Richard M. Stallman in RVCE

Posted: September 8, 2010 by Jinkchak in Jinkchak, Programming, RVCE, RVCE CSE, Short Stories

Loads of traffic due to the St. Mary’s Feast celebrations, a cloudy sky, a slight drizzle – this was what I encountered in the early hours of September 8th. I entered the college premises at 8:25pm, and was faced with the not-so-daunting task of choosing between a boring lecture in RVCE CSE and a lecture from Richard M Stallman. Ok, you get no rewards for guessing that the latter was what was chosen by me…yeah ME! along with, I think, all the 2nd year students of RVCE CSE (not too sure, though).

9:00 AM: The venue of Richard Stallman’s seminar was the MCA Block (actually, that posh looking building that houses three other departments). The venue wasn’t filled.

9:05 AM: Somehow, the news of this seminar must have spread like wild fire, for people started filling the venue.

9:10 AM: All the chairs were filled by people, who were absolutely glad to get away from the normal lectures. But still there was no sign of Richard Stallman around. Some guy was so excited (that’s just my opinion) that he told someone else that he ought to convince Richard to have a haircut. (No offence intended)

Enter 9:15 AM: We all made way (or rather, the path was cleared) for the entry of Mr. Richard Stallman. He was greeted by a huge round of applause from the audience. He had a bag, the contents of which we were to find out later.

He went up to the podium and tapped the two microphones that had been set up, asking if they were stereo. Well, I guess that was meant to be some sort of greeting. Anyway, he began his seminar by explaining what the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and Software Libre are all about.

According to him, there are four freedoms

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

He made it a point to say that the word “Free” implied liberty, not price; as in free speech, not free beer. He went on to criticize proprietary software, explaining that companies like Microsoft and Apple were actually doing us a grave injustice by stealing our freedom, by forcing us to adhere to the terms of use (EULA) of their respective software. He even suggested that Windows is “malware” that has complete control over our computers. (I really wonder what Bill Gates would say about this.)

He then gave us his opinion on piracy. “When people come to me and ask me whether piracy is bad, I tell them – Yes. Of course it is; when people go sailing in ships, armed with weapons, and kill people along the way.” (So, I guess PirateBay is off the hook, for now)

Well, today, I learnt a new expansion of the term DRM: Digital Restrictions Management”. He told us that the correct nomenclature for Amazon Kindle was Amazon “Swindle”, since they are doing just that. I learnt something I didn’t know earlier. According to the terms of service of Amazon Swindle, no one is allowed to share the book they buy, with anyone, and Amazon reserves the right to delete a user’s books anytime they wish, which they did in the case of the book titled, “1984” by George Orwell. I’m glad I haven’t bought any books from Amazon Swindle yet….

Interestingly, the mention of the famous statement, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” from George Orwell’s book sparked of another topic – that of the Unique ID in India. He implored us not to accept it, as it would intrude our lives. He also criticized the fact that police in India didn’t require a search warrant to tap phones. Somehow, the discussion had shifted gears to privacy issues.

He said a lot more things that I fail to recall, but he cleared a misconception I had had for many a year. He drilled into our brains, the fact that Linux was only the kernel of the GNU(pronounced Ganoo) OS. Linux formed only a quarter of the GNU (GNU’s not Linux – a recursive acronym). He also stated that his (Stallman’s) ideologies differed from Mr. Linus Torvalds’ (the inventor of the Linux kernel) ideologies. I always thought that Mr. Stallman was the founder of the open source movement, but he stated otherwise. He clarified that “Open Source” and “Free Software” had entirely different meanings. He quoted Linus Torvalds in an attempt to explain why he was at loggerheads with him: Linus Torvalds said, “I use proprietary software whenever it is convenient. Convenience is more important than Freedom.” (And here I was, thinking that Torvalds and Stallman were as like as two peas)

Stallman went on to say that Linux distros like Ubuntu, etc., came bundled with a lot of proprietary software, and he begged us to use “Free” distros. “And from now on, please say GNU plus Linux. It hardly takes a second more.” (Ubuntu fans, what do you say now?)

By this time, he had overshot his allotted time, and Mr. Renuka duly informed him of the same. Before he left, he opened up his bag – the one I had written about earlier in this report. From it, he drew out a stuffed animal, which was none other than the GNU of the animal kingdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildebeest)

Just when we thought he’d give it to some arbitrary person from the crowd, he mentioned that this animal was going to be auctioned, starting at Rs. 1000. The audience remained silent, for 15 seconds, after which one of them(let’s call him Flintstones, for convenience) agreed. Seeing this, another student (let’s call him Bam-Bam) shouted, “One thousand Five hundred rupees, going once.”

“I have 1500 rupees. Anyone for 2000?” asked Stallman.

This time, Mr. Renuka (I have no idea who he is) found it fit to enter the scene and bid Rs. 2000, but Stallman rejected his bid, on the grounds that he was a member of the FSF and had devoted a lot of time to the cause.

Another 15 seconds elapsed when someone (let’s call this chap, Barney) shouted, “2500.”

“I have 2000 rupees. Anyone for 2500 rupees?”

This time there was no delay. “3500 rupees, “shouted Bam-Bam, at the top of his voice, doing justice to the comical character he has been named after.

“Ok. I heard 3500 rupees. Do I hear 4000 rupees? Anyone?” asked Stallman, and after a short pause, “Going once. Going….”

“4500 rupees,” shouted Barney.

After this, no one ventured any further, but Stallman wasn’t going to give up without a fight. “5000 rupees?” could be heard from the speakers.

Everyone remained silent. After a really long pause, he said, “Alright. Sold for 4500 rupees to Barney.”

After a few seconds it came to light that the entire MCA department had been backing Barney, during the bidding process. Money was collected and handed over to Stallman. The money, we were told, was going to help the Free Software Movement.

By now, the show was over. Richard Stallman posed for some photos and I was left wondering, among other things, how a stuffed animal could be sold for Rs. 4500. Rs. 4500?…Rs. 4500???? ……



 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by

Me…yeah ME!

(The Photo at the beginning of this article was taken by Jayanth Manklu.)

 

P.S. : Remember, it’s GNU/Linux from now on, folks!

 

 

 

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