The Tale of the Giant Freetard Tallywhacker

special thanks to Fatty, Silby and Arturus for consultation on beardly matters

It didn’t surprise anyone that his name was Baldr. This was a hippie school, and he was a hippie. Third generation: he was a prince of the blood. But he was not content to rest on his laurels. He needed to earn his spurs.

Baldr his name was. In three years and only four semesters his name grew to be known by everybody. By his fellow students; by faculty; by staff; by every single member of the administration; everybody. As a parody of itself; as a paragon of many things great and small; as a joke; as a cautionary tale; as an example fit for schoolchildren; everybody knew it.

He was the one named Baldr James, psychonaut, garbage head, computer geek, freetard, crypto-anarchist, scientist, philanthropist, figurehead, felon, and, I’m rather proud to say, my friend.

I always liked him. He always interested me. We were of the same entering class and met at the very beginning of the year. I followed his career at the school as long as there was a career to follow. Despite the best efforts of the administration, the campus police, and authorities local and federal, that career continued until my graduation, the graduation which he was prevented from attending on penalty of prosecution.

He is a cute boy. Nobody can argue this. He has blond hair and blue eyes and the littlekid body so popular today. His skin was such to make an author struggle not to rely on dairy-products to counterweight their metaphors. He had an easy laugh and an easy smile and, by all accounts, he was hung like a barnyard stallion. And there were plenty of accounts.

When he came to the school he was doubly cute and doubly so again. He was enthusiastic but quiet; intelligent but humble; awkward qua awkward; a perfect storm of indie cute. He liked computers because they allowed for productivity in solitude. He didn’t gad about on message boards. It was just him, and ~$, and nothing but a keyboard in between.

He was known for climbing things. It was the first thing on campus for which he was known. He would climb anything: trees, walls, academic buildings, other people’s houses. And he would do it, always, barefoot. It was not that he did not wear shoes: he did not even own them.

He also dealt drugs. Well, not drugs really, so much as pot. Hardly a drug by the standard of our college. Not if you ever tried to eat at the dining hall straight. He was far from his own best customer. By liberal-arts standards he was barely a stoner at all. But he dealt a little, out of his dorm room, and made some good money for his very little trouble.

I knew him through campus activism. He was one of the few other people whose radical tendencies were focused, not at the world beyond, but at the campus around. He seemed to believe strongly in personal freedom. Not a bad thing to believe in on a college campus. Unless you have a passionate objection to getting laid.

He became highly involved in the Security Camera Debate. Or Debacle. Or Spectacle, in the Cryptonomicon sense. Our college, former paragon of liberty and lasciviousness, was going to have video monitoring devices installed all about it. I didn’t care as much; I was too busy being driven to distraction by the concomitant erosion of the college’s academic principles. But then, Baldr always was more morally-minded than I.

I suppose it didn’t help that these cameras were going to be installed within a few feet of where he was engaging in the illegal redistribution of controlled substances. Hey, man, that’s just restraint of trade.

The students made a stink. The administration promised to provide an informational session in which questions could be asked and grievances aired. Their general tone was, We will throw you this bone to your student rights on the understanding that gnawing on the bone denotes consent.

The info session quickly degenerated into rhetorical cannonade. Students showed up in droves, the silent majority looking for any opportunity to get loud. The administration did not take the time to realize that a authoritative position was the one least likely to get them what they wanted. It dragged on for hours. The questions became heated, the administration quickly defensive, sometimes scornful, often loud. No decision was reached – this very fact admitting to the possibility that the decision was open to alteration. In short, it was a shitstorm.

Or so I heard. As I said, I didn’t care, and weathered said storm by hiding in bed with a girl. Youthful folly is a thoroughly enjoyable exercise. I highly recommend it. Especially in lieu of taking classes.

For a moment things seemed to have died down. In retrospect, the eye of the storm was upon us. Shortly thereafter I grew to appreciate this. As well as just how fragile was the peace.

Baldr came into my room. The girl in question was in class. He was barefoot, as he always was, wearing a gray buttondown and khaki shorts. He took a seat on my floor, as he did when we talked. He looked pretty shaken up. It took very little prompting for him to start talking.

I shut up and listened.

It seems he had been at the spectacle of the previous evening. He had gone there, and brought along a video camera. He had filmed the school officials as they spoke. He had then uploaded the film to the student server, so that it could be seen and discussed by those who weren’t able to be at the meeting themselves.

I knew where this was going. (The role of amateur legal council being no more new to me than that of amateur psychotherapist.) I nodded, listened in sympathy, and kept him talking.

Early the next morning he had been called on his telephone by the director of the campus police, one LeeMarr (nobody really knew if this was his first or last name), who had been the primary spokesman for the administration at the meeting. He demanded that Baldr report immediately to his office. Not one to refuse a summons from the Rod and the Axe himself, Baldr complied post-haste.

He was not allowed to leave LeeMarr’s office for the next forty-five minutes. LeeMarr locked them in his office and accused him of illegal eavesdropping, of violating his personal rights, of libel, of slander, of defamation of character, of general malfeasance and of being a bad little boy. That he did so loudly and abrasively is tautological; LeeMarr only had two modes, asshole and ASSHOLE, so no matter what Baldr was being taken for a wild ride.

Baldr protested that he was merely making a record of the public statements of a public official speaking to a public meeting in a public capacity, and that the record had not been released to anyone not already on campus, within spitting distance of the meeting when it occurred.

LeeMarr responded by telling him that he needed to sign a statement – which he had drafted – apologizing for his behavior, promising to take down the offending videos from the student server, and leaving the door open for future restitution.

Baldr said no. LeeMarr told him that he didn’t have a choice, that he had to sign.

Baldr asked to leave. LeeMarr told him he couldn’t. Not until he had signed this confession.

Baldr asked to call his lawyer. LeeMarr told him no. Neither his parents. Neither the police.

Baldr told him to go to hell. LeeMarr tried to physically force him to sign the document. Baldr eventually just sat in the chair with his arms folded and – I gathered – cried a lot. Eventually LeeMarr was forced to let him go.

The first thing that Baldr did was tell as many people as possible about what had just happened. I was, I gathered, not his first stop. Somewhat prior to coming to me, once his head was cleared enough to allow for simple hacking, he went online and uploaded the movies he had taken, not just to the student server, but to a public server, accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The third thing, which he was going to do as soon as he left my room, was to call a lawyer.

“So wait,” I said, my brows getting appropriately afurrow. “You did this with a school camera.”


“Put it on a school computer.”


“You were attending this meeting as a student of the school.”


“At an all-community meeting.”


“So you were invited to the meeting.”

“Sure, we all were.”

“Right. And you hid in the corner and filmed him in secret?”

“No, I stood right there with a video camera.”

“Right where?”

“Uhh… right in front of the stage.”

“So LeeMarr could see you?”

“I was there for like four hours with a camera on a tripod.”

“So ‘yes,’ okay. And this was a public meeting?”


“Anyone could attend it?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“And at the meeting, LeeMarr was there in his public capacity.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“They introduced him as Director of Public Safety?”


“And he answered questions in that capacity?”


“Along with – who else?”

“The Dean of Students, mostly.”

“So another public figure?”

“Yeah. It was an all-community meeting. They advertised online.”

“And then you made the tape available – to whom?”

“To the students.”

“All of whom were expressly invited to this meeting.”


“Encouraged to attend, even,” said I, remembering how many fucking eMails I’d gotten on this subject in the last few days.

“Yes. Totally.”

“And did you misquote anyone?”

“Huh? No, I just posted the video.”

“Raw? No editing?”

“Nope, just a title screen giving the date and the words ‘All-Community Meeting.’”

“You didn’t comment on the video ever?”

“No, man, I didn’t even ask questions at the thing.”

“Anything else I should know?” I asked.

He thought for a bit, then shook his head. “I just took the video, then put it up so we could see it and talk about it.”

Jesus, I thought, this kid was like Ollie North crossed with a bunny rabbit.

“I’m not a lawyer,” I said, “and I think you should contact one as soon as you can. Two of them. Ten of them. But if you want my opinion:”

“Yes, please.”

“Well, let me go through this briefly:

-Libel is when you damage someone’s reputation by spreading spurious information via print. That didn’t happen. You’re innocent of that.

-Slander is when you damage someone’s reputation by talking falsely about them. That didn’t happen. You’re innocent of that.

-Invasion of privacy is when you enter into someone’s life when they are not in their public capacity. That didn’t happen. You’re innocent of that.

-In Massachusetts, you cannot record someone without their express written permission. However, since he was speaking to a public meeting as a public official in his public capacity, this right to privacy was implicitly waived. This doubly so because you did not then make the recording public, but kept it solely as documentary evidence” ah ah aha! “and within a scholarly community at that.

“In conclusion ,” I said, “I think you’re fine. I’d call the ACLU for their advice – they will certainly offer it pro bono – but in short, I can’t see you being in a remotely actionable position.”

“You mean-”

“If they sue you, they are stupid, and evil, and going to lose, all at the same time.”

His smiled brightened. “Thanks, man-”

“But as to the way that LeeMarr treated you,” I continued, “as a serving officer of this college, still in that public capacity, and as an ersatz officer of the law, was highly actionable. He physically threatened you. He assaulted you. He attempted to coerce your signature onto a legal document. He held you incommunicado. He held you in a locked room against your will. He, as an officer with some legal authority who had just summoned you to his office, refused you legal council. Finally, he was a college employee who was a dick to one of his charges.”

This hadn’t quite occurred to him, not in full, not yet.

“What do you think?” Baldr asked me.

“If you want,” I said, “I’d call the police and have his ass arrested. But no matter what, I’d sue this place,” I said, “from top to fucking bottom.”

“You mean him?”

“No, this college. If the airplane crashes, you don’t sue the stewardess. Even if she caused the accident. If may have been her fault, but the responsibility is that of her employer. He did this speaking ex cathedra for this college, on the authority given him by our administration and the Board of Trustees. This is their responsibility. His malfeasance, his felonious conduct, is their responsibility. Also, they are a lot richer than he. Sue their fucking asses back to the stone age. I’ll piss on the stones there with you.”

“Won’t that hurt the school?”

“Maybe. It might cause our insurance premiums to go up a bit, but insurance will definitely pick up the check for any settlement. It might shake up the administration a little. It’ll definitely get LeeMarr fired.”

I had him at this last one. As I knew I would.

He left my room and promptly called a number for the American Civil Liberties Union. He had a lovely conversation with himself-in-six-years. The result of this was that the ACLU took on his case. They sent a cease-and-desist order to our college, informing them that they were being (in a nutshell) egregious fuckheads for all of the reasons which I have already elicited. They likewise informed the school that a failure to comport themselves more in line with normative notions of legal behavior would result in their filing suit against them.

Within a month, LeeMarr had been fired. The story that was told to students – and, I later corroborated, to faculty and staff as well – was that he was fired for an utterly unrelated incident. About two weeks after receiving this legal notice from the ACLU, LeeMarr decided to take the school’s one – and only – cruiser out for a spin. While it was off-campus he crashed it into a tree. The cruiser was totaled. He was fired. Nowhere would this been seen as anything but just cause for being fired. Maybe France. Nowhere else.

There were three schools of thought on campus as to why he did this. The first was that he was an accomplished asshat and that his ill karma finally caught up with him, at forty miles per hour. The second was that the trauma of the Baldr incident, and subsequent reprimanding from On High, had left him so addled that he had decided to mix martinis with acceleration, with results following. The third was that he knew he was going to get fired and as such went out with a calculated blaze of glory. The fact that it was not also a blaze of gasoline and engine oil was humanity’s loss.

I myself have had occasion to posit an alternate hypothesis. LeeMarr needed to be let go. His behavior left the school open for a sufficient number of lawsuits that parental attention could not have been avoided. This is the thing which colleges fear more than anything. Their only way to avoid this was to get him gone!

The school needed to remove LeeMarr, and quickly. But they could not just up and fire him. This would be tantamount to admitting his guilt, and thus, their own culpability. What they needed was just cause to sack him. Cause unrelated to Baldr and his abhorrent behavior thereto.

Could the administration have handed him a briefcase full of cash and said, Hey, you’re gonna get fired anyway. How about you go crash the cruiser? Make a buck?

Hell, it’s what I would have done.

But whatever reason, at the end of the day, that is how things fell. LeeMarr was no more. The security cameras were never installed. Baldr was a campus hero; he stood his ground and slew the dragon and made the world safe for freedom, democracy, and the ability to smoke up in public places unmolested.

Within a week, Baldr was suspended from school.

He was told that his suspension had nothing to do with his altercation with our erstwhile chief of police. I am surprised they didn’t try to sell him on the Earth being flat while they were about it.

Two school police came to his room after an “anonymous tip” that there was marrijuwanna inside. Which, given that he lived in the dorms at our particular college, was a pretty safe bet. They demanded entrance into his room and would not cease pounding on the door until he acquiesced. When they entered, they asked him if he had any weed.

“Sure,” he said. He took it out and gave it to them.

It was perhaps four grams. In the state where our college was located, possession of this amount of drugs was not a crime.

They didn’t care. They demanded that he go to the school Health Services to receive emergency mental health counseling. He said he didn’t need such a thing. They would not leave his room until he agreed. He sat with a therapist for one hour, saying nothing. During this time they changed the locks on his doors and voided his student I.D. They drove him to the edge of campus and told him not to return on penalty of arrest and prosecution. They said that, if he wanted to, he could come back for the next semester. If he wanted to.

For the crime of having a personal supply of marijuana in the privacy of his room, he was suspended for the remainder of the semester.

Apparently everyone who was being suspended or expelled from the school was forced to undergo this counseling session. All they did was sit for an hour and then sign their names that they had attended the session. I can only assume that the school’s insurance mandates such a meeting. In case the student subsequently flips out and kills themselves – or, y’know, others – the school can say that they did their best to prevent it.

He dropped off the face of the earth for the next few months. I was worried about him. He wouldn’t respond to eMails. I finally heard from what I thought was him during the following summer. It came from an anonymous eMail address and was encrypted into the next millennia. It was one line, no signature.

Flattered by the attention. I’ll be back in the fall.

It felt like getting texted by Wintermute. So, yeah, I was pretty sure it was Baldr. And, that he had gone off the deep end.

Many people, given the right stimulus, become parodies of themselves. Baldr had been given that stimulus, in the form of a costly and life-shaking kick in the smallones. A brief lapse into ad absurdum was not unexpected. Nor, I believe, uncalled for.

Moreover, our college was not a place designed to dissuade people from such behavior. Neither was a shaman’s hut in a small village in the upper Amazon. Which, I later discovered, is where Baldr was taking his enforced semester-off.

Baldr came back a changed man. He was not ‘sadder and wiser’ from his experiences. If anything, he was quite the reverse. He was ebullient. He was brighter of eye and bushier of tail than I had ever seen him. It also became apparent that he was also fucking high all the fucking time.

But he was back at school, and I had my own problems without taking up those of a person who had Erowid as their home page. I saw him now and again, and that was about that.

I heard his name said about campus. But the connotations it carried had quite changed.

At one point I came back to my mod to find him sitting on my couch. Nobody else was there. He had let himself in. He was wearing a long white blouse-thin and a pair of jean-shorts. He was playing with my computer.

I had just recently installed Linux. Which, it came to pass, was one of the crosses which had recently taken up.

I took my computer back from him, in a friendly sort of way but insistent, and asked him some questions about this new operating system of mine. He was quite excited. He wanted to show me everything that it could do. He opened up the graphical frontend to my package manager (this being an Ubuntu install) and began to load me down with fascinating programs.

Of course, I was still dual-booting XP at this point. On a rather old lap-top. Which meant that the EXT3 partition on my hard drive was only about twenty gigabytes all-told.

The machine was working very well when we parted ways. There was a bit of a fracas the next morning when my alarm failed to go off. After about an hour of troubleshooting, I finally realized what the problem was.

The clock still said 5:37.

How odd!, I thought. I went online and read up on how to reset the clock. I did so, changing it to the time indicated by my wristwatch.

The clock still said 5:37.

I took it over to my nextdoor neighbor, who was by way of being a Linux guru. He played with the computer for about an hour, before declaring that he didn’t know what the fuck.

Some time later I was attempting to download a pdf of the chron manpage, in the hopes of attacking the problem from a different angle (in the same way that the Viet Cong, in order to attack the South, might have launched a surprise raid against Belgium). The file would not save.

It couldn’t. The disk was full.

In fact, Baldr had installed so many programs onto my computer that there was not a single byte left free in the / directory. The disk was so full, that the clock couldn’t advance.

The clock was not stuck at 5:37 AM, but rather 5:37 PM. About the time he was finishing up his installs.

From there I managed to fix the problem rather easily. But I swore two things would happen. One, I would never again let Baldr near anything I owned more technologically complicated than a paper towel. And Two, I would forever after run my clocks on military time.

The few real techies on campus began to agree with me concerning his technical competency. He used to talk about his own operating system – Debian Unstable – as if running it gave him at least six inches of e-penis enhancement. I took this to be true until I started hanging out with a bunch of ARCH-fiends. Their tiling window managers and Common-LISP working environments made their epeen so massive as to block out the sun (in comparison).

But it was more than that. He would forget basic commands, like “apt-get” and tab-completion. He would install Kubuntu when KDE 4.0 was the standard, rendering systems essentially nonfunctional. He would install preset Ubuntu onto MacBooks, a sure precursor to melted aluminum. He would remove proprietary software from your computer without first requesting permission. He would help you install an OS, get your passwords, and then, while you were sleeping, ssh into your computer and play with the settings. This he did entirely in the spirit of kindness and beneficence. He was just… bad at it.

He became that worst of all parodies of a computer nerd. He became… a freetard.

The freetard is to a true techie what a basement-dwelling libertarian blog-flogger is to a politician holding the powers of high office. They love the idea of open-source software (“free as in speech, not as in beer” being their favored mating call) far in excess of their abilities with the software itself. They worship Theo de Raadt like a God with a tinfoil-lined hatband and they have altars to Stallman’s beard above their mantle-pieces. They will behave, in short, exactly like Baldr was behaving.

At least most freetards can submit as mitigating circumstances the fact that they are not intelligent enough to be true hackers, thus to be techno-groupies of the worst sort. The tragedy of Baldr was that he was intelligent enough to have been a techie. And he blew it. That is tragedy indeed.

Though say what you will of him: when he crashed and burned, the flames reached to the sky.

Using the last of his technie cred on-campus, he became the major force behind the creation of a students-only server for the college. He designed and arranged for the purchase of the hardware. He used school funds to do this. The hardware was entirely the property of the school. He then created one, and only one, super-user account for the machine. And kept the password to himself.

For about a year.

He returned to the school for a semester and then took another semester to go abroad. He had plans to visit a particular European country with lackluster policies in regards to extradition. Which is, apparently, and for not unrelated reasons, full of freetard. He was never quite able to make it there. In fact, I don’t think he made it farther than the next town over, where he ended up sleeping on a couch for a few months while dealing peyote buttons (and taking them). Throughout this entire time, despite many entreaties, he never quite got around to making superuser accounts for other people. Meaning that not one student on campus had access to their server. Not the other techies at the school. Not the Board of the project. Not the students who owned the machine. Nobody.

During that time he took the management of the server onto his own shoulders. With this he behaved much like Atlas doing the YMCA dance at a roller disco.

It barely functioned as a server. It was never quite able to get Wiki software properly implemented (something that usually takes about half an hour to accomplish, one’s first time). Its BIOS was more encrypted than its filesystem. Its SSL certificates were a shambles. It could not (and cannot) be restarted without having a keyboard plugged in, for reasons nobody can seem to ascertain. Its partitions were so small that, with more than nine terabytes of unused storage space, it would still run out of room on key drives about once a week. This would bring down the entire server, and all its functionality, until Baldr got around to doing a little bit of creative $rm.

Because they lacked administrative access, no other students could assist in the running of the server. They could not download software updates or security patches. They could not make improvements to the software. They could not implement changes to the graphical frontend by which the rest of the student body interacted with the machine. They couldn’t even back up the data which was stored on it. They were cut off.

Imagine you drive your car to the mechanic. He says, sure, you’ll be behind the wheel in an hour. When you come back the car is still up on the lift, its hood has been welded shut, and the tires have been replaced by triangles and trapezoids. But the mechanic says, sure, just as promised, hop on in! The car can come down in six months; until then, you can climb up as best you can. No, there’s no ladder. Shout down if you want coffee.

Finally, a few months later, two students simply put the server to a brute-force attack and cracked Baldr’s password. Since Baldr was ostensibly a security freak, a cypherpunk and boastful of this fact, the students assumed that their hacking would take weeks if not lifespans-of-the-universe to complete. It was also possible that their attacked would be blocked by nasty intrusion countermeasure electronics (ICE) of the sort that made William Gibson famous back in the days of 5.25. They might even have to defend against counter-intrusion measures they could not begin to guess at. They prepared themselves for the worst.

They went to watch an episode of Family Guy, and when they came back, they were in. They couldn’t believe it. But there it was.

It turned out that Baldr’s superuser password was nothing but “4444,” which, cryptographically speaking, is about as secure as a porcelain padlock. The students who accomplished this were able to create sudoer accounts for other students, so that they could hack into their own server. Which power they used for such malicious purposes as the backup of student data, and catching up on months worth of security patching.

After a little playing around, it turned out that the OpenSSH password for the server was also 4444. Also its MySQL password. Also the key to its BIOS encryption. Make that a crystal padlock, tied to a bowling ball, and thrown off a cliff. Onto a giant hammer. Made of dynamite.

The student server needed to guarantee the privacy of those who used it. Nobody would have used it if people the world over could have looked at their private information, their contact information, their thoughts, their creations, pictures of them in bikinis and drinking PBR. To give such lackluster encryption to it was more than just negligent: it was a betrayal of trust and of responsibility. If Linus Thorvalds but knew of this, he would have come for Baldr in the night and taken away his beard. If, y’know, Baldr Was capable of growing facial hair. Or Linus, for that matter.

The general conclusion of the student body (outside of those who worshipped the ground his bare feet walked upon) was that Baldr had simply lost his competence. But the campus beards were wont to speculate that there was something more nefarious at work.

The student server, to which none of them had access for the better part of two semesters, possessed a very large amount of computing power (to say nothing of 10 terabytes in RAID0). They argued that not even Baldr, far gone into very-early-onset senility though he was, could possibly have taken so long to complete a task which required nothing but the input of 3, maybe 4 lines of code into a terminal.

Perhaps he was using the otherwise dormant computing power of the server to run seti@home, or maybe a Tor server, like a good little freetard. But comments which he made in a school IRC forum, very late one Friday night, indicated otherwise. He suggested (via one of his by-then-well-known aliases) that it would not be hard for him to spoof his MAC address, thus to bypass the school’s restrictions on bandwidth usage. And why did he want to escape the 1GB/day download throttle? To stream more torrents, he said; that is, to pirate more music, more movie, and more proprietary microcode.

Not content with the Gandhian praise of homespun, he was now willing to grab a tomahawk and dump the tea into the harbor. Even if this meant that he had to hide his identity by applying a few layers of cryptographic warpaint. That he had reached this terminal stage of freetardation none can find implausible. We have no proof. But then, he arranged it so that we could not.

When he came back from his nominal semester abroad he was ever farther gone. He had developed certain physical mannerisms which looked to be the result of neurological damage, including a tendency to favor his right side in gesticulation. Yet all this he continued to clothe in a golden (or at least, blond) fleece of cute and cuddly. Those who relied upon him for their studies and responsibilities could have been little more frustrated with him. Those who did not, and these were the great majority, could not have been more enamored of him. That he was no longer a marble Olympian, but now like a plushie thereof, meant little to them. That they now treated him, not with proud respect, but rather with gleeful condescension, he did not seem to mind. Or notice.

Some short time after his return, the commonwealth where our college was located decided to get its progressive on, and decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. For that one day, my entire college turned into the world’s first outdoor bong chamber. So much for the bars being closed on election days.

I had to be on campus to transact some academic business. While waiting for a meeting I decided to climb a tree. Anything to get away from the reenactment of 1967 going on below me. I hoped that twenty vertical feet would facilitate the dissipation of secondhand stupidity.

As I was settling in to the highest branch I could find, I couldn’t help but think to myself: man, I bet Baldr would have really liked climbing this tree.

No more than ten seconds later I hear something. I look down.

Yep, there’s Baldr. Halfway up the tree.

Goddam, it’s definitely Honorary 420 Day. He is naked from the waist up. And from just-below-the-waist on down. He is wearing nothing but a pair of powderpuff-pink Gap boxers. Oh, and one red mitten. Which matches his eyes entirely.

“Hi, Baldr,” I say, amused despite myself. This being my default reaction to such a manic smile, such a happy boy. I try to force myself to be serious. I do not wish to enable this behavior. But I cannot help myself. It’s like scowling at a puppy.

“It’s free,” he says. “But we have to be careful.”

I play along. “What’s free?”

“The CIA…” he says, climbing a little to the left, a little to the right. “The predator drones… it’s free, but they’re still flying over…”

Leave it to Baldr to take the day that marijuana was legalized as an opportunity to drop acid. “Chill out, Baldr. The skies are clear.”

“We can’t see them,” he says, his grin close to cracking. And then, a few minutes later, “No, we can’t see them. They’re special. They’re on fire.”


“They’re spying on me, man!” he says, as if the idea appealed to him, which it probably did. “They’re flying around and looking at us, right now, climb this-”

“Call me later,” I say, getting out of the tree.

“Yeahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” he says – and I feel that this use of punctuation is utterly appropriate.

I get a call some five hours later. I am little surprised to see that it is Baldr. I screen the call. What is shocking to me is that the voicemail message he leaves me seems almost coherent. I decide to give in to curiosity, and go to his mod.

I find him sitting on the lap of a very pretty girl. As soon as I come into the room he stands up and proceeds to blow her off for the next four hours. At least she hadn’t been sitting on his lap. Then again, since she was holding a bottle of cough syrup in a death-grip at the time, I doubt she would have much noticed.

The first thing we do is go into his room, where a giant computer has exploded all the hell over everything. I gather that it is actually in the process of being constructed. He gives me a very thorough tour of his creation, even such of it as still exists in his mind.

It is really quite something. Not the least of which because it demonstrates to me that computers have advanced to the point where their assembly is now trivial. There is a mobo, there are some fans, there’s a basketful of RAM, there are a dozen terabyte hard drives. Once you have the case, assembling these things into a functioning machine is somewhat more complicated than Lincoln Logs, but orders of magnitude easier than Jenga.

Getting the money to pay for such a thing, now that is well and certainly nontrivial. Especially when you are, like Baldr, unemployed, unemployable, and undergraduate.

I ask him about this. He is clearly glad that I noticed. He answers me, all the while walking in circles around his creation like a lion cub around its first kill.

It seems that the drug business has been good of recent. Very good. Fantastic. Being known all over campus as The Guy is a magnificent moneymaking venture. In the one semester that he has been back on campus, not even one semester, he has made upwards of six thousand dollars.

Six thousand dollars in profit.

I suppose, had you asked me beforehand, I would have guessed that he would spend the money on something frivolous. Three weeks at the Omega Institute getting avocado blowjobs. A Klein bottle bong. A lock of Randall Munroe’s hair. Yet still, deep beneath the layers of open-source wishes and mescaline dreams, something of the old Baldr must have remained.

Because this computer was not for his personal use. No, this computer was being donated. To his fellow students. To people like me.

Baldr has been working all semester, at a job which carries federal prison time if discovered, in order to raise enough money to buy the school a file-sharing server.

I remember thinking that this was perhaps the sweetest thing I had ever encountered. It moved me. It moved me quite a bit. Nothing so selfless had I ever seen, and this even at a college where poverty was seen as an aspiration that required four years of study to achieve. I thought it a beau geste worthy of laurels, worthy of spurs. And I told him so.

And this high estimation came even before that server gave me access to over 6,000 gigabytes of data, from movies to music, from office applications to games, from eBooks to pornography. Which, for those of you who are unused to thinking in terms of bits and bytes, is the rough equivalent of a few miles of CDs laid out end-to-end; a thousand full-length feature films; every episode of a hundred television series; the cream of Steam; the brightest of Sun; the better part of the Hampshire library; and enough tits to take a bath in. (Try not to think about that last one too hard.)

The service was also put to numerous legitimate uses. Enough that, restricted thereunto, it would still have been a blessing to the campus. We could suddenly share with each other the movies we had made. The music we’d recored. The photographs we’d taken. Considering the sort of school we were attending, this described the entire academic output for the majority of our classmates. It was more than just a boon to us; it was a technological innovation, no less beautiful for being inevitable.

I do not mind saying that the introduction of this file-sharing server was the best thing to happen to our college in my time there.

They named it Hainuwele, after a girl who shit out things of beauty.

I felt once more glad to know the man. For man he was, not boy, having proved himself capable of such an act. We went to his girl’s room (where, I gathered, they both lived) and I lay on their bed and I let myself listen to him talk about his computational philosophy. It was nothing I had not heard before. I tried to hear it in the new context of such a gallant gesture and the man who made it.

Within a few minutes he decided that it was time to impress me further. So he opened up a box under his desk – a very large bin, more like – and decided to give me a tour of his drug collection.

Holy fucking God. It was like a High Times salesman giving me a tour of the Alexander Shulgin Collection. There were vials of liquid, clear or milky, vials of powder in white and brown, bags full of brown flake, jars of white-haired leaf and purple bud, flasks filled of fungus, bubble-packs of pills, blotter-sheets stuffed carelessly into unaddressed white envelopes. There was weed in species and subspecies, seratonin release agents and dopamine agonists, good coke, bad coke, Essence of Robitussin, some barks that were so obscure that they weren’t even illegal yet. There were more colors there than my first computer monitor could have handled. He could have reached into the bin and pulled out a copy of the Necronomicon of the mad arab Adul al-Hazred and I would not have been in the least bit surprised.

I admit it. I was impressed.

I had heard of everything which he possessed, which did I think disappoint him a little. Most of it I had never seen in person. The ayahuasca I was particularly captivated by. The many cepages of cannabis likewise. He offered me the pick of the litter, anything I wanted, no charge. Granted that this was standard practice for drug dealers. Still I was flattered as I politely declined.

A little while later, a few girls dropped by who were not extended such a courtesy. They seemed to know Baldr only very slightly. They were a little nervous, and tried to cover this up by outthrusting their chests. Which they did not much have. Not the least of which because they were barely eighteen, and neither seemed to have eaten in months.

I was afraid that they’d come for cocaine, which they clearly did not need. But no. One was looking for three tabs of X. The other, chocolate-covered psilos, half an ounce.

Oh, and a mess of adderall for each of them. But that rather goes without saying.

I remember trying to hide my shock at the prices he charged. The ecstasy was costing Ms. And Ms. Brooklyn forty dollars a hit! Considering that the drug was mass-manufactured from bulk synthetic ingredients (like tractor starter fluid and soap caustic, no less), and had not been considered a designer drug since Disco days, I thought this outrageous. When they left, and I asked Baldr about this, he told me that nobody else in the area had any. Geographic monopolies are a bitch. Unless you’re the monopolist.

As they were leaving, one of he girls turned to Baldr and asked him, in an anorexic-mousy-Mae-West kind of way, when he was going to come over and fix her Linux sometime. You could see comprehension blossom on his face like the Trinity test. “Sure, man,” he said. “Totes. Totallies. Maybe tomorrow?”

“Call me.”

“!!!!!!!!!,” quoth he. And rightly so. If you were into loli-popping.

When I mentioned this event to a few of my friends (who happened, my final year at school, to be almost all of them CStitutes) they were very little surprised by any of it. They felt his creation of a file-sharing network to be just reparations for his earlier behavior. His drug collection they also shrugged off. Something about being a computer geek means that you must also be well-researched on the subject of entheogens. It should also be said that near each of my beard-friends are either proscribed psychoactive medications, or really really ought to be.

The girl’s use of Linux as a pickup line struck me as particularly funny. Even with this they were unimpressed. Apparently, Baldr was known among the GLUG crowd (that being the atrocious but accepted acronym for GNU-Linux User’s Group; don’t get me started on what GNU is an acronym of) for precisely this sort of tactic.

Presumably it began by him inviting himself over to a girl’s room in order to install Linux on her computer. It would end, by the two of them having the sex. Whether he had amorous intentions in mind, or was committed solely to spreading the freetard seed, I do not know. I doubt whether he himself knew. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it certainly seems to strike most people as sexy.

Whatever its origins, it had plenty of opportunity to evolve. As Baldr’s computer skills were outstripped by his drug-pushing skills he found himself with no shortage of sexual partners. Soon sexmaking came to precede the installation of Linux. One girl had even complained that they had made the beast, gone to bed, and when she woke up in the morning, her computer was running OpenSUSE.

There was another reason for his popularity with the ladies. Apparently the boy, whatever his other charms, was hung like he had a third fucking leg. Between the threefold allures of nailing a campus celebrity, laying a guy with lots of drugs, and getting split in half by his great Ubuntu ugly, the boy was getting his shit worked on more than if it was an Italian racecar.

“So what you’re telling me is,” I said, “is that the women of this campus, could not bring themselves to love a beautiful man, an intelligent man, a man who gives to his community, and contributes to our freedom – but now, now, NOW that he is on the road to juvenile Alzheimer’s, now that he is strung out like Keith Richards on his birthday, now that he is a shadow of his former self, NOW they go and line up to get slammed by his GIANT FREETARD TALLYWHACKER?”

“TWITTERRRRRRR!” shouted my friends in unison, raising their skinny fists like antennae to the internets.

Later that night I tweetstalked them.

Arturusgiant freetard tallywhacker

about 6 hours ago via web

It was nice to know that I had captured le mot juste, at least as much as it was sad that such a man had made himself worthy of such low comedy.

But alas, whatever the pleasures he had found in life, even his big BSD billyclub (I’m stopping this now) was not sufficient to sustain it. The beginning of our senior year was set for September 10th. He went on to campus on September 9th. Wandering around campus, barefoot half-naked and high, he was asked politely to come back the next day. He refused to do so, rambling about freedom and wonderfulness, even when he was threatened with the police.

So they called the police on him.

They cuffed him, charged him with tresspassing, and dragged his ass to jail. He made bail and now was vacillating between hiring a lawyer, and just being righteously pissed off.

Something told me the ACLU would not be taking his case this time.

He was not suspended from school. But he was banned from campus. He was going to have to complete his senior year from the comfort of his home. Which, I gathered, was not his so much as it belonged to two other Hampshire students – the two who had cracked the password on the student server – who had created it as a kind of off-the-radar cyberparanoid safe house, a kind of brick-and-mortar manifestation of OpenBSD. Nobody was supposed to know that Baldr was living there. Everybody knew that Baldr lived there. On campus they referred to it as “The Crypto-Anarchist Theme Mod.”

He still remained an active presence on campus, albeit of a ghostly, digital sort. Yet we could not hardly be rid of him. He was running Hainuwele, the file-sharing server, which was used by just about everyone on the campus. It was used by members of faculty and staff, to the point that a few were using it for disseminating course materials to their students. Yet as time went by it seemed clear to all that it suffered from one major flaw.


In reality, the server was not a complicated matter. All it really was was an IRC client limited to the local network. The technology was pre-Internet; its implementation, though somewhat hardware-demanding, was at a juvenile level of difficulty. Baldr was not satisfied with this. So he went out of his way to make it as hard as possible, harder, indeed, than was possibly called for.

You could not connect to the network through a wireless router. You could not connect to the network unless you had a gigabyte or more of data to share, making it impossible for many new users to get online. You needed to be on-campus to use the network, meaning those hapless misanthropes like myself who lived off-campus were well out of luck. You could not impose near any security on your connection, making the sharing of files about as safe as the sharing of bodily fluids in real life. And, to top it all off, it was drastically biased towards the users of free operating systems; users of Macintosh particularly, who were legion at our hipster-moving college, needed at least a semester of computer science just to get the most recent episode of True Blood.

After helpful suggestions, at various pitches, sent to him from students all over campus, Baldr decided it was time to correct some of these problems. Instead of doing so remotely, which would have been simple enough (“#ssh hainuwele 55555” most like), he decided he would go and pay a visit to his baby. Even though this meant violating the terms of his parole and trespassing against a private institution which had banned him from their premises.

To him, these restrictions were morally wrong. Restricting a man’s movements was as bad as restricting his speech. Therefore it was his pleasure – nay, his duty – to ignore these rulings.

Kind of like jury nullification. Except he was not on the jury, so much as he was before it.

The campus police found him in the school server room, to which he had gained access via a forged keycard. He was naked, listening to chiptunes, ballsoff on Special K, and playing with both his server and servers which were not his by any stretch of the imagination.

They arrested him for trespassing, breaking & entering, and possession of ketamine, a Schedule III substance. This was also in clear violation of his parole. He went to jail. This time, he would be going before a jury as well.

He was expelled from the college some semester shy of our mutual date of graduation. He is facing multiple felony counts, he is still living on a couch in the Crypto-Anarchist Theme Mod, he has no job, nor can I imagine him likely to get one. Perhaps if he sobers up and clears his head of the magical immaterial morality of the internet he can recover what he once was. To my knowledge, this is not a part of his immediate plan for life.

The last I heard of him, he had come to campus in order to attend a meeting of the trustees of the student server he had once administered. They didn’t call the cops on him, but they told him that if he didn’t leave, they would. Perhaps he got the message; in any event, he left. I would not put it past him to try to return to campus next year. All I know is, whether or not he does, I shall not.

-kennebunk, 2010


~ by davekov on 6 June 2010.

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