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Shady Illuminations

October Country

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  “But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy.”  

October is a special month for Americans. It’s that magical time when we put on a mask in order to take off the mask and embrace our dark side, letting our demons run free for one night of unrepentant intimidation and pillaging. At least that’s what it is to the kids on my block. To whoever edits the events calendar for this magazine, it’s the traditional time for the leaking of confidential internal Microsoft documents outlining strategies for undermining open source software. And that’s still special. To Linus Torvalds, it is

“[t]hat most holiest of holidays, when the whole country comes together, and without regards to race, religion or age, people join a common cause. Namely the gluttonous eating of candy.”

These days Linus is embracing Halloween as he is embracing all things American. You see, he recently became a U. S. citizen. But don’t hold that against him. It probably wasn’t something he wanted to do. I think he was just legitimizing his anchor babies. And being embraced by Linus Torvalds is a mixed blessing anyway. Halfway through his paean to Halloween he starts railing against the quality of American candy, and its “almost total lack of ammonium chloride.”

Where’s he from again?

Finland, right. He blogs about Finnish culture and the sauna championships on his family blog. Apparently the Finns are big on ammonium chloride in candy. And competitive saunaing.

Getting that Stabby Feeling

When I learned that Linus had become an American, I immediately got hold of his family blog and read, with some trepidation, every post, extending back several years. I was pleased to have all my prejudices confirmed. Linus is, as I suspected, a congenital curmudgeon. Which for me goes a long way toward offsetting the whole Benevolent Dictator of Linux thing. Both the dictator and the benevolent. I’m not crazy about dictators. Or benevolence. Some evidence of the Torvalds curmudgeonry:

“[E]very once in a while I get that ‘stabby feeling,’ and yesterday I realized why. It’s ‘Brandi (You’re a fine girl).’ I’m sure that song explains at least half the road-rage incidents out there. A less stable person would quite reasonably decide that rather than change the channel, they just need to stab somebody in the face.”

“I have never found a sport that I find in the least interesting.”

“Some people seem to think that C is a real programming language, but they are sadly mistaken.”

You’re not in Finland Any More

Right after Halloween we Americans go to the polls to perform political triage, deciding which office-seekers get anointed and which get smeared. This promises to be a particularly entertaining episode of our national hope opera, and Linus will be helping us sort the cheat from the whaff. He appears to have mixed feelings about the process:

“But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy and very odd. And that's when you really notice that you're not in Finland any more.”

Maybe it was the Americans dining in the food court at Costco whom he overheard discussing strategies for driving out demons. But I’m afraid he really does think our whole political system is screwy. Ah well, it’s only to be expected that he’d retain a little prejudice in favor of his native land. He also blogs that Finnish video is big among YouTubers. Sure. But hey, if it makes him happy to think so, where’s the harm?

A True Work of Genius

After a while I started getting a little creeped out reading his blog. I hate agreeing with people. It makes me feel redundant. And then he called a Microsoft product “a true work of genius.”

No, not Windows 7.

It turns out Linus is a big fan of Songsmith, the Microsoft Research project that generates musical accompaniment to match your voice. “The thing that convinced me,” he says, “was hearing Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ as re-interpreted through Songsmith. Nobody will ever convince me that that isn’t just impossibly brilliant.”

First of all, I’ve heard my voice, and matching that is the last thing I want from musical accompaniment. Second, Linus admits that the commercials for Songsmith are painfully cheesy, but he thinks we should ignore that. I’m sorry, but Microsoft went to a lot of trouble creating those commercials and I consider it my responsibility to judge the product by the ad. You’re just wrong, Linus.

There, now I feel better.

John Shade was born in Montreux, Switzerland on a cloudy day in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. He hates long walks on the beach and his ambition is to become an acquired taste.

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