24th June 2003

It really is a small world, I tell you.

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and I travelled to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii’s Big Island. One sunny afternoon, we drove via Saddle Road from sea level to the base of Mauna Kea, where we started our ascent of the volcano along its narrow, winding road.

At 9,000 feet, we pulled into the car park of the visitor centre, where it was pouring with rain and freezing cold. The air was also decidedly thin. Not two hours earlier, we’d been lying in the lukewarm water of Hapuna Beach under a baking sun.

As we parked our 4 wheel drive vehicle and headed for the visitor centre to gather information about the conditions at the summit, a man walked up to us and asked if he could hitch a lift to the top.

As soon as I heard him speak, I recognised the distinctive lilt of Bruce Perens, Electric Fence author and one-time Debian project leader.

An hour of acclimatisation later, the three of us drove slowly to the summit at a height of 14,000 feet. There, we walked around the shiny domes of the observatory and light-headedly discussed Linux while reeling from the altitude.

To make the experience complete, we tagged onto the last half an hour of a guided tour around the observatory.

There, in the control room of one of the telescopes, we spotted a couple of unmanned PCs running Linux (unmanned, because the astronomers work only at night). xscreensaver was running, but the owner of the machine had not locked his session, so I nudged his mouse to see what was he running. Some specialised astronomical application was busy gathering information I could not recognise.

A whiteboard behind the astronomers’ desk contained the networking information for their station, which was presumably connected over microwave to the University of Hawaii. Bruce and I took photographs of the PC and the whiteboard, while the other tourists looked on, bemused.

Anyway, you fly to an island in the middle of an ocean to try to get away from it all for a few days, and end up running into a famous Linux personage whose software you’ve used, whose papers you’ve read and whose talks you’ve attended.

Who’d have thought?

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