The CUSEC convention’s last keynote speech was Richard Stallman’s presentation titled Copyright vs. Community in the Age of Computer Networks. It’s similar to the one he gave at the University of Toronto in the summer of 2007; you can see my detailed notes on that presentation here.
At the end of his keynote, he declared an auction, the proceeds of which would go to the Free Software Foundation (I heard a couple of people say “Yeah, right” behind me). The first item up for auction was a hardcover copy of his book Free Software, Free Society. I already own an autographed edition, so I wasn’t interested in bidding.
He started the bidding at CAD$40. In response, someone from the audience yelled out “we’re students!”. Oblivious to the remark, he went on with the bidding. The book ended up selling for somewhere close to a hundred dollars.
With the book sold, he showed the audience the next item for auction: a plush gnu, the mascot of the Free Software Foundation:
“You should totally bid for that!” someone behind me said. I’d been thinking the same thing.
As with the book, the bidding started at student-unfriendly 40 dollars. I waited until the price hit $60, after which the room fell quiet. That’s when I threw my hat in the ring.
The room burst out in laughter. They’d seen my presentation yesterday and knew I worked for Microsoft, long a major figure in the Free Software Foundation’s demonology.
“You should know that he’s with Microsoft!” someone in the audience said to Stallman.
“There are anti-animal cruelty laws,” said Stallman, facing in my direction.
“You have The Empire’s assurance that no harm will come to him,” I replied.
The bids continued. For every bid that came in, I immediately countered with one that was $5 higher.
By this point, the room was really getting into the bidding war. Would the Microsoftie actually win the auction for the symbol of the organization that views it as The Great Satan?
And up the bids went until I said “One hundred.” Just to underscore my intent on getting that gnu, I bid again. “One hundred five.”
“Going once…” said Stallman, “…twice…SOLD! For one hundred and five dollars.”
I walked up to the stage to thunderous applause.
Stallman seemed a tiny bit confused as to why someone from Microsoft would even want a gnu, never mind pay that much money for one.
“You do promise to obey anti-animal cruelty laws?” he asked again, as if it were a real flesh-and-blood gnu.
“I won’t harm a hair on its head. I do come from the Free Software world,” I replied, being careful not to call it the “Open Source” world. I didn’t want to give him any reason to cancel the sale.
I pulled out my Microsoft corporate credit card. I held it up and asked the audience: “Would it be all right if I paid with this?”
That got a good laugh from the audience.
Using my best Darth Vader impression, I extended my hand out to Stallman and said “Join me, Stallman, and together we shall bring order to the galaxy!”, which got a good laugh.
At the end of the conference, I walked up to Stallman, who was selling Free Software Foundation paraphernalia at the registration table. I asked him for his autograph, which he gladly provided on the plush gnu’s tag. “Happy hacking! Richard Stallman,” it read.
I did it all in the name of fun and also to show that Microsoft people have a sense of humour. I was also more than happy to hand over some money to the Free Software Foundation as a way of saying thanks for all the things they’ve done for developers – myself included – over the years.
As for the gnu, I plan to take it out from time to time, posing it for photographs just as the travelling garden gnome is.