Road rage on the information highway -

Road rage on the information highway


A friend recently flipped off a tailgater who promptly passed him, jumped on the brakes, and caused an accident that cost Bill a few thousand dollars. Dumb, huh?

My son has his learner's permit. In class he's learning defensive driving, but at home I'm trying to take him a step further by teaching him to read minds. Sometimes you can just tell a driver is itching to suddenly switch lanes without signaling or even properly checking for other traffic. Know what will — or might — happen and you gain an extra second or two to react.

But above all, I want him to understand that aggressive driving is just plain dumb. Maybe you'll gain a few seconds — max — but the cost is high. Death and disfigurement. Maybe only a nicked fender, which will push insurance costs up. And, above all, an increase in the sum total of on-the-highway anger. Road rage.

In my writings I flirt with another sort of rage — the anger of the software community over just plain silly stuff. Read any of the comp.lang groups and you know what I mean. Something I wrote called “I hate Forth,”which was meant to twist the tail of the Forth community, sparked some great dialog, as I'd hoped. It also swamped us with an unprecedented amount of angry email.

If I ever say anything nice about Microsoft, my inbox gets jammed with mail from angry developers who feel personally insulted. So far I've received two death threats over quite innocuous comments about that company. Last I heard Microsoft hadn't ravaged anyone's daughter, so what's the fuss?

News flash: disagreement is good. Threats are bad.

(To be fair, a recent column that praised Microsoft generated a flood of very well reasoned emails. No threats and lots of good dialog).

Now a May 27 news story reports that SCO is under attack by the open source community. A major denial of service assault shut down their web servers for a time in early May. They are getting threats of drive-by shootings at their corporate headquarters, and have found postings of personal info about the company's officers on web sites

To those perpetrating such madness I say: act like grownups. Succumbing to blind rage is totally unacceptable. Linux is, after all, just an operating system. SCO, wisely or not, is taking legal action against what they perceive to be their competition. They aren't putting poison in your coffee, seducing your spouse, or burning down your house.

SCO claims to have found chunks of their proprietary, copyrighted code buried in Linux. To date the exact nature of such code isn't being revealed. If the allegations are true, though, this casts a cynical slant on a segment of the OS community. Is it possible that, in an effort to make a truly open OS, some authors stole copyrighted code?

Though perhaps there's no formal link between the OS community and privacy advocates, plenty of crossover exists. Taking strong stands on privacy issues in this connected world is, in my opinion, a high moral ground. Yet are some of these supposedly honorable people actually posting confidential info about SCO's officers online?

SCO's legal actions are an interesting twist in the open source battles. Ethical? That really can't be known till we discover more about their claims. Any reasonable person knows that Linux is not going to suffer in any substantive manner from the action. The worst outcome is a judge mandating a rewrite of the affected sections of code. Why are people so up in arms?

Road rage, software rage, they're both symptoms of the inner child that adults must outgrow or suppress. If I decide to send a threatening email or flip off a driver then I'm the bad guy.


Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

Right on, Jack! As a society, we are too quick to *react* to events, rather than pausing to think about what is unfolding, what it means to us, and how important it really will be in the long term.

BTW, I think SCO is being a greedy bully. I hope their attempt at extortion fails.

Bjarne Hansen, P.Eng.
Design Engineer

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