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Red Hat founder joins the circus

Tired of the run-of-the-mill trade show? So is Linux bigwig Bob Young. That's why he's launching "Lulu Tech Circus."

Bob Young has traded in his Red Hat for a top hat.

Known for sporting a crimson fedora at trade shows, the founder and one-time chairman of Linux software maker Red Hat now plans to don the duds of a ringmaster when he kicks off his latest venture, Lulu Tech Circus, at the end of this month.

Half technology classroom and half geek funhouse, the Circus aims to put the enthusiasm back into technology trade shows, said Young.

"Attendees that go to trade shows feel somewhat so much cattle fodder for the vendors," Young said. The Circus is about "empowering consumers. It's about knowledge and understanding."

Unlike other trade shows, which focus on a common--and often times narrow--theme, Lulu Tech Circus will be a menagerie of all things technology, Young said. The conference is structured around five tracks, called "experiences," which will each have a specific focus.

For example, attendees will be able to learn about how a mobile phone works in the Gear & Gadget experience, how to edit a digital film in the Artis-Teka experience, and how to set up a computer cluster in the Expansive Education Experience. Geeks can learn about next-generation computer processors in the Extreme Computing experience, and gamers will be able to play against one another over a high-speed LAN in Fun & Games.

Young, never at a loss for a metaphor, likened the opportunity of the Circus to the bass-fishing organization, Bassmasters. The 600,000-member fishing group holds tournaments where a few professionals can make a living by fishing, but most other members just tune in to learn and enjoy.

"There is no Bassmasters for technology users," Young said, adding that some of the teachers may be able to make a full-time go of the circus by providing entertaining and educational workshops.

The first Circus will be held later this month in Raleigh, N.C., in a fitting location: the fairgrounds. For teachers and their students, Lulu will waive the $20 per adult and $10 per child admission fee on Friday, Sept. 27, the first day of the show.

The key, said Young, is to make learning about technology fun. If the show can attract the tech masses, he believes the businesses will follow.

"As a business, if we can get it right, we have tapped in to two sides of the same coin," Young said. "If we can get the enthusiast there, we can get the vendors to come."

Funded out of his own pocket, the Circus is the second venture Young has started under the Lulu name--a name that's an inside family joke but that Young calls apt for a start-up venture because of its meaning. One of the definitions found in Merriam Webster's online dictionary is "one that is remarkable or wonderful."

Young has also started Lulu Press, a project he hopes will change how creative works are published. Rather than a large company gaining broad rights to a work, the press serves as a middleman.

"We are not a publisher," Young said. "We are more of a printing press."

Young pointed to eBay as an example of such an Internet middleman. Unlike goods found in a department store, the products sold on eBay aren't owned by the site. eBay instead brings together buyers and sellers and takes a cut.

That's what Lulu Press aims to do as well. "We don't own the content," Young said. "We don't want ownership, we just want to bring people together."

Young said that's a way of thinking he picked up working with open-source software.