Live Penguins


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Aug 28, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

One of my readers, Corfy, commented to my last blog posting that he wished the Ohio Linux Fest would bring back “live penguins”, which inspired me to write this blog entry.

Many years ago a company called "Magic Software" brought some live penguins to one of the first Linuxworlds. They got the penguins from an animal farm which had raised the penguins by hand from eggs, and used the penguins in television commercials. These penguins had never been "wild", but had spent their whole life in captivity, often under the bright lights of television cameras.

These penguins had their own hotel room, with a plastic swimming pool, and newspapers put down on the floor so the penguins would not have to walk in their own droppings. In fact, as soon as a "dropping" hit the newspaper, it was cleaned up and replaced with a fresh sheet of paper. The penguins' room also had their own portable refrigerator for fresh fish.

These penguins had life better than I did. I knew of their life and accommodations at the Linuxworld event because the Magic people invited me up to the suite to see and hold the penguins. Fortunately no “droppings” occurred while I was holding them. I also met the handler and explained my relationship with this strange set of free software people and the event in general.

The penguins did not have to do that much “work”. They were brought out of their cage at the show for about half an hour every couple of hours to waddle around and “smile at the customers”, then they were put back into their cage by their handler to “relax”. Actually, they did not look that “un-relaxed” to me, simply curious about their surroundings.

I was in the Digital booth, which was near to the “Magic Software” booth when two men came up to the Magic booth and asked to see the penguins. The handler explained that the penguins were “resting” and the two men should come back in a couple of hours to see them. As the two people started to leave, I walked up to the group and said to the penguin handler “See that guy?” pointing to one of them, “None of this event would be here if it was not for him.....his name is Linus Torvalds. Show him the freaking penguins.” The handler then brought the penguins out, and Linus saw them and went on his way.

The next day a lady showed up with her two small children, one in a baby carriage, and asked to see the penguins. She was also told to “come back in a couple of hours”. The small entourage started to leave, and once again I wandered over to the booth:

“Remember that guy who was here yesterday who was the architect of the Linux kernel? This is his wife and two daughters, and my godchildren......get out the freaking penguins!”

About a month after Linuxworld I got a call from the show management. Apparently someone had written to the San Francisco Chronicle about how horrible it was that live penguins were “taken from the wild” and made to perform at the event, their “eyes open wide with fear”.

Folks, penguins hunt fish under water. Their eyes are nearly always wide open. (sigh)

Carpe penguin!

maddog and one of the Magic Software Penguins (without droppings)

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