August 15, 2000

Tuesday<BR>Open Source People

Author: JT Smith

By: Julie Bresnick
Nude on the cover: One man's heroic effort to keep the Open in Open Source

Nude on the cover: One man's heroic effort to keep the Open in Open Source

***Disclaimer: Any connotations readers interpret to be
inferred by descriptive verbs and/or adjectives, and any double
entendres or slips that may appear to be designed by Freud,
are unintentional and not to be attributed to this
publication -- or to the writer, for that matter.***

You've seen the picture, read the articles, heard the
heated debates. Now meet the man on the
cover.

The July 2000 issue of Linux Journal included a
supplement
dedicated to Python,
"an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented programming
language" developed openly. It was an informative compilation
of well-written articles by the reputable likes of Eric
Raymond and Python's original author, Guido van Rossum. But
for many it wasn't about the wisdom or the technical prowess
communicated within its pages. For the feverish few, it was
about nothing but the supplement's cover.

Maybe Python sounds familiar to you. Maybe it brings to
your mind images of knights that go nee. Are you, perhaps,
suddenly seized by an urgent feeling to determine your
favorite color? If so, you're probably a lot like van Rossum
himself, who has dedicated many a brain cell to studying lines
from the original series, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

It was with these origins in mind that Linux Journal
created a cover recreating a scene from the celebrated
troupe's esteemed repertoire. They sat a man, naked, at a
computer in an open field by the ocean. A playful portrayal?
Perhaps. Or an insider's joke gone awry? Here's the man
behind the shot. Feel free to judge, everybody else has.

His name is Jason Schumaker and he's assistant editor at
Linux Journal. He's not a programmer, he confesses, "just a
Python poser." He figured if he couldn't actually fix code,
by golly, he was going to help perpetuate the Open Source
paradigm in any way he could.

So he did. What he got in return was a good old
fashioned scandal, a slew of vituperative responses calling the act
"obscene," "offensive," and -- gasp -- gay.

Just a simple staffer at a burgeoning young publication
caught in the crossfire between the humorless masses and
those that compensate for the creative void they incur.

I recently got a chance to speak with Jason, to get
behind the image, to probe the personality, to get to the gut
of a real life exhibitionist. I learned that he's more than
just another man with a tendency to take his clothes off,
he's a human being. He doesn't dance on weekends or do
private parties. He's like any other 29-year-old
trying to navigate the seas of today's world without losing his
soul.

Some think that's exactly what he did when he agreed to
participate in the cover photograph, sold his soul to the
devil. But this is not a simple story of corruption, of
good versus evil, it's a love story. He was propelled by his
affection for the Open Source community that has enabled
him to maintain his idealism in the face of the modern-day
marketplace.

In Linux he's found a professional community with
spirit, energy, wit; characteristics clearly lacking in a large
number of its contemporaries. He arrived at LJ (Linux
Journal) as an advertising coordinator and moved into the editorial department
after a few months. But words are not the only thing he
learned to control.

I asked him if being comfortable without any clothes on
was something he'd simply continued since childhood. He
confessed that perhaps he wasn't all that comfortable and
philosophized further about what fostered such a bold act.

"It's all about confidence and being comfortable with
how you view yourself. The raising of my confidence is recent
-- about the last two years, which is the same amount of
time I have worked with Linux and Linux Journal. This is not
a coincidence. One of the
seldom discussed 'pros' of using Linux (for an extended
period of time) is that it forces a person to be more
self-sufficient, to learn things about a computer that
the average Windows or Macintosh user takes for granted.
Working with Linux has given me a certain power over my
computer that I never had before. This power has translated into
confidence, which helps me to be OK with having my
naked body appear on the cover of 75,000 magazines."

This is a revealing suggestion that takes the Open
Source precedent from the social sphere into the private. A
society is only as promising as the sum of its parts.
Knowledge is power and the more individuals understand about the
tools they use every day the more capable they are of
participating effectively and with flair.

He says sometimes he thinks he "just took the 'open' in
Open Source a bit too literally." I think it was the four
years at parochial school. But either way it was about more
than broadcasting his bare bum.

He doesn't even play volleyball or
tennis in the nude. Of course, he doesn't play all that
much volleyball or tennis, but he does play a lot of softball
and basketball, and he doesn't do those naked either,
usually. And the closest his naked behind got to the pool table
was when he entered his local haunt and noticed the
supplement cover by the bar propped up against a pitcher of Pabst.
His face turned bright red, he stepped outside, took a
breather and re-entered ready to face the heckling crowd.

He didn't just participate for the free Ahi Ahi at the
lunch that followed the shoot either, and the shots of Jack
Daniels he required beforehand certainly revealed a little apprehension.
Famous for a day, a week, a month or two, maybe for
eternity in the minds of a few, or in the minds of many; he was
merely motivated by a desire to spread the word. His only
hope is that his sacrifice helps to keep the "open" genuinely
attached to more than just "source."

"Linux came with the job [the editorial job, not the
'modeling' one]," Jason says. "I was oblivious to this wonderful community!
I've learned quite a bit about computers and the tech world
and I've learned that people CAN be good natured and
caring.

"Those that said it [the cover] was unprofessional
tended to be referring to receiving the magazine at work. They
argued that having a naked person on the cover of a Linux
magazine wasn't helping them sell Linux to their
bosses/company. I guess I understand that but ... We didn't intend the
shot to look sexual and I don't think that it does."

When bikinis first came out a lot of people thought
that kind of "open" was no good too. In the economic sphere
people are afraid of the "open" part because it was
previously clothed -- uh, I mean closed. Big business was hesitant
too, and look at the growing popularity of Linux users there.
And look what happened to dear Jason Schumaker when he got
infected with the Linux spirit: He felt so liberated that he
took of all his clothes.

The bottom line is, "selling" Linux is not about having
a pretty package (disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer), it's
about quality.

His efforts, and the efforts of the LJ editorial minds
behind the cover did an even more important service than
anticipated. They weeded out those not yet ready for the
revolution. I, for one, want to thank them all, and most of all,
Jason.

Let's just hope Jason's mother agrees.

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