Hit by a velvet Freight Train?

Have you ever felt like you’ve been hit by a velvet freight train? Worn out,
ground down and just plain beat … but in a warm way?

That’s the feeling Sunday after Gnomedex. Without a doubt it was the
computer event of the year. I know – I’m not exactly unbiased when it comes to
things Lockergnomish. Those, however, were the loosely quoted general sentiments

of some of the industry’s heavy-hitters as things wound down in Des Moines this
weekend. As for the average everyday computer user for whom the event is geared,

you’ll have to check the numerous blogs updated on the fly by attendees to this
year’s bash. To the person, I think, everyone was impressed with the atmosphere,

the planning, and the incredible closeness and accessibility of the Lockergnome
community.

It’ll take a few days to shake out and cement my own set of definitive images
from Gnomedex, but a few are starting to focus themselves in magnificent living
color.

First up – the startled look on Leo‘s face when I sidled up and introduced myself in the
lobby of the Marriott on Thursday evening. Sometimes I forget that I’m 6’4″.
Combined with the high excitement level and many, many milligrams of caffeine,
I’m sure I looked a bit whacked. We spoke a few more times during the event and
either Leo had adjusted to the surroundings or my caffeine/excitement quotient
had diminished. He was very friendly, listened intently to questions, and
provided intelligent, thoughtful, articulate answers to each and every one. His
keynote on Saturday afternoon was, in a word, visionary. He marveled at the
notion that we stand on the front edge of a revolution comparable in scope to
the invention of the printing press, the creation of the steam engine and the
completion of the transcontinental railroad. He also reminded us that, like the
invention of the cotton gin, the potential misuse of this revolution we call the

age of information can bring great personal harm. As he shared his personal
wonder at the purely cerebral nature of our revolution, I was inspired
and honored to be even just a pixel in the image.

Holding a high place in the neural Gnomedex photo gallery was Louis, a
70-year-old man with a gold topped cane, a firm handshake, a welcoming smile,
and a soft Texas drawl. Lori had alerted me on Friday morning that Louis was
looking for me. Late Friday afternoon, as I stood looking down at the lobby from

the third floor atrium, he found me. He shifted his cane from one hand to the
other to shake mine and told me, “My name’s Louis and I wanted to thank you for
your work in Penguin Shell. I’m 70 years old and I still don’t understand Linux,

but I think I can get there.” The reach and power of this pulpit overwhelmed me
at that very moment. Honestly, I can’t say whether my response to Louis was even

anything intelligible. I was simply too humbled to say anything clever.

A conversation with Gary Shell will certainly find its way into the album. We
talked for 40 minutes or better about an incredible new use for webcams – high
quality amateur astronomy. Gary knew of my tenure with the telescope company
from my writings in Penguin Shell and was excited to share with me the latest
and greatest in his own personal hobby. His passion for the DIY attitude of
amateur astronomers in hacking their webcams was infectious. Any disappointment
or bitterness that might have remained from my departure from the telescope
company disappeared, wrapped in a cloaking blanket of wonder at the stars and
admiration for the dedicated inventiveness of amateur astronomers. I walked away

with a new friend and a softened perspective on a tough period in my own
life.

Cesar Mendoza stopped me on the second floor on Saturday and engaged me in a
great conversation about the advantages of Debian and RedHat. At the time, I was

headed outside for a break from the pace and the noise. Funny – I found his
thoughts so engaging that the rest of the conference disappeared around us as we

talked. When I walked away, I’d forgotten my original mission. I wandered around

for a bit, taking in the very pace and noise I’d been trying to escape.

The Zaurus, with its DLink CF wireless ethernet card, drew attention virtually
every time I took it from my pocket. People would start to gather and, by the
sight of the Zaurus alone, pair my face with Penguin Shell. I felt inadequate at

explaining its features so often that I just placed it in many, many hands,
encouraging people to play. Nothing I said would’ve proven its incredible
utility any better.

The Zaurus broke the ice with Doc, as well. He became, well, animated when he saw it,
enlisting both me and the Zaurus in his Saturday presentation. As Doc spoke
about the legislative crushing of Internet radio, I was able to hold the Zaurus
high, wirelessly tuned to KPIG for the audience, via zRadio.

As I prepared to leave on Saturday night by stopping in to the live broadcast of

Online Tonight, a tattooed arm reached out to me. “Tony! I wanted to thank you
for helping me with the first operating system install I ever did in my life!”
“Cool …,” I responded, the speechlessness creeping in again. “I love hearing
that.” We talked for a few minutes and when the inevitable gap dropped into the
conversation, I felt a need to fill it, telling the well-worn story of
converting my wife to Linux. It had some context in my head at the time but none

that mattered to the conversation. Sorry, man. You clearly deserved a bit more
effort on my part. The tank was just overflowing with overwhelmed at the
time.

I’m sure you’ll read elsewhere about Miss Gnomedex (my elevator buddy). Someone
has surely blogged an account of the hilarious karaoke duet of “You Don’t Bring
Me Flowers” featuring Leo LaPorte and David Lawrence. You’re likely to read
about the other phenomenal speakers, as well. But somewhere else. For the second

year, the event of Gnomedex was just almost too big to write about. My mental
snapshots are all about the people, the users and the quiet revolution in which we’re all engaged.

Have a great Monday.

                 
Tony
Steidler-Dennison       

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