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RMS at NERDSummit

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Richard Stallman was listed as a presenter at NERDSummit. He was down for co-presenting with Micky Metts about "The Javascript Trap". But there wasn't any special announcement or fanfare so I wasn't really sure he was coming until I double-checked. But he was!

Richard Stallman has always been a kind of hero to me. I became aware of GNU when I started learning Unix in the 80s. I've written about Stallman and Free Software before -- and about him trying to explain free software to a dunce. But I'd never had the chance to meet him.

While he was getting set up, I got called away to provide technical support for someone in one of the other rooms, so I missed the beginning of the talk. But the majority of the talk was familiar to me anyway. He explained the four freedoms that he believes should be provided to everyone who uses software and the various ways in which corporations and unscrupulous people have sough to enrich themselves by undermining those freedoms. And that rather than referring just to "linux" one should always say "gnu/linux" to acknowledge that most of the operating system is actually all the GNU software that he's devoted his life to seeing created as free software. He did talk about LibreJS and The Javascript Trap.

Several people were desperate to ask questions. But it turned out that what they really wanted to do was to try to provoke him by mischaracterizing what he was saying. He, for the most part patiently, explained how they were putting words his mouth and corrected them when their arguments went off the rails. One guy said, "I can't survive without using non-free software" and Stallman explained, "No. You just can't enjoy the same standard of living — that's not the same as dying." Another guy tried to argue with him about "intellectual property" and Stallman stopped him to point out that there is no such thing: that the law offers four different kinds of protection for copyright, patent, trade secret, and trademark. Each is totally separate with different purposes and governed by different policies. Conflating them makes it seem like they are unitary and governed by a single purpose or common set of principles, which just leads to confusion.

At the very end, he auctioned off a little stuffed gnu, which he said he would sign, with proceeds going to the Free Software Foundation. He said that you needed to have a stuffed gnu to go next to your stuffed penguin. Since I had put my stuffed penguin into the Living Museum of Dead Computers, I decided to bid in the auction and basically determined to win it no matter how high it went. Bidding started at $25 and went to $65. But I won.

After the after party, I stopped by the office to put the gnu into the display case. Note his signature on the little paper tag.

Totally worth it.