Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Rudy Jones 3: Rudy Takes on Microsoft

Rudy was a computer geek as well. He also had a serious problem keeping his lights on, by which I mean he refused to own a checking account and thus couldn't keep track of his bills, for reasons I'll go into later.

One would think that not having electricity would be a serious problem for a guy whose choice of free nighttime activities was programming games in BASIC. No, not Visual Basic, BASIC. And no, it wasn't a problem for the Qmeister. Rudy was a tinkerer, a gadget obsessive, and he loved his computer more than anything in the world.

At the time he was driving this beat to shit Mazda RX7, which was truly a testament to Mazda's idiotproofing engineering team, because it didn't have belts or actual hoses left under the hood. As they'd broken, Rudy had replaced them one by one with something "better," and the car still limped along OK. Sure, the radiator hose blew twice a week, but when it was just 1/2" garden hose to begin with, that's no big loss.

Anyway, Rudy had installed some sort of inverter on the battery or alternator of his car. When he got home from work, he'd park his car in the back yard, snake an extension cord from the inverter through his bedroom window, and plug in a power strip. This was enough power to run his computer and a small lamp.

I found out all this the first time we had a big rain, because his car got stuck in the mud of his back yard. He hitchhiked to work til it ran out of gas, idling in the back yard like some sort of art generator. I'm surprised it didn't get stolen.

Anyway, he lost that place (I think it was condemned) within a few months of coming to work here, and he spent that first winter, which was bitterly cold, living inside his car. It never seemed to bother him, but it bothered a couple of us, and I know there were many nights I tried to give him money to stay in a hotel. Invariably, a sort of jaunty wave was his response, along with something like "loan it to me for lunch on Monday." I don't think he even owned any blankets, but I don't think he actually felt cold or warm. Maybe there's something to that dirt/oil resistance, after all.

While living in his car, Rudy developed a sort of hybrid Windows operating system. He never would bring it around for me to actually look at, keeping it locked in his spare tire slot during the day (he'd used our cutting torch and welder to fashion a crude safe lid over that part of the trunk) and working on it at night, with the monitor sitting on the seat beside him. Many's the night I left work a couple of hours after dark, seeing nothing but the bluish glow of radiation on Rudy's pocked face. Yes, it was very creepy.

In the late spring, though, he actually moved into an apartment. We were all aghast. We'd grown so used to Rudy's "roughing it" attitude, and we knew that he wouldn't be able to keep his rent and utilities paid, so this seemed like a disaster. A couple of weeks after that, I asked him about it.

"Um, well, I programmed this operating system, man, and I wrote Bill Gates about it. He hasn't written me back about it yet, man, so I figured getting an apartment would make my return address look better."

I actually saw screen shots (printed on his old dot matrix) of the system, and it really did look like a cross between Window 3.1 and Windows 95. It's been too long ago for me to remember much about it, but there's no question he'd done SOMETHING. I can't imagine that he'd actually hacked or reverse engineered two systems and melded them into one, but maybe he'd unlocked some sort of protoWindows 95. Of course, he wanted to show all this to Bill Gates, and either license it to him or sell it to him outright. "I mean, man, I'd really like to have that money coming in every week, but heck, I'd probably just spend it all anyway!"

In time, Rudy realized that he just wasn't going to hear from Bill Gates himself, and he might want to start taking these emails from underlings more seriously. I think he wound up sending one of them a few screenshots, and after a few exchanges of emails (or "haggling," as Rudy called it) they told him they'd take it under consideration and would send him something in the actual mail.

A few weeks later it arrived, and I swear to you that I saw it: a letter from Microsoft Corporation, stating that "they were aware of the software," but were "unfortunately unable to devote the time and energy to promoting the product as it deserves to be promoted." Furthermore, Rudy said that they had given him permission to market the software on his own, and keep all the profits derived thereby. To me, this was a complete kissoff, telling Rudy it wouldn't work, and that he'd never, ever be able to do anything with it. To Rudy, it was validation. He actually felt sorry for Gates. I believe his exact words were "yeah, man, I guess ol' Bill is probably pretty busy right now."


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