Eeky Geeky: Weekly Peeky at the Freaky

Carl Brooks

A purgative EGWPATF this week, as I unburden several heavy weights from my overloaded soul. First, I watched the Superbowl. Profoundly ungeeky, but heck, as a commentator on the vast and fantastic landscape that is American culture, it’s my job; I felt obliged. But I did read Titus Groan, the landmark novel by Meryn Peake, who deserves to be famous for having such a cool name, let alone writing a novel of such monumental brilliance that it stuns the brainjelly, while the game was on. So that helps a bit.

Second confession: I, yes I really did, ate tofu while watching the Superbowl. Could anything be more nihilistically blasphemous? I think not. However, I did slug some Wild Turkey 101 straight from the bottle a few times, so that mitigates that particular sin, I guess. And whatever the shocked mob might have to say about my bean curd excursion, I make a fine old stirfry, so up theirs.

The next confession: I love boxing. I do. I watch it, read it, write it, and I even did it myself. It is the essence of sport, the essence of human nature, distilled into a pure liquor of naked humanity that is essential to understanding humankind. Boxers wear their souls on the outside, and it behooves the watcher to not to waste that charity. Why is this an important confession?

Well, the only ad in the whole damn Superbowl I thought worth my time was the IBM ad, which has, quite rightly, landed like a ton of bricks on the entire computing world. For those who didn’t catch it, It was a small boy with a strange monkey face and a boatload of freckles, who watches an old film of Muhhamad Ali, after he’d beaten George foreman in Zaire. He shouts, “We shook up the world!” over and over again. It’s a terrifically powerful piece of footage. The boys wakens, as from a dream, and the real Ali, sick, slumped, but undeniably happy, eyes mostly closed from his illness (Parkinsonism), is there, saying the famous words again. The boy looks up, we understand, and the cut scene is “LINUX.z”

From an artistic standpoint, the ad is brilliant. It’s homage to the apple ad in 1984 is clear, but subtle. The layers of pathos and hope are balanced like a fine wine; adding to the natural emotion of contrasting the old and weary with the young and innocent is Ali’s own position, his new reputation as indomitable of spirit, and permanently in a state of grace despite being mentally and physically crippled from his boxing career, which, it can be argued, changed the face of America, or at least, marked in unquestionable energy a change that was happening. The ad approaches perfection.

The importance of the ad is that IBM, the grandpappy of the computing world, chose the Superbowl to announce that they are backing Linux. This ain’t news to anybody, but putting it out in public like this makes it pretty much official. Other manufacturers will follow suit, and we will have, at least in part, a return to the principles that drove computer science in the first place, open standards, cooperation, and transparency. And that’s a Good Thing. When a big dog gets behind an idea, you may rest assured that others will follow, and we can see, in the wake of this ad, companies formerly leery, heel over and sail towards open source software in a viable way. This advertisement is a watershed moment for Linux and open source software, and it will be remembered.