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Friday, 23 January 2009 10:56

LCA2009: Torvalds turns barber for a while

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One doubts whether there have ever been more people watching a man's beard being clinically removed, first by trimmer and then by razor, than there were at the Australian national Linux conference today.


But this wasn't just any man and any beard - this was HP's chief open source and Linux technologist Bdale Garbee. And the barber was a man by the name of Linus Benedict Torvalds. (slideshow)

The reason for this hair-raising episode was pledges made by people at the conference's penguin dinner on Wednesday when a painting was being auctioned to raise money for research into saving the Tasmanian devil.

The final sum is expected to be in the region of $40,000.

There was no end of wisecracks as the process of de-bearding was being arranged. (Update Jan 25: The great shave has even inspired an open-source game.)

First up, though, was Australia's former MySQL representative, Arjen Lentz, who had his head shaven by Torvalds, the latter showing surprisingly good skills in removing what little hair Lentz had on his head.

The number of photographers surrounding Lentz was quite high  but the number almost doubled as Garbee came and sat in what was to be literally the executioner's chair.

Co-organiser Ben Powell had obtained all the accessories needed - a plastic sheet to be draped around Lentz and Garbee; a can of shaving foam, one of the best razors going and a trimmer that worked without a hum. There was no after-shave though.


Before he sat down in the chair, Garbee shared with the audience a series of emails he had exchanged with his wife after he had agreed to the deal.

If anyone thinks he was making too big a deal of it, just bear in mind that the luxuriant growth on his face had not been removed for 27 years. His wife has hardly seen him without his facial growth.

The emails evoked much laughter; his wife asked him to take some photos before the beard was taken off so that there was no chance of him being stopped while leaving the country, said she was doubtful if she would ever let him attend another LCA alone and finally said his friends were a real crazy bunch.

She also suggested that Garbee request, in exchange for his beard, a full body wax by some other attendeee next year - whom she nominated to be kernel hacker Rusty Russell.

Geeks, being geeks, fed a steady stream of messages to Twitter while the shaving was in progress; some of them were clever puns, others only understandable by geeks.

Things like "unmounting /dev/beard", and "killall beard" can only be understood by those with a knowledge of Unix.

But there were also comments like "500 people are sitting quietly watching a man shave himself. the internet is supposed to be surreal, not real life!" and "The source of all power.... gone."

Torvalds cut one hair from Garbee's beard using a set of shears, just for fun. He then used the trimmer until it came to the point where a razor was required.

Garbee then used the razor and the final result a clean-shaven Debian developer with a face as smooth as a baby's rear end.

The whole episode demonstrated exactly why the free and open source software wolrd is different from the rest, why the LCA is what it is and the fact that geeks are really big on social issues - they don't even mind parting with their body hair for a good cause,

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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