Visit of Richard Stallman (RMS) to Cambridge

Richard Stallman (RMS) from MIT stayed with us for 2 days last week. Since RMS has a 9000-word rider on what he needs and doesn’t need when visiting, I hope I will help future hosts by adding some comments. TL;DR It’s hard work.

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[RMS (St IGNUsias) selling PMR a GNU; (C) Murray-Rust, CC-BY]

I have a great regard for what RMS has done – Emacs, GNU, the 4 Freedoms. I heard him talk some years ago on Software Patents in Europe and it was great – he knew far more about the European system of government than I did; he had a clear political plan of action (who to write to, and when).  We’d corresponded but only met very briefly in a noisy room.

I posted on the dangers of publishers taking over our data, and he wrote and said he was coming to Cambridge (to talk at OWASP) and would like to talk. He mailed subsequently and said he was looking for somewhere to stay, so we offered him a bed. We’d read the rider – food requirements, temperature, music, dinner gurest, etc. We were prepared for a somewhat eclectic visitor.

In retrospect we should have prepared for an Old Testament prophet or mediaeval itinerant monk. (The dressing up as St IGNUsias – above – is actually quite a close parallel and a valuable addition to the rider.) Be prepared to arrange/fund taxi rides, random food browsing, and a flexible timetable.  In fact RMS didn’t require an internet cable – he used our wireless.

But the strange thing was that we had nothing to say to each other. RMS no longer writes software and does not seem engaged in practical politics or action other than raising money for FSF through sale of swag. His message – at least for these two days – was “everyone is snooping on us” (PMR agrees and is equally concerned) and “We must only run Free software” (Free as in speech, epitomised by GPL). For me GPL has the virtue of forestalling SW patents but when I raised it he seemed to downplay it. If he has a current agenda it’s not clear to me. The “Open” word is verboten in discourse – I wished to explore whether there was any difference between Free Data and Open Data (a term I promoted 9 years ago) but we didn’t.  So there was neither a practical agenda nor a dialectic.

The visit probably had the same impact on the household as most itinerant Prophets have.

And the animals are very happy to have a new addition (Connochaetes gnou). If you believe in the GNU-slash-Linux bintarian theology here it is:

GNU