Originally Published: Monday, 7 February 2000 Author: Jerry Hatchett
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Flying Candy Bars

First, I'd like to thank you for the great response we received regarding last week's article about DollarStation.com. Lots of you signed up at our home page, and over a dozen Linux developers have already contacted our Chief Technology Officer to explore the possibility of joining the effort. We sincerely appreciate the interest....

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First, I'd like to thank you for the great response we received regarding last week's article about DollarStation.com. Lots of you signed up at our home page, and over a dozen Linux developers have already contacted our Chief Technology Officer to explore the possibility of joining the effort. We sincerely appreciate the interest.

On another topic altogether, have you seen the new Ameritrade commercial that's running on TV right now? It's the one where a dozen or so people are gathered in a room, on their mats, on the floor, participating in some sort of "feel-good" session that quite naturally gels into an incredibly happy bunch of folks who are fantasizing about making eight-dollar stock trades. It cracks me up every time I see it. It also reminds me of a real event that I attended five or six years ago (as a contractor working the event) that to this day still amazes me whenever I think about it.

If memory serves, it was called a "Vision Conference," and ostensibly the goal was... was... come to think of it, I never could figure out just what the goal was. Set in a dingy conference center in a rather scruffy location, a mid-sized city had agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a consulting company for this affair that lasted a few hours. All the city officials were there. They first divided up into little groups named after NFL teams and sat on ugly sofas in dim hallways while they laughed and joked and ate stale donuts and drank bad coffee and scribbled on legal pads. After an hour or so of this revolutionary interaction, they gathered once again into the big room.

Back in the big room, the real action began. The consultants/facilitators talked about people working harmoniously together and moving gloriously through the next few years and into that most magical and mystical of all years: 2000. They told bad jokes and asked silly questions. If one of the attendees answered one of the silly questions in a way that the consultants deemed correct, a consultant would throw a candy bar across the room to the "Smart One." The attendees talked about what they thought the biggest problems were that their city faced, and got more candy bars thrown at them. Golly gee whiz, it was a lot of fun.

Just when I thought it couldn't possibly get any better, the featured speaker arrived. I couldn't tell you his name now if my life depended on it, but I well remember him being introduced by the consultants as a "renowned futurist." Friends and neighbors, I only thought I had seen and heard nonsense up to that point.

He got worked into a Jetsonian frenzy as he described what the year 2000 (remember, this was in the mid-nineties) was going to be like. Computers would be able to think just like people. You would be able to push a few buttons as you watched a movie and replace John Wayne with yourself. It went on and on and on; he painted one heck of a picture. The obvious problem with the picture is that it had no basis in reality. He plucked things out of thin air and presented them as fact. And because he was able to do it in convincing style, the attendees believed him. I saw it on their faces. They were riveted.

When the futurist was through, he got a hearty round of applause and made his exit. The chief consultant re-took the podium and proclaimed the day to be a marvelous success. The attendees were thrilled. They agreed. They applauded some more. Then it was over, at which point I'm sure the consultants collected the tens of thousands of dollars and made their exit.

The whole thing amazed me, infuriated me, and saddened me. I was there, and I'd bet my bottom dollar that the only ones who benefitted in any tangible way whatsoever were the consultants and the "futurist." And in my opinion, it is all too reflective of what goes on all the time in corporate and governmental America. Committees. Feel-good sessions. Talk. Talk. Talk some more. Throw some money away in the name of feeling good. Hire some consultants to help you do it. Hand a microphone to someone who can talk for an hour and say nothing of value.

I am, of course, speaking in generalities. Not all conferences or committees or planning sessions are without merit. I'm sure many are productive and necessary, so please don't take offense if you participate in that variety. I guess I'm old-fashioned and simplistic in some ways, but what I appreciate is plain old work.

And that's something that I really respect about the Linux community. It represents the ultimate in "roll-the-sleeves-up" mentality. You may talk for a bit about a bug, but then you squash it. You've rejected the bureaucracy and chosen the path of real accomplishment. Instead of just dreaming, you work toward the dream. And in so doing, you've turned one little kernel into a phenomenal crop of something real and tangible. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

P.S. Any idea when you guys might have that me-instead-of-John-Wayne feature ready to go?

Jerry Hatchett is a 40-year-old entrepreneur who loves the online world and the technology that drives it. He believes that Linux is a key component in the future of that world, and enjoys sharing his meandering thoughts in support of the community that made and makes Linux possible.





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