April 17, 2001

Programming Pike with the traveler extraordinaire Martin Bähr

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people -
Pike and Roxen programmer Martin Bähr doesn't like
to stay in one place for too long -- not in a day or a year or even a
lifetime. By 19, he'd visited more countries than most people bother to ever
consciously consider to even exist. He likes just enough consistency
to get a feel for and, he hopes, understand the nuances of a local lifestyle.
As a student he spent several summers on the road, stopping for at least a
few days at a time, calling on a vast network of scouts for housing. Every
ingress, for him, is an effort in cultural immersion. What usually
takes a whole infrastructure and a community of parents or teachers to
facilitate, Bähr achieves every time he hits the road.

Now 28, he was born in Austria, where he lived with his parents and
two younger brothers until his parents split when he was 12 and his dad
moved the three boys with him back to his hometown in Germany. Bähr didn't
grow up particularly technical, he wasn't a fix-it kind of kid, but his
dedication to scouting implied a certain appreciation for craft and community,
characteristics certainly inherent in Open Source as well. It wasn't a
revelation or anything when he first discovered computers during an
exchange program he went on in 11th grade. He spent that year living with a
family in Maryland and learned BASIC on an old TRS 80 at school. He
liked it, but at that point he couldn't imagine himself sitting in an office all
day. And, in fact, he would spend the subsequent six summers away from home,
four of them covering long distances around the European continent. The
summer of '94 and '95, he spent working for both the World and European Scout
Jamborees.

When he first enrolled at the University of Hamburg, his
concentration defaulted to computer science because it was the only option available
after he wasn't accepted into the physics program. During his second year of
university he transferred to Austria and added a major in general
linguistics, which he thought appealed more to his sense of adventure
than computer science did. But he grew increasingly fond of the system
administration he was doing for the university and when university officials asked him
to build a database of images for the students at the school's architectural
institute to access via the Web, he fell in love with programming in Pike.

In an obvious merging of interests, he started donating some of his
time and programming skills to a student group called the International
Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience,
better known as IAESTE. He needed a Web
server and wasn't impressed with the offerings from CERN nor with that from
the NCSA, which was the precursor to Apache. He appreciated Roxen's roots
in MUD building and liked the purity of programming in Pike. He liked not
having to deal with memory management and liked that, because it basically treats
every file as a class, he was writing object-oriented code without realizing
it. It was in an online chat regarding Roxen that he learned of the Pike
programming position available with On
the Verge
. A perfect opportunity to hit the road, he left school
and started full time with On the Verge in 1999.

It was the closest he had come to his childhood dream of working in
the Merchant Marines where he could sail multi-masted boats from port to
port around the world. With his long hair and gnome-ish beard all he really
needs is a pipe and it wouldn't be hard to imagine him a traditional
pioneer, traveling about, stopping only to calmly rest by a stranger's
fire.

When I meet him for lunch on Good Friday he is alone in the company's
basement offices on Sunset Boulevard. He emerges, markedly lacking anything
namebrand, looking more like a tourist on this famous stretch of
Sunset, than a local, which he has been since On the Verge was bought by Patriot Communications LLC, and
moved north from San Diego last November. He seems somehow old and young all
at once.

The offices are in the basement of the building and open onto the
parking lot in the back. It is a little after 4 p.m., and I find the door ajar.
His appearance is tidy but rural in design -- socks with sandals, hair
combed but outgrown, his shirt worn but tucked in. A scout badge from
Lithuania is pinned to his left chest and a Roxen badge is ironed onto the other. He
dons a baseball hat. Everything that amazes me about L.A. seems intensified
as we pass an eight-story Tommy
Hilfiger
ad as we amble our way toward Mel's Diner. The featured
model is familiar, prominent in this latest line of promotions. She is
young, blonde, manicured, plastic in a placid kind of way, like porcelain and
I imagine her outfit costs more than Bähr's entire wardrobe. I have no
trouble imagining him anywhere in the world but West Hollywood. The
contrast makes me feel alternately protective and impressed.

He is not overwhelmed, as I suppose someone who makes their way
alone through France by bike at the age of 15 ought not to be. He has
cultivated skills, besides the programming that ties him to an
established professional network, that foster his immersion. Aware of their
penchant for organization he learned Esperanto.
He also taught himself to play the Bodhran, a big
flat drum specific to Irish folk music, which, once he learned to play it
correctly, granted him access to groups gathered to play in local Irish
pubs. All of which flourishes even in the materialistic confines of
greater L.A.

He admits the city is too big for his tastes, which is fine
considering Patriot has decided to dissolve the Pike development he had been
assigned to conduct when On the Verge was an independent company. So he is
currently planning for when his contract, and Visa, expires in June. Though he's
hoping to ship out to a new port, Bähr admits that his current job is
a dream. His strategy is remarkably void of the kind of planning that
Americans tend to construct when it comes to career development.

His current sig reads, "i am looking for a new job anywhere in the
world, doing pike development and/or training and/or unix and roxen system
administration." He just states it, as an aside basically to any
communication, forgoing even the formality of upper case letters. If
this kind of resourceful and bologna-free behavior at all reflects his
ability as a programmer, he shouldn't have any trouble finding a job.

About Martin Bähr

Contributions to Pike and Roxen: "A few bug fixes, some suggestions,
and the extension to the host redirect module. The rest of my modules are more
like contributions to the Roxen community in general. And apart from that, I try to
use any opportunity for Roxen advocacy: In '97, '98 and '99 I joined the
Linux
booth at the Exponet in Vienna, and then of course my presentations to LUGs."

Hobbies: Collects Scout uniforms.

Games: MUDs and occasionally Tux
Racer
.

Other project memberships: Caudium.

Lunch order: Ribs with a side of vegetables and water to drink.

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