People keep asking me about the beard thing... Here's my take on what happened and why.

Just before I left for LCA 2009, my wife offered to send along one of the limited edition prints of her award-winning waterfall photograph. She knew from prior years that the LCA organizers often host an auction or raffle to raise money for some worthy charity at the conference banquet. Since the photo was taken at Milford Sound on the way to last year's LCA in Melbourne, there was a connection between the photo and LCA. We had no idea what this year's charity might be, nor did we anticipate that her photo would become the centerpiece of the evening's fund-raising activities.

The charity selected this year was an organization that is trying to save the Tasmanian Devil from extinction. Professor Hamish McCallum, the chief scientist with the program, gave a talk after dinner and before the auction began. The native population is suffering from a fatal facial tumor disease that results in horrible lesions, and is likely to kill off all the Devils within a decade or three. My family and I all have a strong love of nature, and Karen and I had the pleasure of touring Tasmania after LCA 2003 in Perth, so this seemed like a great charity to raise money for with her photo.

As often happens at LCA, the auction and related fund-raising activities got complicated. This year, the photo alone was bid up to $2500 (which was very cool!), before people started offering things for higher bids. For years, going maybe as far back as Perth, I've been cajoled about shaving my beard if the bidding hit some level, and have always said no. This year, someone offered $5000 if I would shave my beard, and again I said no. Much later, after more cajoling and many counter offers, when the bids and various matching offers had us approaching $20,000 in total donation to the charity, I relented and announced that if we hit a total of $25,000 going to the charity I would consent to a shave. The resulting frenzy, including the suggestion that if it went high enough Linus should do the shaving, and the formation of a bidding consortium that kept raising more money and bidding against itself, was completely unexpected! Others have tried to capture details of the insanity, but the bottom line is that by the end of the evening, the total had blown way past anything we could have imagined, and by the end of the conference the total going to the charity was on the order of $40,000!

Why did I agree to let Linus shave my beard? To be honest, I'm not entirely certain. I only had one beer that evening, so I can't blame intoxication. The fact that it would yield a worthy charity something over 10 times what my wife's photo alone had drawn as a maximum bid seemed significant to me. In hindsight, I also think I was at least a little bit curious to see what my face looked like after having a beard since sometime around September of 1982! In any case, I made the offer, insane amounts of money were raised, and on the last day of the conference, over the lunch hour, Linus took trimmers in hand and removed my beard in front of an audience.

The reactions have been completely overwhelming. A local TV station and a local newspaper in Hobart were both there and ran stories. The ripple of mentions in the blogosphere was and is just astounding. There's even a silly Shaving Bdale game created overnight by the "Mad Scientists" at Secret Lab! And from all over the globe, people I do and don't know have been sending emails and finding me on IRC to plead with me to grow my beard again! Right after the shave, my good friend Keith Packard said "Bdale, grow it back!". Before I left Hobart, my wife emailed saying she and the kids hoped I wasn't waiting until I got home to start. Joey Hess blogged a hairy tale about how I'd scarred the minds of young Debian developers. The leader of Debian-RS sent word by email that the group all hoped I would re-grow my beard. And on and on and on... I'm really not used to being the center of so much attention!

Being suddenly without beard felt weird in lots of silly little ways. I was hyper-sensitive to drafts. The feel of cold beverages hitting my upper lip was downright strange. And I kept wanting to scratch what wasn't there! After making faces at myself in the mirror for a while, I decided I really wasn't happy, and do prefer being bearded. So I haven't shaved since Saturday morning in Hobart, and am pretty scruffy looking. My wife said today that I'm "already starting to look like Bdale again".

At the current growth rate, I have high hopes of having at least some facial dignity back by the time I speak at FOSDEM. And no, I won't be shaving my beard off again any time soon...