|Forty-eight hours without sleep had turned
us into animals. After the sick incident at the gas station, we were
The UHaul had a bad starter, so we couldn't shut the vehicle
off without stranding ourselves for hours. While I pumped gas into
the idling junker, Bryan Damitz, the photographer, went into the Star Mart
to buy a map of Vancouver, BC. He came back with a map of Washington,
and refused to exchange it, mumbling something about making "a fool of
myself in there." When I went into the mart to exchange the map,
I suddenly lost my composure. Laughing hysterically I lunged toward
the clerk and threw the map down on the counter next to the cash register.
I was able to pull myself together enough to demand a map of Vancouver
and then flee.
We had an interview scheduled with Richard Stallman at
11: 00 am. It was 10:20. We were dead lost and running out
of time and self-control.
by Curtis Lee Fulton
"I said turn right," Damitz shouted, as the truck roared through a respectable
university neighborhood, endangering children and wandering pets.
"damn it," I shouted back, "you need to make yourself more clear."
"I am," replied Damitz, "I told you to turn left on 10th five blocks
ago. There. Flip a bitch there."
"Fine," I said. I banked a hard right into an empty two-car driveway
belonging to a white three-story house, screeched a hard left back toward
the street, ripped through some soggy lawn, ramped off the curb and steered
the UHaul to the missed street.
UHaul is a wretched company. I want to encourage you, reader, to never
conduct business with these thieves.
I rented the junker in Eugene. The University of Oregon School of Journalism
and Communication, where I work as a Linux System Administrator, was generous
enough to lend me over $10,000 worth of video equipment, none of which
I understood how to use. That was up to Damitz. By 8pm the truck
was loaded and I began to drive north to meet Damitz in Portland.
When I arrived in Portland, the UHaul broke down.
Damitz and I diagnosed the problem as a bad starter. The problem with
a bad starter is that starters never actually break, they just sort of
So after running between one and 10 minutes, this heavily degraded starter
had about a 50% chance of sending current to the four spark plugs embedded
in the Honda engine when I turned the ignition key.
If the truck had been running for over half an hour, it was guaranteed
not to start until the entire engine was cold enough to touch.
These facts were gleaned through careful observations as Damitz and
I cursed, tired-kicked and prayed our way up to Vancouver, WA, where we
spent 45 minutes drinking caustic StarMart coffee and waiting for the engine
to cool. We vowed never to shut the vehicle off until this trip was over.
Back when the truck refused to start in Portland, Damitz and I were
certain it would never start without the administration of a professional
"I'm sorry sir," said the girl on the other end of 1-800-WE-SCRD-U,
"no mechanic is available until ten tomorrow morning."
I could hear dogs barking in the background. Obviously this number routed
to somebody's house. What kind of company was this?
"But I need to be in BC by ten," I said, "I need a mechanic now. This
is your fault and you need to fix it."
"I'm sorry sir. . ."
After slamming the phone down, I wandered outside to find Damitz frantically
stuffing the equipment into his elderly sports car.
"I don't care if we destroy this car on way," he said, "we are
going to complete this trip."
"Maybe we can use my parents car," I said, "we can drive your car out
to my folk's place and pick their vehicle up."
"OK," said Damitz.
I called UHaul back. "Look," I said, "I mentioned earlier that I have
a schedule to be concerned with. I need to abort this contract. I'm going
to leave the vehicle at a specified address and I need your people's mechanics
to come by and pick it up whenever they can."
"Then you will be fined for abandoning a vehicle," the voice replied.
"It is your responsibility to deliver the truck to the registered destination."
The dogs were yelping now. They sounded hungry.
"But this is your fault!" I shouted, "what am I supposed to do, spend
two weeks nursing this piece of shit up to BC? Have your mechanics meet
me every 30 miles at truckstops?"
"I'm sorry sir. . ."
It is times like these when I worry about this country. Was this the
state Russia was in, just before it collapsed? What happened to the efficiency
of capitalism? My plane never departs on time.
"Wake up!" Damitz shouted as I drifted into oncoming traffic. "This
street will lead us into the heart of the university. Now, what department
are we trying to find?"
"I don't know," I replied, "we need to find a pay phone and make a call."
I bounced the UHaul up a gravel drive toward a stone castle. To the
right was a smaller building with a pay phone stuck to the wall. I jumped
out and ran to the phone to call my University of British Columbia contact.
"The starters bad and we can't turn this truck off until we're stopped
for good," I explained. "Has Stallman checked in?"
"No," replied Gail, "he's late too."
"That's good news," I replied, "this trip has been one disaster after
another. Where can we safely park this truck and unload our equipment?"
Suddenly I heard the bray of an 18-wheeler. I turned around and
saw a black semi-truck inching toward the UHaul, which was blocking traffic.
Damitz jumped up from the passenger's seat to move the truck, and as
he did he smashed his head into the overhanging compartment. The
concussion sent him reeling backward. BAAWAAAAMMPP!! The semi driver
had no patience for this. Damitz stumbled around in circles for a
few seconds before hobbling around the front of the truck toward the driver's
"Damnit," I had said to Damitz earlier at a gas station, rubbing my
pounding head and pointing at a sticker headlined "DANGER," which had a
crude drawing of a docile man ramming his head into the compartment's underside,
"no amount of documentation in the world can make up for poor architecture."
But as I watched Damitz lurch around in pain and confusion, I began
to laugh hysterically. I couldn't control myself, and Gail was in
the middle of instructions as to where we could park the orange and white
monstrosity without getting it towed.
"Hello?" asked Gail. "Excuse me," I replied, "it's been a long
drive. Could you repeat that?"
* * * * * * *
Damitz and I lugged 12 silver cases up four flights
of stairs. After that, Damitz slammed into action.
"Key light here. How tall is Stallman? We need to kill that ugly reflection
off the south wall. Where's the video monitor? Where's Stallman?"
Stallman is about 6 feet tall, has a thick beard and long hair and speaks
in a soft, musical voice with a hint of nasal resonance. He was checking
his email from a battered laptop. He had just returned from lunch.
"I need some Asian students to guide me through downtown Vancouver,"
I had heard him say to someone when we arrived, "I need help finding the
best breaded duck possible."
While Stallman was eating lunch and Damitz was setting up the lights
I flipped through my notes made from various web sites. Every Linux FAQ
I found claimed that "Linux is a free Unix-type operating system that was
originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers
around the world."
But recently I learned that Linux was just a kernel-- that it needed
an entire operating system (minus the kernel) to make it useful. Stallman
and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) had spent almost ten years working
on creating a free operating system but got stalled on the kernel.
Torvalds was able to combine his kernel with the GNU project to make a
whole operating system.
So why call the result Linux? It didn't seem fair. More importantly,
it masked the immense cooperation required to produce a functioning OS.
The first working version of "Linux" was not the invention of a Finnish
student after two years of labor-- it was the product of hundreds of people's
hard work, work that was done long before Torvalds wrote the first line
of code for his kernel.
I knew how Stallman felt about these issues and I knew what his responses
would be. I had read well over 50 interviews with Stallman and his answers
had been consistent. I wasn't here seeking anything unique using as a novel
line of questions designed to pry open Stallman's sub-conscience and reveal
his secret inner struggle. I just needed to get his predictable responses
"Listen," I told Stallman, "you are going to be the narrator for this
documentary. You've seen GNU/Linux evolve from the beginning. I need you
to guide the audience through the basic architecture of Linux. I'm going
to ask you questions about GNU and the FSF and I'm going to ask you questions
that will help clear up what the difference is between a kernel and a compiler.
I also need you to look directly into the camera instead of me. Just pretend
it's a person."
"Well hello Mr. Camera," Stallman answered.
"Hello," I responded.
"How long have you been a camera?"
"A couple of years."
"Do you have to go to school to become a camera, or are you just born
"Go to school."
"Oh, well, do you think I could become a camera?"
"Say, you're mighty handsome for a camera."
"Ok. What is free software?"
After 35 minutes the interview was over and Stallman rushed off to give
a speech to a bunch of UBC hackers packed into an auditorium. On his way
out the door he handed me a brown paper bag. "Breaded duck," he said.
Damitz struggled to detach the camera from its tripod then chased Stallman
to the auditorium so he he could get some shots of Stallman taking the
mike. I sat down and munched on the duck and thought about the interview.
"Why," I wondered, "was it so hard for the mainstream press to grasp the
importance of Stallman's work?"
Perhaps because to grasp the importance of GNU, one must have at least
a basic understanding of the difference between a kernel and a compiler.
And this requires understanding of what source code is and what a compiler
does. That's a lot of words for a news story. It's easier to just
lump the whole package into something called Linux and say one person invented
"I guess I have a lot of work to do," I said aloud. Just then Damitz
walked through the door. "Want some duck?" I offered.
Damitz made a face. "No thanks."
He had told me once that he hated breaded meat of any kind.
I said something about the weird things humans eat. "Once," Damitz replied,
"I ate some raw squid sushi with a raw quail egg broke over the top."
"That is sick dude. Don't tell me that."
Damitz laughed. "You hick. People eat stuff like that for the texture."
I grimaced. Maybe there are some things other people will never understand.
I hope GNU isn't one of them.