The Loss of Roblimo

Robin MillerWhen news of Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller’s death came to me through a tweet to a Linux Journal article, I sighed.

I felt a momentary sadness. And I laughed because it came to me even as I was fighting with Microsoft’s Windows 10 Update (1803, April 2018) that had bricked my Windows machine. I laughed because Robin would have laughed had he not been so unfortunately absent, and he would have been laughing at me.

We’d had the conversation more than once in 2003, and later in 2005, about the fact that I never went completely over to Linux for my systems. His argument – and it was only that, a way to get me on the defensive – was that without full commitment, Linux and Free Software/Open Source would always lag. My response was that in a world that had so many Microsoft machines, I had to stay relevant in Software Engineering and also in seeing differences in the systems, that I needed both experience sets to make sure that my stomach did not think to complain that my neck had been cut.

We were both right, and we both knew it. So, yes, I laughed, and even as I unborked Microsoft’s problematic patch, there was a part of me that recognized the stillness of loss. That silent understanding that little conversations like that would be lost.

You can read about Roblimo on Wikipedia, and it seems to me like examining a fly pinned to the wall (I had my own run-ins with Wikipedia). It hardly communicates who he was. People who had the pleasure of knowing him knew he stood for what he believed in, that he was uncompromising in his belief.

I met him at the FLOS Caribbean conference in 2003, here in Trinidad and Tobago, when a group of well intentioned people gathered from the larger Caribbean to try to build bridges to local government about how much sense FLOS made. Unfortunately, it didn’t have kickbacks or trade agreements, so local government wasn’t as interested in hearing about it – but it brought Robin down, as well as others.

He and I spent many a smoke break together during the conference. People underestimate how much can be spoken of during those periods when one shares a common vice if only for 10-15 minutes.

We would meet again in Boston in 2005 for another Linux event. And we would stay in touch over a period of 15 years, sporadically sharing things on social media, commenting, pushing our perspectives sometimes against each other. Later, while I was in Florida, I always planned to make it over to see him in Ft. Myers. It was the other side of the State, and… it just never happened, mainly because when I was working, I was working full tilt on something.

And now he’s gone. But what I learned from him echoes on, as it will with others, and that will simply have to do for us.

It’s a shame he’s not around for me to share this with.

A Morning Wasted (The Tonka Bean)

In Search Of...I hadn’t seen him since 2010, this gentleman who had turned 72 yesterday, but in a few short years as I took control of my land he had been a staple visit on my rounds. And since I landed on the land again today, and because I was in no hurry, I visited and spent the morning with him.

“Aye! Taran! That’s you?”
“In the flesh!”

He went on to talk about people who wanted to see me, and I walked up to him slowly, waving my hand. “Let’s not talk about that.”

He continued.

“None of that is important. I was sorry to hear about Mama.”

He stopped. His wife. He looked at me, and we embraced as old friends, “It was her time and she had to go.” We talked about life, about what had transpired in our lives since last I had visited him all those years ago. I was not here with him, in the present, to talk about things about my land or the surrounding areas, or whatever the latest drama was in the village. We would get to that. We had both felt loss, we had seen people come and go in our lives, and we had seen the world change in our own ways.

We now studied each other to see how the other had changed, and to take our new measures. It is the way of men. We saw that the world had not changed us but had changed how we saw it in some ways – cracks of meaning here and there we found in our own realities.

We had coffee – him making it, insisting on adding honey – he used to keep bees, and he had given them away to someone who now gave him honey at a reasonable price. His daughters had returned – one was selling punches, the other doing other work. He had maintained the business of his life, staying active, and we discussed the plunder by OAS, the plunders of OAS and the blunders of OAS.

We talked about common relationships, the people in between. How this one never heeded advice, how that one never returned, and we filled in blanks for each other. Hours passed as two old friends chatted. We spoke of the dead and how they had fought for things that they did not take with them, and we spoke of those fighting now for things that ultimately do not matter.

Then, he decided we should look for Tonka beans, and so he had me drive his old tractor with him coaching. I’d not driven one before, but it was a manual transmission and once I found the clutch, accelerator and brake, it was a simple matter. He knew the path, and we went to the very edge of his land to find the tonka tree. We kicked around, finding no seeds, but enjoying being outdoors. Outside. We were like two children with grey hair until adulthood set in. We went about finding his boundary picket – something people sometimes pull out, something that benefits a neighbor who wants a road there, but something not easily proven.

We look at each other knowingly. There is always someone testing a boundary, seeing if you lack vigilance enough for them to take something. It’s the way of the world, be it with land, or money, or anything of perceived value.

I drove us back down, now more comfortable with the tractor, kicking it into 4th gear as we navigated the wayward materials left from the highway. I parked the tractor almost as we found it, and he went inside – bringing some fried roti, and curried baigan with aloo. We sat and ate as if no time had passed away from each other, as if nothing had happened.

We had searched for something and not found it, we had searched for something and found it, and we had found each other once more.

Some would call it a wasted morning. We were two men who wanted nothing from each other, and a lot of people see no value in such relationships.

And yet, those are the best relationships, built not on need or want but on common respect.