December 12, 2000

Open Source sysadmin Brian Landsberger's open life

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people
Brian Landsberger is a systems administrator for Seattle-based XYPoint, a pioneer provider
of
the technologies vital to E-911 service.

It's appropriate that he work for a company first to an industry
because
Landsberger did everything early. He discovered computers in kindergarten,
Linux
at age 14, and found true love before he reached 20. Now at
21, he's got a better sense of himself than most 30-somethings I
know. He's a gay, libertarian, Linux-loving, Christian geek who enjoys
going
to raves.

Not too long ago, being openly geeky was hard enough, let alone
openly gay,
too. So I asked him if it's challenging to be a member of more than
one
traditionally persecuted population. He said he avoids stereotypes, and
it
soon becomes clear that more than anything, he is himself.

"I may be gay -- but not stereotypically gay," he says. "I may be a geek, but
not
stereotypically a geek. I do my best to keep a social objectivity.
Understanding people's misgivings and prejudices is important to working
and
living with them. Am I challenged? Sure -- trying to keep an attitude
of
understanding is no small task, but perhaps I can help to dispel
various
prejudices and misgivings about those who are geeks, gay, or
otherwise."

Objectivity is important to him. Out of the five essays on his
site, the
meditation on individuality
is the second largest (after the recollection of his first rave which
communicates, in just under 2,000 words, the full extent of his
joy
and surprise at discovering such a stimulating scene for the flow of
energy
and the absorption of rhythm). Though the arguments could be refined,
the
essay is a proficient communication of his values, which center around
the
eminence of its subject.

The whole of his personal Web
site
is as equally thought out as his psyche. When I go through it,
everything works and there is so much content I am afraid that when I
contact him he will simply refer me there. This personal
sophistication is
less of a surprise when I learn that he is the eldest child of three.
Free
of the burden of an existing precedent, the eldest always seems to find
self-definition faster than their subsequent siblings.

He was born in July of 1979, in Bremerton, Wash., and spent his
youth in Port Orchard, a small city about 65 miles from
Seattle, where he now lives. In the caretaking way that eldest siblings
often possess, he keeps a cell phone number with his family's area code
to
facilitate communication with them.

The only thing that wasn't so well thought out was his path to
system
administration. To explain that process he cites the words of an older
and
wiser sysadmin who says you never choose to be one, it just happens.

For Landsberger, the path started way back in 1993 when he was spending
most of
his free time "on local BBSes and freenets reading Fidonet, Usenet, and
the
like. I stumbled upon a newsgroup that was talking about Linux." It
was
the "free" that caught his eye. He wanted to learn C but Borland C++
was a
little pricey for a 14-year-old. He did what he could for a
while,
crashing his mother's computer over and over again until he came across
a
Linux distribution on floppy. But nothing kept him all that busy until
he
got a CD with Slackware on it, and the relationship was confirmed.

In school, Novell class bored him, so his teachers upgraded him to a Windows
NT
class, which wasn't much better. So he got a job at a computer store
which
didn't get all that exciting until it evolved into an ISP that was
sold,
causing all of its other employees to flee. Then Landsberger had to learn
everything, including system administration. Now he does it for a
successful cutting-edge company.

His dream job, he says, is working for any company that would
sponsor his
efforts to earn a master's degree in computer science. Of course, most
people would only consider a master's degree after earning an
undergraduate
one. But Landsberger is energetic and consistently willing to upgrade to the
next
challenge. He starts with his goal already a step beyond the standard.

It is a typically Open Source approach and is most evident in his
approach to computing. If it isn't what he wants or needs, he just
develops
it. That's how he started his own iBook project.

"I started it when I was trying to ssh into my home computer and
fiddle
with some program that I had downloaded. Well, it would crash because
MacOS 9
is slightly buggy, and doesn't have good raw text handling -- so I
picked up
Linux PPC 2000. The iBook project was my attempt at documenting what I
thought to be the essentials required to have a workable iBook."

Have any Apple-based Linuxites weighed in on his efforts?

"I did get some feedback when I posted to various Usenet newsgroups
on
problems with the hardware, and various pieces of software (such as
XFree86). All of it was tremendously helpful and valid in helping me to
get
all the hardware and software I wanted on my system."

Sometimes such self-awareness can foster a certain stagnation, too
much
definition puts the breaks on progress. But for Landsberger, like any Open
Source
project, it simply provides a structure within which to evolve and like
any
good geek, his Web site will parallel these changes. Expect a new
version
of Landsberger.com out at the beginning of next year.

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