PACKET RAT

Rat discovers that rock stars and tech stars shine in same universe

R. Fink

It's rare for the Rat and his better half to get a night to themselves. Apparently, prominent warnings about their offspring have been posted in nearly every baby sitter chat room.

But one recent evening, the ratlings'under close FBI supervision'happened to be doing a few hours' community service cleaning up some hacked Web sites.

That gave the grown-ups an opportunity to slip out to catch a nonstreamed, honest-to-goodness analog'except for the sound'form of entertainment: a movie.

Mrs. Rat sought a film as untechnical as possible to keep her spouse from constantly nit-picking the inaccuracies. Her pick was Cameron Crowe's 'Almost Famous,' the fictionalized autobiographical account of Crowe's teen-age years as the youngest rock 'n' roll writer for Rolling Stone
magazine.

'Is there any other kind of autobiography?' teased the Rat as the usher tore their tickets and directed them to the appropriate chamber of the megaplex.

The film made the Rat wax nostalgic about the heady days of his own youth in the 1970s. Well, yes, perhaps that was his second childhood, but in any case, they were exciting times: the first days of cable television, the PC and the eight-inch floppy disk. 'All praise Alan Shugart,' the cyberrodent whispered to himself, head bowed.

In a way, the Rat's earliest experiences as a computer guru are similar to Crowe's as a rock journalist. Crowe was a teen mistaken for someone older based on his body of writing work. The Rat was an anthropomorphic rodent mistaken for someone less furry based on his body of wiring work.

Obvious parallel

Of course, the whiskered one never wrote for Rolling Stone, though GCN is pretty darn close in some ways. But the relationship between the computer press and the pioneers of computing has often been like that between Rolling Stone and the rock stars of the '70s. The Rat has it on good authority that Microsoft's Steve Ballmer can often be heard singing in the shower, 'Gotta get my picture on the cover, gotta send five copies to my mother!'

The words legendary gonzo rock journalist Lester Bangs used to instruct the young Crowe are the same words the Rat intones to his underlings before every major trade show: 'These people will feed you, fly you places. But these people are not your friends!'

There are major differences, of course. The Rat can't remember many groupies waiting outside a geekfest for a glimpse of Linus Torvalds. And the drugs of choice are usually Jolt and pizza.

As the wirebiter and his spouse left the theater, he musingly pointed out some of the parallels between rock stars and tech stars.

Rock stars have concerts and tours; tech stars have conferences and tours. The venues may be a little different, but when was the last time Peter Frampton filled a 30,000-seat hall?

'The Who blew up their speakers; Larry Ellison blows up servers,' the Rat reflected. 'The Beatles did acid, which makes me wonder what Steve Jobs must have dropped that can explain the Apple Lisa.'

'I'd think Ellison and Jobs are the exception,' Mrs. Rat opined. 'At least they've got some sense of style. I don't see Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer or Scott McNealy fitting neatly into that metaphor.'

The Rat paused. 'Well, sure, but neither would Kiss for that matter.'

'Point taken,' conceded his wife as they got into the roadster and headed off to rescue the FBI from their offspring.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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