Notes for Linus Torvalds and David Diamond Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

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Introduction: Post-its from a Revolution
David Diamond

Acknowledgment that revolutionaries get stuck with telling their story when what they caused is significant.

(ix) Not only was it the most common operating system running server computers dishing out all the content on the World Wide Web, but its very development model—an intricate web of its own, encompassing hundreds of thousands of volunteer computer programmers—had grown to become the largest collaborative project in the history of the world.
(x) Revolutionaries aren't born. Revolutions can't be planned. Revolutions can't be managed. Revolutions happen.


Preface: The Meaning of Life I (Sex, War, Linux)

Linus version of Maslow hierarchy of needs reduced to survival, social order, entertainment; recalling the desire of a tenured professor at the pinnacle of his career only seeking laughter and applause.

(xviii) L: Basically it is short and sweet. It won't give your life any meaning, but it tells you what's going to happen. There are three things that have meaning for life. They are the motivational factors for everything in your life—for anything that you do or any living thing does: The first is survival, the second is social order, and the third is entertainment. Everything in life progresses in that order. And there is nothing after entertainment.

Birth of a NERD


Compare early play with electronic calculator to Papert fascination with gears.

(6) It probably won't surprise anyone that some of my earliest and happiest memories involve playing with my grandfather's old electronic calculator.

To a child old electronic calculators exhibited effort correlative to human input, creating a satisfying symmetry rather than flat, asymmetric omniscience and omnipotence; compare to preference of peer learning versus traditional classroom instruction in early studies of learning programming.

(6) That was fascinating. Much more exciting than a modern calculator that won't even break into a sweat when doing something as simple as calculating a plain sine of a number. With those early devices you knew that what they did was hard. They made it very clear indeed.

Commodore VIC-20 ready-made personal computer that was immediately ready to program, and without other applications, affording learning programming.

(7) The VIC-20 was one of the first ready-made computers meant for the home. It required no assembly. You just plugged it into the TV and turned it on, and there it sat, with a big all-caps “READY” at the top of the screen and a big blinking cursor just waiting for you to do something.
(7) The big problem was that there really wasn't that much to do no the thing. Especially early on, when the infrastructure for commercial programs hadn't yet started to materialize. The only thing you could really do was to program it in BASIC. Which was exactly what my grandfather started doing.
(7) I don't know how may other preteen boys sat in their grandfather's room, being taught how to simplify arithmetic expressions and type them correctly into a computer, but I remember doing that. I don't remember what the calculations were all about, and I don't think I had a single clue about what I really did when I did it, but I was there, helping him.

Quintessential early PC experience typing in programs from manuals without really knowing what they did, experiencing ability to make changes to the behavior of the program.

(7-8) And I started reading the manuals for the computer, typing in the example programs. There were examples of simple games that you could program yourself. If you did it right you would up with a guy that walked across the screen, in bad graphics, and then you could change it and make the guy walk across the screen in different colors. You could just do that.


Torvalds, Linus and David Diamond. Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary. New York: Harper Business, 2001. Print.