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Geeks are known to be obsessive about things. At times that tendency can go overboard, resulting in them looking rather silly and foolish.

A classic case came to light a few days ago when Red Hat developer Matthew Garrett blew a fuse over what he characterised as "male childish humour".

Some background is needed: Garrett, once one of the more volatile developers in the Debian GNU/Linux project (he quit sometime back), has over the last few years taken up the cause of women in general. At times, his campaigning is on target; at others, like the instance that follows, he appears to be flailing at flies.

Let me explain.

Sometime back, Microsoft contributed code to the Linux kernel that would provide the necessary hooks for Linux to run as a guest on Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualisation software.

In the course of a discussion to get the code moved into the mainline kernel, one developer, Paolo Bonzini, noticed that the magic constant sent to the hypervisor was 0xB16B00B5. In English, that translates to BIG BOOBS.

Once Garrett got wind of this, his hackles rose and he got up on his favourite (corrected) soapbox.

"Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls aren't welcome," he thundered on his blog, where he normally pontificates on subjects that are relevant.

"It's especially irritating in this case because Azure (Microsoft's cloud implementation) may depend on this constant, so changing it will break things."

His post ended with the withering statement, "So, full marks, Microsoft. You've managed to make the kernel more offensive to half the population and you've made it awkward for us to rectify it."

Of course, this assumes that everyone in the world is reading kernel code while they have their eggs and bacon (or whatever it is people have for breakfast in different areas of the world) and being shocked at the use of such expressions in the code.

The words "f***", "shit", and "bastard" have been increasingly present in the kernel code since the 2.4 release. That, however, has never bothered Garrett.

But a juvenile use of hex? That's reason to raise the Titanic.

By reacting to such nonsense - and the code does not come from any Linux kernel developer, it is all from a Microsoft developer - Garrett has trivialised a cause that requires, perhaps, a little more than boy scout behaviour to be tackled.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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