I met Richard Stallman

Yes, I seriously did have the opportunity to meet him personally, and listen to his speech on the Free Software Movement.  Let me attempt to explain the experience, and how it came to be.

About three weeks ago, I was reading my email.  I got one from the tclug (Twin Cities Linux Users Group) mailing list claiming that Stallman was going to be in town for a speech at the University of Minnesota.  I was a little skeptical at first, but after checking the UMN website and confirming that he was really going to be in Minneapolis, I was overwhelmed with excitement.

Somebody from the tclug list emailed Stallman and asked if some people from the list could have dinner with him.  His response was, “I will have dinner with you if you change the name to the Twin Cities GNU/Linux Users Group.”  A flame was ensued.  I started getting an average of 30 emails a day on the subject, with the spike being (I believe) 60 messages in 8 hours.  The flaming continued, when some people decided to start sending in email ballots to vote.  This infuriated some people, and caused even more of a flame war!

The emails died down a few days before he started speaking. This was a bummer.  I would have liked both to eat with Stallman, and to change the name to “Twin Cities GNU/Linux Users Group”.  At least I would probably get to kind-of talk to him at his speech.

I got a phone call during Calculus class last Monday, the day before his speech, about an hour before school got out.  It was my mom.  Somehow, she worked her magic and got us both seats to a dinner with Richard Stallman.  Some other people from the tclug list would be there, she said.  I ran home and checked the emails she had forwarded to me.  It was true.  I had a personal invitation to dinner from Richard Stallman.

When my mom got home, we left right away to get to Minneapolis on time.  We arrived early.  I had a conversation with one of the other tclug members for a while, when rms walked into the restaurant.  There he was.  Standing in front of me.  He was a little shorter than I expected.  His hair was jet black and his beard was a shade of gray, in contradiction to the picture on Wikipedia.

He wanted to make sure this restaurant was “just right”.  I read that he was very particular about his food, and this was confirmed almost instantly after he walked in the door.  He ended up deciding that he did indeed want to eat there.  Even though it was louder than he wanted, their menu looked very good.  We all sat down and started discussing Free Software.

He was very opinionated.  For the most part, he had a strong opinion and could defend himself on everything that was brought up in the conversation.  Looking back on it, it shouldn’t have been that interesting considering the strong opinions he has on Free Software, but there was still something unnatural about it.  For example, after someone from our table ordered a Coke, he informed us (and the waitress) about a Coke boycott due to the murder of several Columbian employees, and directed us all to www.killercoke.org.  Whenever someone asked him a question, he didn’t hesitate at all, or try to think of an answer.  It was almost as if he had premeditated the questions.  Even when he heard about my “seafood-phobia” for the first time, he talked to me for a surprisingly long time, giving me arguments as to why I should try my hardest to grow to love seafood.

Towards the end of the meal, he passed around his “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book” for us to look at, and pointed out some of his favorites.  After some pictures with him, he declared that he was tired, and wanted to go home.  After a friendly “Happy Hacking” to us all, he left with his driver to go back to his hotel room.  It was an eventful night, and I think all of us there were excited for his speech the next night.

My mother, brother, and I all arrived on the University of Minnesota campus the next afternoon to hear his speech.  I had invited some of my district’s tech people, but none of them were able to make it.  We made sure to get there extra-early to get a good seat.  As people started to pile in, it began to be a geek-haven.  40% of the people all had laptops.  Most of them I saw seemed to run proprietary software except one: an OLPC XO.  Almost all of those without laptops had some other device, like an iPhone, a Treo, or a Blackberry.  I didn’t see any Freerunners, but I’m sure there were some, probably even a couple Debian ones.  This would be a very educational opportunity for most of the crowd.

His speech began with an introduction of the 4 freedoms, and the explanation of why each one is important.  “Leaving so soon?” he asked someone as he walked out of the room.  “I hope it wasn’t something I said…”  “No, I’m selling FSF merchandise.”  “Oh, then go right ahead!” he responded.  He went on to talk about how proprietary software is unethical, and how it is our job to bring Free Software to the world.  Then, of course, he became St. IGNUtious, a saint in the Church of Emacs.  Both my mom and my brother were surprised at how informative his speech was, and had all kinds of questions for me about why Free Software wasn’t more widespread.  Both of them were surprised at the amount of humor he used as well.

After the speech, he auctioned off a large GNU, and then had a QA session.  Someone (who obviously wasn’t a big fan of his) tried to outsmart him about his opinions on copyright.  Earlier in the speech he talked about the moral dilemma with proprietary software.  He explained that if your friend asks you for a copy of a piece of proprietary software, you have a choice to make.  You can hurt your friend by saying, “No, I can’t do that, this is a secret that you can’t know about,” or you can give your friend a copy and hurt the proprietary software company by reducing their profit.  He claimed that hurting the proprietary software company was the lesser of the two evils.  This man wanted to know if, since he advocated for people to break the copyright of proprietary software licenses, he also advocated for people to break the GPL license.  The man asking the question had a smile on his face that said, “I got you!”  Stallman, obviously frustrated by this questions, told the man that it was not about breaking licenses, it was about doing what is morally right and just.  The man didn’t seem satisfied, but there wasn’t much time left and there were several more questions, so he continued on.  After the QA session, he started packing up.  People mobbed him asking “Can I take your picture?”  He responded, “You can do anything you want, just don’t take up a lot of my time doing it.”  I went down there to get my gnu signed, as well as take another picture before we all left.

Now that it has had some time to set in, both my mom and brother are “doing their part” to spread software freedom.  My brother explained the concept of Free Software to a bunch of his Mac-fanatic friends.  My mom explained it to one of her friends as well.  Overall, the speech had a very positive impact on my family.  I am sure each person that listened to the speech walked out with a different attitude on software.  Anyone from Chile, Paraguay, or Uruguay should make sure to attend Stallman’s upcoming speeches there.  For everyone else, watch/listen to a recorded speech of his, or watch Stephen Fry’s “Happy Birthday to GNU” video.

It’s a GNU day.  What will you do to spread the word?

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 1:07 pm  Comments (11)  

Richard Stallman as USA President

With the US Elections coming up, and with my campaign to elect Leonard Bernstein as the President, it stuck me the other day: rms has a huge number of political views (most of which contradict the current state of the union), so what would he do as president?  What would the United States end up looking like?  Lets find out.

Day One:

President Stallman drafts the “DMCA2”.  The DMCA2 does the following:

  • Repeals the original DMCA
  • Forbids DRM
  • Outlaws the copy-protection included on hard-copies of digital media, especially DVDs and Blu-Rays

It is accompanied by the “Innovation Bill”, which requires that all software sold is accompanied by the source code in a freely modifiable and distributable form by the year 2010, making software work the same way physical products do.

Both of these are later unanimously rejected by congress, infuriating Stallman.

Day Two:

President Stallman creates the “Privacy Amendment”.  This is an amendment to the constitution that:

  • Prevents the government from collecting data from privately-owned tracking devices
  • Forbids officials from searching and/or confiscating citizens’ digital devices, especially before airtravel, without a warrant
  • Repeals the USA PATRIOT Act

This was also later rejected by congress.

Day Three:
President Stallman immediately withdraws all troops from Iraq.  He then channels all of the money that was going to fund the war into ending world hunger.  He also meets with those in charge of the main government sites to make sure the Solaris and Windows Server 2003 servers are converted to Free Software.

Day Four:

A riot breaks out among people who supported the war in Iraq.  Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z (from Microsoft, obviously) arrive to talk to President Stallman about how he should cease the promotion of Free Software if he knows what’s best for him.  They also say he must pay them a large sum of money to make up for the mistake he made in trying to pass the “Innovation Bill”.  Stallman lectures the three men on the importance of Software Freedom, and then goes back to his office to figure out how to appeal the ISO about OOXML.

Day Five:

After figuring out that there is no way to get rid of ECMA-376, he tries to figure out ways to make sure “Main Street” takes priority over “Wall Street”.  His goal is to make sure that the rights of the corporation never take priority over the rights of the individual.  After figuring out a plan, he takes it to congress.  Congress later unanimously rejects this proposal as well.  Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z’s report to Microsoft infuriates Ballmer, and causes him to send out his “men in black” to meet with every member of congress individually.

Day Six:

President Stallman quickly ties up some other important issues.  He manages to legalize same-sex marriages nationwide and ensure abortion rights.  He also figures out a way to make sure that all electronic voting machines are reformatted to use only Free Software.  His attempt to completely legalize marijuana fails, though.

Day Seven:

President Stallman resigns out of frustration, making Vice President Eben Moglen the new president.  Congress is relieved, as he saved them from having to impeach him.

In conclusion, a presidential position would probably not give Stallman the control he wants.  His ideas are so radical that the system of checks and balances would fail to give him the control necessary.  The average congressman doesn’t understand how many of these changes would just enhance the nation.  Some of the decisions, though, would do more harm than good in the US.  Many would just cause the economy to crumble.  It isn’t that they are bad ideas, it is just that the United States is already too established to make any of the changes.  If these ideas were applied to a new country, they would do nothing but good, but to an already-running country with an established stock market, they would make the economy suffer temporarily.

Where Stallman would really shine and be able to improve the nation is as the “Chief Technology Officer” that Barack Obama wants to create.  That position is the one thing that really concerns me about Obama’s plan.  With all of the control Microsoft has over the US government, will this position be taken by an employee/ex-employee?  Even if it is not, the chances are still strong that the the person appointed as Chief Technology Officer will be a proprietary software advocate.  What will that do to the FOSS community?  Even of the people who appreciate Free Software, how many of them would really fill the position well and know what really needs to be done?

Published in: on October 12, 2008 at 9:47 am  Comments (9)  
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