It’s time for a more holistic approach to depression

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I’m a systems administrator by trade and a journalist by training. I write this as a survivor of depression, not as an expert on its treatment. Combined with the experiences of others, I think it’s worth listening to. But it’s no substitute for seeing a specialist.
Earlier this week, after I mentioned my experiences with depression in passing, my mom e-mailed me and asked me a few questions. Thought-provoking questions. Then Dan pointed me to another person’s experience with depression.

It’s been my experience that some people just seem to have a natural tendency towards depression. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Some people are moodier than others, and that moodiness can be exceedingly difficult to be around sometimes, but there’s also a gigantic upside to it. Think of the most creative people you know. I’ll bet most of them are also pretty moody. That’s one factor.

While a student at Mizzou in late 1994 or early 1995, I had a conversation with a girl about depression. I knew she’d struggled with it, and I was curious. We had a long talk one day about it. Initially, in the back of my mind, I thought I’d interview a couple of other people who’d battled it, then interview an expert or three, and write a story about it. It was during that first talk that I learned that depression was sometimes caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. (Interestingly, I don’t remember my lone college psychology class–that’s science of behavior to Dr. Dave McDonald and his students–talking much about depression. Or maybe we did and I just forgot it.)

Over the years I met a lot of people who were put on Prozac or Paxil or any number of other drugs intended to treat a chemical imbalance in the brain. In most cases they didn’t get the dosage right initially. In those cases the adjustment was difficult. In one case, a good friend of mine had been on it in the past and it helped, then he started to feel himself relapse. He called me one day and told me he was going back on treatment. A few months later, I started to hear stories. Stories that were very out of character. My friend, a gentle giant type if there ever was one, was supposedly very detached from reality and sometimes even dangerously violent. His dosage was wrong and it was destroying him. One night he called me, distraught. He was on the brink of losing everything, and it didn’t seem like anyone understood.

I was mad that the stories of his behavior had become public knowledge. I was also a little irritated with him that when his family and friends suggested there was a problem, that he didn’t go back to see his doctor until it reached crisis stage. But I was livid about how the people around him handled the situation. When there’s a problem with your Paxil dosage, it’s a matter between you and your doctor, and you have to be patient about it and so do the people around you. There is no way to measure brain chemistry and figure out exactly the amount of Paxil you need to get the dosage right. (This was news to him and to his family, and when one of his friends, who happens to hold a PhD in psychology, got involved but didn’t mention this, I was more than livid when I found out about it. If I’d known how to call him on the carpet about it, I would have.)

I haven’t been very good about getting to my point here. There’s a lot of guesswork when you get drugs involved. They don’t necessarily kick in right away. Sometimes they kick in too hard. Sometimes they have undesirable side effects. I mentioned the possible psychotic side effects, but they can also increase your sex drive to an uncontrollable level, and they can lead to very excessive weight gain. Those television commercials showing people playing outside on a sunny spring day while extoling the virtues of those drugs don’t mention anything about their dark side. Since brain chemistry isn’t measurable, you’re playing a guesswork game. Hopefully it’s an educated game of guesswork, but unless you manage to get a referral to a psychiatrist, it may not be.

The late, controversial Dr. Atkins took a different approach to treating chemical imbalances. Where do your brain chemicals come from? Your body makes them. What does your body make them from? The nutrients you take in. What happens when your body doesn’t take in the nutrients it needs to make the necessary brain chemicals? Chemical imbalances that lead to depression. What happens when you change your diet and/or start taking supplements that provide those chemicals?

Atkins said, “no more depression,” then moved on to his next topic.

I think there’s something to that. When carpal tunnel syndrome threatened to destroy both of my careers, one of my readers pointed me to Atkins’ vitamin book. I started taking, among other things, Flax Seed Oil or Fish Oil (buy whichever is on sale; chemically, they offer the same benefit) and Vitamin B6 and B complex. I was surprised at the effect they had on my mood. But that combination promotes a generally healthy nervous system. Vitamin B1, Atkins said, is especially effective in treating depression. The B vitamins work best in the presence of each other, so a trip to the local discount store for a bottle of Vitamin B1 and B complex could make a world of difference.

Battling depression via nutrition is imprecise, but the nice thing about that is that you’re not messing directly with brain chemistry. You’re providing your body with the raw materials to make what it needs. Your body knows how to dispose of excess B1. What’s it supposed to do with excess Paxil?

The best thing you can do for your mental health may very well be to visit a nutritionist. Get a copy of
Dr. Atkins’ Vita-Nutrient Solution
, make yourself a shopping list, get a nutritionist’s opinion, then buy. And avoid processed, commercial food if at all possible. I know my moods are much more consistent when I buy fresh fruits and vegetables and actually cook than when I eat tons of fast food or buy heat-up instant meals from the grocery store. Highly processed foods lose most of their nutritional value. They hurt your mood, they hurt your waistline, they hurt your energy level, they rot your teeth, and who knows what else. And when you’re not happy about how you look and you don’t have a lot of energy, and your teeth are falling apart, none of that helps your mood. Nice vicious cycle, eh?

You hear a lot more now about depression than you did in the 1970s and early 1980s. But there were a fraction of the number of fast-food restaurants and grocery stores were much smaller because they were catering to people who cook, whereas today grocery stores seem to cater to people who heat stuff up because everybody’s too busy to cook. I’m thoroughly convinced that these factors are related.

And cooking isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. I can stir up some mean dishes in about half an hour. Trust me, if I can learn how to cook, anyone can. I’m impatient and clumsy and accident-prone. But I’ve still learned how to cook well enough to impress a girl. Not counting my mother and sister, but I’ve impressed them too.

Remember that most doctors have no special training in nutrition. A lot of people are distressed to hear that and think it’s a conspiracy. It’s not. Medicine and nutrition are related, but they’re too complex for most people to be good at both. Asking your regular doctor to be a nutritionist is like asking him or her to be proficient at surgery. He or she is certainly capable of understanding it, but there are so many things a doctor would like to understand, and there are only 24 hours in a day to learn it all.

I believe that counselling and self-help are overrated, but both helped me to a limited degree. I found
I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got
by self-help pioneer Jess Lair to be helpful. It’s sadly out of print but widely available used. The biggest gem out of Lair’s book is a question: Do you have five friends? Lair said that if you have more than that, your friendships aren’t very deep. If you have fewer than that, you’re putting too much burden on them. With an inner circle of five or so, the burden seems to be about right.

But when that’s not enough, counselling helps. The problem with counselling is that sometimes people rely too much on it, or solely on it. Often people have issues they need help resolving. Sometimes that means just listening and offering a few suggestions and sometimes it means re-enacting traumatic experiences in order to finish up some unfinished business. It’s work. But it can be helpful, if you’re willing to do the work. But depression is a complex, multifaceted problem, so a one-pronged attack won’t be very effective. Remember the basic difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist: Psychologists can’t prescribe medicine, and psychiatrists don’t do a whole lot of counseling. Both are aware of the work of the other, and an honest practitioner of either profession ought to know the limits and know when you need the other. But you may have to ask when it’s time to see the other. Human beings tend to get overconfident in the abilities of the tools they have.

Finally, there’s a spiritual aspect. Virtually everything I’ve ever read says you should believe in something. If you’ve ever had any exposure to Christianity, read the books of Luke and John (they’re not terribly long–read a chapter a day and you’ll be through both of them in two months) in a modern, readable translation. You can read them for free at bible.crosswalk.com. For readability, I recommend the New Living Translation. It plays really fast and loose with the translation sometimes, but the point isn’t to make you a Bible scholar–it’s to present the words of Jesus in understandable fashion. Or you can read an out-of-print modern blending of the four Gospels by Charles Templeton titled simply Jesus, online, for free.

Last night I told someone it’s healthier to be an atheist than it is to be in a cult, but it’s healthier to believe in something than nothing. I’m a Christian and make no bones about it. If you’re a not a Christian and you believe something else and you’re struggling with depression, then my advice to you if you’re not really practicing is to get serious. And if you find it’s not helping you, try Christianity.

No single thing will conquer depression for you. But the combination of diet and nutrition, counseling, and spirituality can be potent. Pills are a brute-force approach, and after watching my friend’s bad experience, frankly I believe they ought to be the thing you go to when the other things don’t work, not the thing you go to before trying the others. I know they work because I’ve seen them work, but if anything, the other things can make them more effective, and if you can get by without pumping man-made chemicals into your system, that’s a very good thing, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with that.

The giant homo sapien conspiracy against me

I’m confused, I’ve finished my book (reading one, not writing one–that’ll be the day), and I’ve found I’m in no mood for P.J. O’Rourke. Meanwhile, my readers are egging me on.
It’s part of a plot. I can tell. It’s part of that huge homo sapien plot to take over the world. You gotta watch them homo sapiens.

I learned yesterday than I’m no good at plotting. I’m no good at conspiring. This surprised me. You see, at the age of 23, my next-door neighbors decided the whole world was a huge conspiracy–though they weren’t quite smart enough to figure out that it was the homo sapiens behind it, but you’ll find that out soon enough–and somehow, even at my very young age, I’d managed to rise to the very top of that conspiracy.

They didn’t get out very much. They also happened to believe that the X-Files was really a documentary. You see, constitutionally, the government is required to disseminate that information. So they dress it up like fiction. That way, they’ve fulfilled their constitutional duty in an underhanded way. But really smart people (like them) could see through the whole thing.

Well, I’m not sure if they actually ever said that, but I sure did get sick of listening to UFO conspiracy stories. I can’t remember if they ever went so far as to try to tell me the X-Files was real.

I came out of that experience feeling like I had connections and conniving ability, like I could conspire if I really wanted to.

So as a friend and I started to weave this vast conspiracy, this person asked me a question that let all the air out of my balloon: What if [the person we were conspiring against] already has plans?

Dang it. I didn’t bother finding that out. I just assumed this person had nothing better to do than to fall into my carefully laid trap, which I’d been carefully laying out… because… I… No, not because I didn’t have anything better to do. I had lots of better things to do. I just didn’t want to do them.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me?

You’re in on that homo sapien plot too, aren’t you? You gotta watch them homo sapiens. They’ll take over the world if we’re not careful.

But I just went off on one of my really long digressions. Or maybe it was two of them. So, Steve DeLassus takes offense at me using the word “litter” and implying the trademark “White Castle” in the same sentence. Obviously, Steve’s forgotten one important thing. I’m a transplant to St. Louis. I’m not a native. I’m native to Kansas City. And let me tell you something about Kansas City. White Castle went to Kansas City… and flopped. No grace about it. We’re talking a big, messy belly-flop right onto dry, hot pavement.

Evidently, in Kansas City people wondered the same thing I did the couple of times I’ve had occasion to eat a White Castle. I wondered whether the little cardboard box the thing came in would taste better than the smelly, greasy thing they tried to pass off to me as a hamburger. I know it would be easier on your digestive tract and on your arteries.

White Castles are obviously a creation of the homo sapiens. But not even their most carefully laid plot could save them from the discriminating palates of Kansas City. Good on them. The Kansas Citians, that is.

The St. Louisans aren’t doing such a good job of staving off the plot. White Castle isn’t even a St. Louis creation.

Which leads me, somehow, to Bruce Edwards’ question. Evidently, where he used to live there was a chain of White Castle clones. We had one of those, in Columbia, where I went to college. It opened up the first semester of my freshman year. They bought a tiny drive-thru, painted it pink, and hung out a big pink-and-green sign that read in neon-style letters: Grill ‘n Chill. Their specialties: cheap belly bombers and thick milkshakes. The student newspaper I was writing for at the time reviewed it. “Completely unoriginal,” the reviewer said. I never bothered to check it out. To me, it seemed like cloning a Yugo. Why bother? Not that I had much of a chance to check it out. Within a couple of months, the venture went belly-up, and the atrociously colored pink building stood there vacant for years, a painful reminder of the failed venture. Well, I guess it wasn’t so painful if you remembered your sunglasses. I used to have a neat pair of black wraparounds. I think one of my ex-girlfriends took them. She never did like them. I think she was a closet homo sapien. That would explain a lot about her. Like how she walked upright, breathed oxygen, communicated using spoken words… I never did try to sneak out with any of her genetic material–you know, a bit of hair, or some nail clippings–to test, but I’ll bet she was carbon-based too.

And there I’ve gone, and taken the question and made it all about me. What, do I look like the guy on a date?

I blame the homo sapiens. They keep distracting me. They’re all around me. They’re everywhere, you know.

Anyway, back to the question, which I hadn’t even finished writing out when I got so rudely sidetracked: Some of his coworkers offered him $100 plus the price of the (ahem) food if he could eat 100 belly bombers in a 24-hour period. Bruce asked how I’d respond to an offer like that.

Well, I’m thinking that in exchange for three meals at Smokestack BBQ in Kansas City and $100, I might be willing to think about the sight and smell and taste of 100 belly bombers. But one would have to seriously raise the stakes for me to eat 100 of the wretched things over the course of a day. I get sick to my stomach if I take my vitamins too early in the day.

And that has absolutely nothing to do with homo sapiens. Which surprises you, I’m sure. I know it surprises me.

So, no, I’d tell my friends they could spend all weekend getting acquainted with their toilets if they wanted, but I sure wouldn’t be joining them.

Steve then made the smooth (as a gravel road) transition to the subject of Pepsi and toilets. About a year ago, Steve got one of those annoying forwards that clog up everyone’s inbox (if that’s not a homo sapien plot, I don’t know what is) that was something like 25 things you didn’t want to know about cola. It talked about how you could dissolve a nail in a can of Coca-Cola inside of a week, and other weird stuff. Well, I had a two-liter of Pepsi in my fridge. I’d had company over, and whoever it was only drank one or two glasses, leaving me with most of a two-liter that I had no intention of drinking, because when I want caffeine, I generally want coffee. One of the claims of the message was that a can of cola would do a very nice job of cleaning your toilet.

Now, knowing that if I read it on the Internet it must be true, I took the advice to heart. My toilet was badly discolored because I’m a bachelor and out to impress no one–or I figure if I’m going to impress someone, it won’t be with my toilet. Now, it’s never been as bad as that “worst toilet in Scotland” scene in Trainspotting, but I thought I had a pretty formidible test for that quantity of Pepsi. So I poured it in one morning before I left for work.

I came home about nine hours later. I stirred the contents of the bowl around with my toilet brush, but couldn’t get a good look at the interior. I guess it was a little cleaner. But I decided to let it sit a while longer.

Finally, around 8 p.m., I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had two choices: abandon the experiment, or use the sink. I’m not that much of a bachelor. (I’ve managed to fight off some of that homo sapien influence that so pervades our society these days.) So I flushed the toilet. And you know how they talk sometimes about “ring around the toilet?” I definitely had one of those. But the dirty part was the top of the bowl.

So forget about those fancy-dancy, high-fallutin’ blue things you hang in your toilet. Once every couple of months, buy yourself one of those 59-cent two-liter bottles of generic cola. Take it home, dump it in the bowl before you go to work, and let it sit. It’s cheaper than those blue things and it’s a whole lot easier than scrubbing. Does a better job too. And it’s better for the environment too, since there’s no poisonous bleach involved. Moby would be so proud of me.

I’m sure those homo sapiens don’t want you to know that.

Oh yeah. I have a Web site.

You ask me how I am
And all I can say is I still exist…
–lyrical snippet I wrote in 1997

Yep, I’m hacked off and moody, and when I get this way, it’s best if I say little more than yeah, I still exist. I know I won’t regret saying or writing that.

BBQ. I know I cut way back on my red meat intake–I may have managed to eat none at all in October, I’m not sure–but I have this fantasy of moving back to Kansas City, buying a house next door to Gates BBQ–no relation to that scumbag Billy Gates in Seattle–setting up an expense account, and eating BBQ three meals a day. BBQ for breakfast? Don’t dis it until you’ve tried it. But make sure it’s real BBQ. Here in St. Louis, restaurants tend to do Memphis-style BBQ, which is where you cook the meat without sauce until it’s good and dried out, then you splash some spicy sauce on it and call it BBQ. Kansas Citians know real BBQ is cooked long, slow, and in sauce. It adds a little flavor and keeps the meat from drying out as much.

Gates three times a day. Sounds like a great solution to any problem. Or at least a nice distraction.

Music. I’ve been listening to a CD my sister sent me by a band called claas-p.jambor. I know nothing about them, because their Web site xeptional.com is a Flash site and I’ve removed that blight from all my PCs, permanently. (Now if I can just get them to quit prompting me for the plugin…) Well, I do know this: Their music is awesome. Ever listen to a CD, then come to a song that makes you just stop the disc and put that song on repeat play for a couple of hours? “Open Skies” is one of those songs. I know I’m not the only one like that: when Beavis and Butthead saw a video they really liked, they said MTV should just play that video over and over. Beavis and Butthead wouldn’t like claas-p.jambor though. Too punky, and they’re Christian.

But three-chord Christian punk seems to be just what I’ve been looking for.

Blogging. Dan Bowman sent me a link to a site that looks promising. If you like it when I go off on my non-computer tangents, you’ll probably find him interesting. If you wonder what it’s like to be a Catholic priest, or a former Catholic priest, you’ll probably like it. He’s only been at it for a week or so. I like him. He shoots straight, makes me think, and holds just enough back to keep an aura about him. I think he’s more enigmatic than I am.

Effective e-mail communication. I guess I have to do a little computer stuff, huh? Here’s a snippet from a piece of e-mail I sent this morning, to someone who’s about to attend a seminar on effective communications:

“Dave’s rule #1: Make sure what you’re trying to communicate will actually be delivered. Therefore, you should avoid Outlook at all costs.”

To which he responded, Outlook is effective for sending mail bombs, viruses, Powerpoint presentations and Flash animations. I’m sure it transmits Anthrax just fine too. But I’ve had three, maybe even four people have Outlook just flat die in the past week. The answer is sometimes to run nfclean.exe and scanpst.exe. Sometimes I have to delete the user’s NT profile and import their PST. Sometimes I have to completely reinstall.

I hate Outlook. I hate Windows. And I can’t have another Amiga.

Give me Unix or give me death.

03/05/2001

Dual CPU blues. I’ve had my dual Celeron-500 apart for a while, for reasons that escape me, and over the weekend I finally got around to putting it back together. At one time this would have seemed an impressive system–Aureal Vortex 2 audio, TNT2 video, dual 500 MHz CPUs (which I’m actually running at around 510 MHz because I bumped the FSB speed up to 68 MHz, within the tolerance levels of most modern peripherals), and 320 MB RAM. But let me tell you–it’s a lot faster than it sounds. The 733-MHz Pentium IIIs at work used to make me jealous. No longer. I’ll put my dualie 500 up against them any day of the week.

Just out of curiosity, I tried my CPU stress test from last week on it. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get CPU usage up to 100 percent. I’d top out at about 96 percent. I’m not sure if that’s because of the dual CPUs or because I’m running Windows 2000 on it instead of NT4. I’m sure a complex Photoshop filter could max both chips out, but that’s not what I do. I fired up Railroad Tycoon II, and it was unbelievable. CPU usage hovered around 60 percent and it was smooth as silk, even with the more system-intensive scenarios from the Second Century add-on pack.

Unfortunately, the golden age of inexpensive multiprocessing is over, at least for now. Current Celerons won’t do SMP. I understand why–Intel doesn’t want you to buy two cheap CPUs instead of one expensive one. Like I said, I’ll take my dual 500s over a P3-733 any day of the week. A P3-733 costs about $200. My 500s were 40 bucks a pop. So, unfortunately, to get dual processing these days, you have to get a pair of P3s, which will start at about $140 apiece for a P3-667. The least expensive SMP board I know of is the VIA-based Abit VP6, which sells for about $140. So you’re looking at about $450 to get into dual CPUs by the time you get the board, CPUs and fans. That’s not an outrageous deal, but seeing as an Abit BP6 and a pair of Celerons with fans used to set you back about $350, it’s a shame.

If AMD can ever work through the problems they’re having with the AMD 760MP chipset, it’ll help a little but not as much as you may think. The AMD-based boards will be expensive–expect them to start at $200 or possibly even $250– because they use a different bus that requires a lot more pins and a lot more added expense. So while you’ll be able to multiprocess with $60 CPUs again, you’re looking at higher up-front cost. The least expensive dual-Duron rig will only cost about $50 less than the least expensive dual-P3 rig. But the dual-Duron rig stands a decent chance of outrunning the dual-P3, because the clockspeed will be higher, and the CPUs each get their own path to all the relevant buses.

And I’ve reached a new low. Last night I had a craving for a burger. So I did what any self-respecting part-time vegetarian who didn’t know any better would do: I went on a quest to find soyburgers. My friend Jeanne, who says I stole the idea of giving up meat for Lent from her (and maybe subconsciously I did) warned me they won’t taste like meat. And I’m pretty sure my dad–whose idea of four servings of vegetables a day was the pickles and ketchup on two hamburgers, beef of course–was rolling his eyes at me from Upstairs (If God has a sense of humor, which wouldn’t surprise me, He opened the portal so Dad could get a good look at the look on my face after the first bite).

And? Well, I guess soyburgers aren’t too much of an atrocity. Better than McDonald’s? Well, yeah, but then again so’s the cherry-flavored flouride treatment at the dentist’s office. They’re somewhere between beef and imitation bacon bits in both smell and taste. You definitely want to put other stuff on it to distract you–I got some good pickles, some good mustard, and ketchup, and wished I’d gone further. Hmm. Lettuce and tomato, no question. And I’m wondering if alfalfa sprouts would be good on a burger? I’m also wondering where you buy alfalfa sprouts. Oh, and get REALLY good rolls.

I can probably develop a taste for them, but it will definitely be an acquired taste. There was a time, back before I realized I wanted to live past age 27, when I could eat real hamburgers two meals a day for weeks at a time and be perfectly happy–and jokingly wondering why I didn’t eat them for breakfast too. That won’t happen with the soyburgers. I think what’s left of my package of four should get me through Lent.

Oh yeah. They aren’t as good as the real thing and they cost a lot more. What’s up with that? I thought stuff that was lower on the food chain was supposed to be cheaper. I guess that’s only when it’s not being marketed to SUV liberals. (Psst. Marketing tip: SUV liberals like unbleached paperboard. The paperboard that went into my packaging is definitely bleached. And lose the plastic wrap on the burgers. SUV liberals hate that. Good move on putting two burgers per plastic bag though–you’re at least thinking a little. But you gotta go all the way. That’s why they put two “Be Kind to Mother Earth” bumper stickers–printed on unbleached material, of course–on their Ford Excursions.)

I think I’ll be eating a lot of mushroom ravioli for the next few weeks, if I can ever find someplace that sells it again. You’d think in St. Louis, of all places–where there are almost as many good Italian restaurants as there are stop signs–you’d be able to find mushroom ravioli. I guess true blue St. Louisans like beef.

Why Linus Torvalds is more popular than RMS

Quote of the day. This one made me laugh out loud–probably because I have a journalism degree, I’ve seen journalism professors show up for class sloshed, a good number of my friends are journalists, and, technically, I’m a journalist myself.
“I know how journalists work. They drink too much and they search for interesting stories.” –Linus Torvalds, in the Spring 1999 issue of Linux Magazine.

As for Torvalds, his mom, dad, grandfather, sister, and uncle are all journalists. Yikes!

Stallman on the warpath. My chance to be divisive, I guess. As a journalist, I mustn’t shy away from it. Hey, we’re supposed to look for these opportunities. So…

GNU/Linux is a horrible name. Stallman’s efforts should be commended, yes. I believe they have been. Stallman’s not exactly a household name yet, but certainly more people know who he is now than a year ago. If he wants GNU and his Free Software Foundation to be known, he needs to borrow more pages from Eric Raymond, or even better yet, Torvalds.

As an aside, I had a conversation with a friend and one of his friends the other night over coffee, and the whole Linux/Open Source/Free Software/whatever topic came up (probably because he introduced me as, “Dave, my friend who wrote a book about Windows and now he’s writing a book about Linux.”). I was trying to explain Stallman, and finally I just said, “He’s so libertarian he doesn’t believe in capitalism.” She stopped for a minute. “Libertarians don’t believe in capitalism?” Sure they do, usually fanatically so. But capitalism puts certain limits on your liberties, and if those liberties mean more to you than capitalism, you can start to disdain capitalism. It’s strange, but remember, in the 1930s the leaders of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain took conservatism to such an extreme that it led to a form of socialism. The boundaries blur at the edges.

End aside. Raymond and Torvalds are better known than Stallman partly because they’re nicer and more reasonable people. Want proof? OK. Here’s an interview with Stallman, here’s one with Torvalds, and here’s one with Raymond.

It’s pretty clear from reading these interviews why Torvalds is the most popular of these guys, and why he’s become a bit of a media darling. Yes, he looks more like the anti-Gates than RMS or Raymond, but there’s more to it than just that: He’s more charismatic, he’s less intellectual (though he’s obviously a brilliant guy, he’s much more apt to laugh or crack a joke than try to convince you he knows more than you do), and he’s considerably more humble. He’s a likable guy. More likeable than Stallman or Raymond, and more likable than Gates.

Harping the GNU/Linux thing isn’t going to accomplish much. People have a hard enough time figuring out what Linux is supposed to be. And where do we draw the line? Sure, Linux isn’t very useful without some set of utilities (and the GNU utilities are the most commonly used). But what about XFree86? That didn’t come from GNU. But if it weren’t for XFree86, very few people would be interested in either GNU or Linux. And what about KDE? Stallman hates KDE because it dares to use the Qt library, which wasn’t always GPL. But it’s largely thanks to KDE that we’re not stuck using the often-convoluted interfaces that shipped with early Linux distributions. Without KDE, there probably wouldn’t have been a GNOME in response. OK, so now we’re up to GNU/Linux/XFree86/KDE. Oh yeah. A lot of the daemons people use with Linux (minor details like Sendmail and BIND–just the building blocks of the Internet, nothing to get worked up about) came not from GNU but from the BSD project. GNU/BSD/Linux/XFree86/KDE, anyone?

This becomes a convoluted mess. Maybe “Linux” isn’t the best name (if we named all OSs after the kernel, Windows 9x would still be called DOS), but it’s the name people recognize. My goal in writing is to communicate as clearly as possible. That means using the popular name.

A makeover for Stallman. I’m already in trouble, so I might as well get in a lot of trouble. We find out early in that interview that Stallman lived in is office for 13 years or something. He had a bed in his office! What, did he sleep there, wake up, code for 16 hours a day, except for breaks for meals and a break for a shower whenever he felt like it? As Torvalds says, journalists look for interesting stories. Here’s an eccentric guy. Let’s find out more about his eccentricism. Find out about the eccentricism, you learn about the dedication. It sounds like this guy just might be more dedicated and fanatic about software than Martin Luther was about Jesus. How can that be?

In fact, Stallman may have logged 16-hour days at the keyboard. He alludes to it in the interview, when he says he suffered carpal tunnel syndrome from too much coding. But he didn’t talk about it.

Stallman has this ridiculous folk song he plays about how hackers need to follow him, and they’ll be free. He alludes to folk music in the interview, how one person can take a song someone took from someone else, and it becomes a rich thing. What if Stallman brought his acoustic guitar to this interview, said, “Like this!” and played his ridiculous song, then said, “Hmm. Maybe not.” A little self-depracating humor works sometimes. Especially when you have a reputation for being pompous and arrogant. Just ask Linus.

People have to have a compelling reason to listen to you. Giving them a bunch of free stuff is a good start, I’ll admit. Though he speaks about word processors in a demeaning manner, which may make some programmers born and bred on text editors stand up and cheer, but I’m not sure I like the tool of my trade looked down upon in that way. I’m sure my mom doesn’t. The tools we need are different from the tools rms needs, and he needs to recognize that.

So, the difference between my mom and me. I have to listen to Stallman, I have to at least feign interest in who he is and what he’s doing (and to be honest, I don’t have to try all that hard) because I’m being paid to write a book that’s almost as much about him and his work as it is about Torvalds and Gates. But why should my mom give a rip about this guy? And therein lies the problem. With years of retraining, my mom could get her job done with a Linux (or better yet, Hurd, so Stallman and GNU can get all the credit) box running GNU Emacs. Hey, it’s a text editor, it’s a Web browser, it’s a programming environment, it’s a dessert topping, it’s a floor wax! And at the end of this retraining, I could then look her in the eye and say, “You’re free.” And you know what she’d tell me? She’d give me a dirty look and tell me it wasn’t worth it.

Stallman’s attitude is, “I’ll sacrifice a little (or a lot of) convenience in order to be free.” Torvalds? He freely admits his mom uses a Mac, his dad uses Windows, and his sister uses Windows. Then he corrects himself. “No, she [his sister] uses Microsoft Works. Windows is nothing more than a program loader to her. She doesn’t care how these computers work.”

I think the contrasting attitudes have a lot to do with why Torvalds feels he has too much attention and Stallman not enough. People more readily identify with Torvalds.

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