The scene. Several hundred Linux geeks descend on the elegant Wrest Point Casino and eat fabulous food, drink free booze, and make small talk about programming fighter jets, configuring firewalls, hacking kernels, and building robots. Fisticuffs over which distro is preferable seem to be at a minimum.
After a delicious 3-course meal, a scientist gives a speech about how the Tasmanian Devil is doomed to extinction within 25 years due to a completely mysterious wasting disease.
Devil Facial Tumor Disease is completely insane. There's almost nothing else like it known in any creature anywhere. It is a cancer. But it is a cancer that spreads from one animal to the next directly. It isn't like where certain viruses spread and cause a predisposition for cancer. The cancer cells from one creature actually infect the next creature. The DNA of the cancer cells is NOT THE DNA of the infected creature. Every Tassie Devil that has this cancer, has a cancer with identical DNA, a single sick devil started this disease with its crazy mutant cells. Apparently the devil's have VERY similar DNA from one individual to the next which is why these mutant cancer cells are not being rejected by the infected individuals' immune systems. This is literally zombie kinda shit, an infected devil bites another devil and it develops the infection. Anyway it's terrible and we all felt bad.
So there was to be an auction to help raise funds for research into this disease.
Running the auction was Rusty Russell, the founder of Linux Conference Australia. He introduced Bdale Garbee, former Debian project leader and well known Linux hacker.
Bdale had a story. He and his wife were taking a vacation in New Zealand and by completely random chance she took a photograph of a waterfall that turned out beautifully. She didn't use any special equipment just a 5 Megapixel point and shoot camera like most people bring on their vacations.
Then on another vacation by random chance they were in Washington DC and were planning to go to The National Gem and Mineral Collection. Unfortunately, it was too crowded. So they went to see an exhibit of Nature photos instead. Bdale's wife, Karen, got info on how to submit photos to the exhibit. She submitted her waterfall and it won the Art in Nature award for 2008.
Karen Garbee's photo, "Waterfall" is now in the Smithsonian.
And a poster-sized, signed and numbered limited edition print of that photo is what was to be auctioned.
The bidding started at $100 and started going up by increments of $100.
The bidding stalled around $2000.
Rusty was about to end the bidding when one of the conference staffers gave him the "stretch" signal so he started rambling. Word then came up to the stage that Linux Australia would, if the bidding went over $2500, match any bid up to $10,000.
Someone then immediately bid $2500.
The bidding stalled again.
Then Flame of the Geek My Ride project offered that if the bidding went to $3000 the winner would get to have his Queensland GEEK license plates officially transfered to their vehicle for 1 year.
Mary Gardiner, who runs the paper review committee of the conference said that anyone who pledged over $3600 would get a seat on the review committee. A joking addendum to this was that over $4000 and that person could refuse to be on the committee if they wished.
Then Linus Torvalds (who had been at the conference all along but keeping a very low profile) sent word to the stage that if the bidding reached $3500 he would replace the linux mascot and logo Tux with the Linux Conference Australia 2009 mascot Tuz (a Tassie devil wearing a penguin beak over its nose).
Somewhere along the line (things were getting a little chaotic by this point), someone suggested that Bdale offer to shave his beard if the bidding went over a certain amount. Bdale seemed extremely uncomfortable with this. He told a story about how he had started the beard as part of a bet in College and that his wife of many years (the photographer) had only known him beardless for a few weeks when they'd first started dating in college.
There was some general confusion as to whether Bdale had consented to any kind of offer for him to shave his beard or not but in the midst of the confusion arjen_lentz offered to shave his own head along with Bdale.
The bidding remained stalled briefly until someone stood up and was about to make a bid just as several others came to the stage to make a further pledge. The bidder was prevented from bidding until the pledge was sorted out.
The new pledge would match up to $4000 if and only if the bidding reached $4000 AND someone else pledged to match up to $4000. Matthew Wilcox did this second match, saying that he would bring the money from the pass the hat up to $4000 from wherever it happened to be. So now a $4000 pledge would send $16000 to charity.
ETA: See comments below: It was apparently
Now the bidding started up again and hit $5000 and at some point a coalition of about 15 people banded together, not seeming to care who would end up with the photo or the license plates, and bid on the condition that Linus Torvalds be the one to shave Bdale Garbee's beard.
They took the upper hand of the bidding at $7500. Then they bid themselves up to $8000. Then when they heard that the LCA matching limit was $10000, they bid themselves up to $10,000.
They won with a final bid of $10,500 sending over $28,500 to charity overall.
Only a room full of geeks would: Form a coalition to win an auction rather than just letting an individual win and then privately donating. Value a celebrity hacker having his precious beard shaved off more than physical ownership of a beautiful work of museum quality art. Engage in one-ups-manship of adding seemingly valueless pledges to the prize pool. Figure out how to collectively come up with well over $28,500 (factor in the Euros and it's over $35,000) for a charity they'd just discovered in under an hour.
After it was all over, I walked back up the hill to the accomodation.