RMS is Coming to Town

One day, when Jonathan, Taylor, and I were having a conversation in one of our school hallways, we saw Eve approaching us, carrying a piece of paper, and looking very anxious to see us.

“Hi Eve, what’s up?” Jonathan said.

“Hey guys - I have very exciting news: ”, she said as she approached us and then kissed Taylor briefly. “RMS is coming to town!”, and she let us see her sheet.

In case you don’t know, “RMS” is Richard M. Stallman. He was one of the original hackers in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He also coined the term “Free Software” (“Free” as in “Free Speech” or “Freedom”) which describes a certain licensing model of software programs and components, that is now popular among individual developers, many large and small corporations and many other organisations. This model later also became known as “open source software”, which is now likely the most popular term for that, and the one that my friends and I are using usually, especially when speaking with laymen. (Some software activists still feel there is a semantic and ideological difference between the terms “free software” and “open source”, but I’m not too infatuated with that distinction.)

In any case, Stallman then went on to create the GNU project, as part of which a great deal of free software packages (or “open source” ones if you may), which make up a large and integral part of many modern-day UNIX-like systems (and are even available and commonly used on some non-open-source UNIX systems and some not-so-UNIX-like systems such as Microsoft Windows). The GNU-based UNIXes include the systems now known as “Linux” systems, which run the Linux operating system kernel combined with the GNU run-time and other free software user-land components (and as such, Stallman and other GNU people insist on calling them “GNU/Linux” instead).

“Great!” Taylor said looking at the paper. “Jenn, would you like to meet him?”

“I suppose.” I said, “I’d rather not miss on this opportunity. Albeit he does have a reputation for being very stubborn. How is he in real-life?”

“Well, Taylor and I met him last time he’s been here.” Eve said, “We also signed each other’s keys. He’s very nice in real-life: intelligent, funny, and a very nice hippy-like person. I’m sure you’ll like him.”

“Well, there’s a key-signing party there too. Hmmm… it’s a bit far from here. I think the four of us should borrow a car. Jonathan, are you coming, too?”

“Sure, why not? What’s a key-signing party?”

Eve replied: “A key-signing is something you do with your cryptographical public-key and private key pair. You sign a person’s key and thus acknowledge you have verified that the key belongs to this actual person.”

“Key-signing parties are fun, but if you ask me, the chance of someone performing a man-in-the-middle attack over the Internet is god-damn small. Heck, I bet even the NSA cannot do that.”

“Hmmm… ” I said, “I don’t have a GPG [= GNU Privacy Guard] key-pair yet. I guess I’ll generate one for the occasion. Is there a howto document or something like this?”

“Yep,” Taylor said, “the Key-Signing Party Howto. Using GPG is not exactly rocket science.”

“Cool!” I said. And then we discussed the arrangements for picking everyone up.

The day of the meeting, I placed everything I needed in a backpack, and went to Taylor’s house for the ride. Eve was already there and we waited for Jonathan, who arrived shortly afterwards. So, we all entered the car, and drove there.

The hallroom in which Stallman’s presentation and get-together took place was quite crowded, which was expected. We spotted Mr. Stallman there, but decided to approach him only at the general get-together afterwards.

RMS gave a very entertaining presentation about the history of free software movement, what it meant to him, and how can we help. He told the shop-worn story of his life at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, the incident with the printer, and what he has done to remedy the situation. He also gave the standard preaching about why it was important to say “Free Software” instead of “Open-Source” and “GNU/Linux” instead of just “Linux”. Throughout the talk, he told a great deal of jokes, which caused the audience to burst into laughter. It was great.

Then he gave some time for questions from the audience. They were also answered assertively and sometimes funnily. Then the key-signing party took place.

We decided that Stallman will sign keys with each and every local separately and then the locals can sign each other’s keys. I stood in a long line, showed Mr. Stallman some pictorial IDs and vice versa. Eve and Taylor did not take part in it, because they had already signed his key. Instead they spent some time talking between themselves. Eventually, RMS was free, and we continued the key-signing between ourselves. Then came time for some socialising: Dr. Stallman brought some books and other gifts which he intended to sell to gather money for the Free Software Foundation (while autographing them).

After a while, Eve approached him. “Hi Mr. Stallman!” she said, “I’m Eve Siegel. I’ve seen you in L.A. a couple of years ago. You may remember me as Erisa. We talked on E-mail later on - about the evils of big business, free software ideology and stuff like that.”

“‘Erisa’, yes, I remember you. Didn’t you have… ahmmm… green hair back then?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Since then it became purple, but now I’m au natural.”

“You look nice.” Stallman said.

“Thanks. You too. So what are you doing now?”

“Oh the usual, advocating free software, trying to convert the world to the free software ideology.”

“Good, someone ought to do it. Are you seeing anyone by any chance?”

“No. I’m not seeing anyone at the moment”.

“Oh well. In any case, please meet my friend and protégé for hacking - Jennifer Raymond. Jennifer, Mr. Stallman and vice versa.”.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Stallman.” I said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Well, everything positive you’ve heard about me is true, but also some of the negative things.”

Eve and I laughed, and RMS quickly joined us. But then some other attendee wanted to talk to Stallman, and we let them converse.

We arrived at Taylor’s house, and Eve and I walked home together from there. On the way, I said to Eve, “There’s something I don’t get.”


“RMS is like this really funny and intelligent guy, and he’s a really cute hippy, and he had his share of life achievements and stuff…”


“And he’s in his fifties now, and you know that girls dig older man. So how come when you asked him if he’s seeing anyone, he said he doesn’t? Why does he have a problem finding a suitable life-partner?”

“Oh, Jennifer, Jennifer… you are so naïve. Why don’t I drop by your house and show you some stuff he wrote on his homepage.” Eve replied.

“OK.”, I said puzzled.

Richard Stallman’s homepage greeted the random web-surfer with some political action items. It was hardly a pleasant way to be introduced to a web-page, and not my idea of a page I’d like to visit often. Then Eve showed me his former personal ad. It reads, and I quote:

I’m a single atheist white man, 50, reputedly intelligent, with unusual interests in politics, science, music and dance.

I’d like to meet a woman with varied interests, curious about the world, comfortable expressing her likes and dislikes (I hate struggling to guess), delighting in her ability to fascinate a man and in being loved tenderly, who values joy, truth, beauty and justice more than “success”--so we can share bouts of intense, passionately kind awareness of each other, alternating with tolerant warmth while we’re absorbed in other aspects of life.

My 19-year-old child, the Free Software Movement, occupies most of my life, leaving no room for more children, but I still have room to love a sweetheart. I spend a lot of my time traveling to give speeches, often to Europe, Asia and Latin America; it would be nice if you were free to travel with me some of the time.

“Oh, my God!” I said after I read it.

“Do you wonder why now?”

“Not any more. Any half-normal girl would be scared off by the message he’s trying to give.”

“Yeah, I always thought so too.” Eve noted.

“But I might put him in the list of the 5 celebrities I’m allowed to have sex with.” I said.

“Hmmm… cool! He’s incredibly sexy. But I can warn you that I don’t think he’s much of a casual sex guy. You can always ask him that on E-mail.”