Linux Geeks Dust Nerds In Golden Penguin Trivia Bowl3:45 PM EST Thu. Aug. 09, 2007
As Barry Bonds smashed Hank Aaron's home run record Tuesday evening at AT&T Park, another great sporting triumph went down less than a mile to the north at Moscone Center, where a team of Linux Geeks vanquished a Nerd squad of Dell employees in LinuxWorld's annual trivia smackdown, the Golden Penguin Bowl.
The three-man Team Geek sealed its victory and secured a trio of the coveted glass Golden Penguin statuettes by besting their rivals from Dell in two rounds of tech trivia, capped with a decisive bout of Robosapien sumo. Host Jeremy Allison, lead developer for the Samba project, supervised the tense battle, in which the lead traded off a half-dozen times as the teams flaunted their knowledge -- or embarrassing lack thereof -- of hardware, software, science fiction and geek culture.
The Golden Penguin audience was a fickle lot, cheering mightily when teams triumphed in dredging esoteric trivia tidbits from their collective memories but turning vicious when the competitors floundered on questions the crowd considered easy. A collective groan of disbelief rose after Team Geek blew a Star Trek question ("they should lose 2,000 points for that!" heckled an observer), and a smattering of boos broke out when the triad whiffed a question about what movie adaptation sprang from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (The answer is "Blade Runner," as all respectable geeks know.)
But Team Geek redeemed itself with crowd-pleasing tricks like its clever answer to the question of what the acronym PCMCIA stands for: "People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms" was the squad's response, which the judges deemed an acceptable official variant. ("Personal Computer Memory Card International Association" is the more traditional definition.) Squad members Michael Grace of Rackable Systems, Penguin Computing CTO Donald Becker and Pogo Linux CEO Tim Lee also impressed by precisely nailing the number of Microsoft patents Microsoft claims free software like Linux infringes: 235, 42 by the Linux kernel alone. A follow-up bonus question highlighted the number of times Microsoft itself has been sued for patent infringement in the past five years: 96.
Nerd team players Matt Domsch, Cole Crawford and John Hull, all of Dell, were the evening's underdogs, but demonstrated a remarkable ability to pull back from the brink of unrecoverable point gaps with quick strings of winning answers. In one blinding run, the Nerds successfully fielded queries about why color printers are a bad choice for anonymous print jobs (because of the identifying yellow tracking dots they leave), what high-energy physics lab sent CERN magnet assemblies that broke (Fermilab), and the design of the One Laptop Per Child project's logo.
Meanwhile, host Allison -- attired in a silvery robot suit -- fired off a frenetic succession of barbs, quips and editorial commentary on the contest's trivia hodgepodge. The master of ceremonies scoffed at Ruby On Rail's motto "Web development that doesn't hurt" ("impossible, because web development SUCKS"); enthused about VIgor, the helpful VI paperclip created in homage to Clippy after Microsoft retired its reviled Microsoft Word icon; and heckled the Geeks and Nerds mercilessly when they hesitated to guess which company had filed a patent for "an advertising-supported free operating system." The answer, of course, was Microsoft. "Because we don't already hate them enough," Allison opined.
The battle was close enough for the Golden Penguin Bowl's final round to be decisive: a duel between Robosapians, with the teams drawing points for every inch along the competition table that their robot was able to progress. But the rules had a cruel twist -- if the robots fell off, they were booted back to the starting point. Both Nerd and Geek Robosapiens appeared suicidal. Two minutes into the three-minute bout, both robots had plunged to the ground so often that neither had progressed a single inch.
With seconds ticking down, the Nerd Bot broke out and marched halfway down the table, only to fall prey, once again, to gravity. When the buzzer sounded, the Nerds had a six-inch advantage on the Geeks, too slim a margin to close the points gulf between the teams. With 10,000 Geek Squad points to the Nerd's 8,750, the Geek team secured the coveted Golden (actually, rather orangish) Penguins.
After the battle's end, enthusiastic audience members hung around and suggested that the Golden Penguin franchise be extended to other shows like OSCON. But organizers said it's likely to remain a LinuxWorld-only competition: "This is the hardest Jeremy works all year," judge Jerry Carter quipped about his colleague in Samba development.