Penguin Awareness


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jan 04, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall
Tux lights them off!

Today Cesar Brod, a friend of mine from Brazil, sent me a picture of some fireworks he saw on New Year's Day that had a picture of our favorite penguin on them. It was timely, since it was a year ago today that I wrote another blog entry about Tux and "Penguin Awareness Day" (January 20th) and "World Penguin Day" (April 25th), so today I thought I would remind people of these two magnificent opportunities to help celebrate the existence of Linux while I passed along this picture from Cesar.

Apparently graphics artists around the world look to the Internet when asked by their clients to supply a picture of a penguin. And naturally our cute and cuddly "Tux" shows up as a major part of the images returned from any search.

Also important for graphics art re-use is that the license for the use of the original image of Tux is very liberal, with Larry Ewing, the copyright holder, giving people permission to use the image as long as the user acknowledges him as the author and the GIMP as the creator of the image "if someone asks". The last phrase is probably enough to give most lawyers shivers, but it has allowed Tux to show up in the original unmodified form in areas as diverse as Plumbing supply trucks, air-conditioning repair services, lottery tickets and fireworks.

Of course Wikipedia has an extensive listing on Tux, so I will not go into all of the history behind him, but I do want to pass on one story:

When Tux made his first appearance in 1996 I was at a trade show, and a friend of mine who ran a Linux business selling distributions, T-shirts, and other Linux "things" came up to me and declared his disgust with the choice. I asked him why he did not like it, and he said that Tux was "fat and silly looking" and that we should have had as a mascot a tiger or shark, something with teeth and fangs to rip Microsoft apart.
I thought about this a minute, and told him that I had worked for a computer company for sixteen years, and one thing that I had learned in that time is if the architect of the software likes something, and if the customers liked something, it did not make a bit of difference what you personally liked. He looked at me strangely, and went away.

Three months later we were at another trade show, and he came up to me waving some small penguin dolls, each progressively closer to looking like the one drawn by Larry Ewing. "Tux bumper stickers are flying off the shelf, Tux T-shirts are flying off the shelf, and I am getting this Chinese toy factory to make a plush Tux doll...", he gushed. I did not remind him that only three months before he had hated the penguin and wanted a shark.

After that, of course, plush Tux penguin dolls started appearing everywhere. I was at CeBIT in Hanover Germany in 1998, and in the SAP booth they had a Volkswagen "New Beetle" in their booth, complete with three penguins in the front seat of the car. One large penguin was "driving" with two small penguins in the passenger's seat. A major political figure of Germany showed up at the booth to help open the fair, and just as the TV Cameras were starting to roll, he said "Why are the penguins in the car?" So while the news people were taping the event for the evening news, the SAP people were trying to explain about Linux and Free Software and the political figure (was it the Chancellor...I can not remember) just kept saying "Yes, I know about Free Software, but why the penguins?")

I laughed all the way back to my booth.

At the end of the show, I had a series of very beautiful women come running up to my stand asking "Please, could they have one of those cute, cuddly penguins?" Unfortunately by that time we were out of penguins, but I had a hard time believing that this would happen if the community had picked a shark as a mascot.

So please remember to appreciate penguins on January 20th, April 25th and throughout the year.

Carpe Penguin!


  • Fireworks As Open Source Technology


    Your comments about Fireworks as Open Source Technology took me back forty years to the time I was an electrical engineering student at Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University) in Philadelphia.

    I was then (as I am now) interested in many things, including chemistry, and I found a small book in a used bookstore that told how to make all sorts of fireworks and explosives. This peaked my interest in making explosives out of fairly common materials, some of which can actually be found around the home, and others found easily at a local chemical supply house.

    Using these chemicals I made an explosive that while wet was completely harmless but when it was dry any slight vibration or movement would set it off.

    It was a late Saturday night and things were quiet in the dormitory. I had made a small amount of this substance and had it drying on a towel set into a cigarette ash tray. As I sat there looking at it, I realized that I had made quite a bit more than I thought I had made, and perhaps I should get rid of some of it before it got dry.

    I picked up the ashtray to carry it down the hall to the bathroom, when a tiny, tiny crystal (too tiny to see) of the now drying explosive fell off the towel, hitting the floor, and it went:


    I was rather stunned by this explosion, and it occurred to me that if a tiny crystal, so small I could not see it made that much of an explosion, then the tens of thousands of crystals I was balancing in my now sweaty hands could make QUITE a BIG explosion.

    I carefully (very carefully) carried the rest of the explosive down to the bathroom and flushed it down a comode.

    As I walked back to my room, tiny crystals that had fallen off wet had now dried on the floor, and the vibrations of my feet set them off:


    Fearing the floor monitor would find out what I had been doing, I called all of my friends out of their rooms and we collectively stomped up and down the hall setting off the crystals.

    After no more explosions, they asked me where else I had been, and I told them the bathroom. We went there, and a friend of mine who was oblivious to the whole situation had been sitting in the stall where I had dumped the explosive. "What is going on?" he asked, "Every time I move I hear explosions going off!"

    Fortunately the floor monitor never found out about my experiment. I do not recommend this experiment for anyone. I even hid the book behind others on my shelf. I still have the book..and I note that the book jacket has a hole cut in just the right place, so the books name "Pyrotechnics" has just the word "Pyro" showing through.

    Of course the next week I created a blow-gun out of map tacks and soda straws....but that is another story.
  • Linus on penguins

    "Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen an angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100 mph. They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had."

    * Torvalds, Linus (1996-06-09). Post to comp.os.linux.announce newsgroup [from WikiQuote]

    Works for me ...
  • Carpe Penguin!

    When I met "maddog" for the first time at the Linux World in San Jose, CA, in 1999, Tux was already widely accepted among the always growing Linux community. I just got to know the Penguin Fireworks (Fogos Pinguin) is a manufacturer from a small city in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. There is another one in China. None of them seem to have a webpage. It was quite funny though to be on vacation in the city of Aruja, in Sao Paulo, and see that my brothers in law had bought the Penguin Fireworks. So, of course, I had to take a picture and send it to my "godfather". Thinking about it, fireworks are pretty much open source technology. In fact, along with the "official" fireworks, we also had some home grown, "hacked" explosives along with the Penguin brand. Although I would not advice anyone to play with fireworks unless knowing *exactly* what this means and also the security measures needed to be in place, I still advise people to take the Linux Tux for a walk and freely play with it! Thanks for the mention, "maddog". Happy New Year to you and everyone!
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