image using the GIMP without paying royalties to Unisys!" and then, "I posted a Usenet message containing a deep link to the Major League Baseball website without first obtaining their expressed written permission!"

The final inmate says, "I was given ten-to-twenty for transferring a copy of Windows to my mother in violation of the End User License Agreement!" He then says in a droning voice, "But I underwent re-education therapy and now I'm doing much better. If I promise to never commit another violation against my benevolent corporate masters, I might be allowed to go free in six months. Microsoft is good. Copyrights are good. Piracy is bad. Piracy is bad. Piracy is bad..."

I couldn't take it anymore. The Blue Screens of Death... the Intellectual Property Police Invasion... the Saturation Bombing of Advertisements... the Microsoft/Disney/AOL Prison...

I lost it right there. I ran out of the building (along with several other terrified-beyond-belief members of the audience) at a speed I had never achieved even when I was on the high school track team.

What did I miss? Well, I didn't make it to the room where a machine-gun-toting Richard M. Stallman goes ballistic when somebody says "Linux" without "GNU". I didn't make it to the staged simulation of a Congressional hearing sponsored and paid for by the RIAA into the evils of music piracy. I didn't make it to the demonstration of the exciting new features of Microsoft Windows DRM Edition.

It's been two days now since I visited the Haunted Server Room and I'm still having nightmares. I now check under my bed before I turn the lights off to make sure no Microsoft lawyers are hiding down there.

This is the last time I participate in any Halloween activities.

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