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How Richard Stallman Browses the Internet (gmane.org)
182 points by coconutrandom 2797 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

I think a lot of us have forgotten that once upon a time, computers were considered thinking machines, not just glorified internet teletypes. Computers were world-changing machines long before we joined them all together.

Given what RMS does all day and what seems to matter to him, this seems perfectly rational to me. Consider how old the GNU tools are, or how long some of them go between revisions. I don't think Stallman needs or wants to keep up with things in real time. I think Stallman is like Tolkien's Ents - he isn't slow, he's just operating on a different timescale to the rest of us.

It's the same sort of logic behind Tim Ferriss not answering his phone or Don Knuth doing his email in six-month batches - if you create enough latency in your connection to the world, you bring everyone else to your pace and avoid having to worry about minutiae. It's amazing how many problems resolve themselves when given sufficient neglect.

"Bring[ing] everyone else to your pace" by increasing latency struck me as a really nice idea. It suggests an additional feature that could be added to a site like Hacker News, where each reader can choose an update interval, and have news delivered on that interval.

The key is to use a ranking procedure that is appropriate for the interval, so that the reader doesn't get new stuff for that day, but the best over N days (or N seconds -- not everyone is Richard Stallman).

This feature may be silly and unoriginal; but I'm commenting on the internet so I thought it fit.

[Edit: when I said "delivered" I didn't mean by email! Just "updated".]

What you're describing reminds me of the Mathic system in Neal Stephenson's book Anathem. The characters are sequestered in groups defined by the interval at which they interact with the outside world.

There's a good summary of Mathic life at http://anathem.wikia.com/wiki/Mathic_Society (the site contains spoilers, but that page looks safe to me).

Though not configurable, the "Top Links" feature does something like this:


It's really useful, but it's somewhat obscure since there's no link to it from the main page. (You can find it under "Lists" at http://news.ycombinator.com/lists)

This reminds me of the project SlowMail

i only could find the cache: http://bit.ly/c9dWWF

Don't use shortened URLs here, please. This isn't twitter; post the full URL.

The url goes to a May 20, 2010, google cache.

Why? [edit: Okay, I didn't see that he could only find the cache. Just for future reference doron, at the top of the webshot is displayed the URL.]

Here's the URL unshortened and uncached: http://www.slowlab.net/slowmail.html

I know, the web-server did not respond at the time of posting, that is the reason why i posted the cache, and therefore didn't see the reason to post the full URL.

Because I want to know where I'm going before I click the link.

From my favorite president:

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.

- Calvin Coolidge

Of course, at some point letting problems work themselves out just becomes laziness.

"Mr Coolidge's genius for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is not an indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity, which keeps Mr Coolidge occupied constantly" - Columnist Walter Lippmann, 1926

I'm starting to implement a rough buffer of 48 hours on all my email replies. Unless you are a) a personal friend b) this is your first email to me or c) it needs addressing within 48 hrs.

It seems to be working so far - my productivity has gone up and the pace of email correspondence has slowed (so a 10 email conversation takes a couple of weeks now rather than a few hours).

Several people have commented that they enjoy talking with me for this reason; they don't feel pressured to reply "right now" and enjoy getting a response after some undetermined delay.

I sometimes wonder if the march of technology has had some downsides in terms of "right here right now" thinking.

How are you implementing your buffer? If you just add 48 hours delay to everything, that would probably not work very well. (And you probably aren't?) I guess if you just have a batch email answering session every 48 hours, that should be very good for your productivity.

It also gets people quickly into a mode of understanding that email isn't, and shouldn't be, considered a method of synchronous communication. There isn't much that bugs me more on a daily 8-5 basis than inappropriate [ab]use of email.

It's also amazing how many opportunities you miss by not answering the door when one knocks.

How many more opportunities do Don Knuth, Tim Ferriss, and Richard Stallman need?

Surely everyone who knows to consult Stallman knows how to operate a GNUsignal.


"Being very detached from the Hollywood scene, Murray does not have an agent or manager and reportedly only fields offers for scripts and roles using a personal telephone number with a voice mailbox that he checks infrequently. This practice has the downside of sometimes preventing him from taking parts that he had auditioned for and was interested in, such as that of Sulley in Monsters, Inc, Bernard Berkman in The Squid and the Whale, Frank Ginsburg in Little Miss Sunshine and Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also regretted losing the chance to play Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when he heard that he was considered for the role, which he says he would have definitely accepted."

I don't think turning down major opportunities through outright neglect is ever a good habit, even for those with a surfeit.

So someone with 20/20 hindsight has gone through and chosen the good films. How many turkeys did he miss via following the same system?

This is good fodder for an alternate history fiction.

:) well mostly I was countering this point:

> It's amazing how many problems resolve themselves when given sufficient neglect.

True, but there's a big downside.

Is it? How would one know?

I have two friends who correspond with Tim Ferriss via email. Both say he gets back within 5 minutes every time.

Somebody got back to them, but unless they're really important or know him really well, it probably wasn't Tim: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/01/21/the-holy-gra...

Let's be real here. Tim wrote a fun book with great suggestions to offload a lot of your own work, but he's also a master of PR that works his ass off.

It's amazing how many problems resolve themselves when given sufficient neglect.

This is my new favorite quote. I've never thought about it that way, but it is quite true.

Well, Paul has a similar "quirk". He uses two PCs. Everyone's seen this by now: http://www.paulgraham.com/distraction.html Also Linus disliked using Google's net connection for his Git talk. Here's one relevant excerpt:

When I am here (Google) I cannot read my e-mails because my e-mail goes onto my machine and the only way I can get into that machine is when I am physically on that network. So maybe I am a cuckoo, maybe I am a bit crazy, and I care about security more than most people do. https://git.wiki.kernel.org/index.php/LinusTalk200705Transcr...

In another part he was about to demonstrates a kernel diff, but stops when he realized he's disconnected from Google's net. Here's the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XpnKHJAok8 One of my favorites; a classic. And I don't even do software.


This isn't the half of it:

What hardware are you using?

I am using a Lemote Yeelong, a netbook with a Loongson chip and a 9-inch display. This is my only computer, and I use it all the time. I chose it because I can run it with 100% free software even at the BIOS level.

Why isn't he mad he doesn't have the chip wiring diagrams? I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm just wondering, at what point should a FOSS enthusiast be content not to have the source?

Historically he's been pretty consistent on this and more pragmatic than it would seem at the surface: he's content with going as far as possible given a "free" alternative. When he started writing the GNU system he was doing it on BSD, which he didn't consider free with the older BSD license.

Everybody has a different threshold, and I am thankful that some people have a very high one.

I think thats an individual choice dependent on how you allocate scarce and valuable resources. For some open source is a moral imperative that must be upheld at any cost. For others it's a nice to have.

It's a bit like self-reliance, for some it's important to sacrifice more wealth to increase their self-reliance, in the end it's really what aspect(s) of your life you want to maximize.

The issue with wiring diagrams is that most don't have a chip fab in their basement so the benefit they receive from having wiring diagrams is mostly intangible. I think for most people it's far more important to have a CPU that executes a popular ISA (ie. x86) than to have wiring diagrams. Similarly, most users receive intangible benefits from having access to the kernel source, as they will never modify it.

I suppose if you had access to a chip fab and needed to modify your CPU design frequently it would be important.

[slightly rephrased] The issue with source code is that most don't compile their OS so the benefit they receive from having source code is mostly intangible. I think for most people it's far more important to have a CPU that executes a popular OS (ie. Windows) than to have source code. Similarly, most users receive intangible benefits from having access to the wiring diagrams, as they will never modify it.

I have long argued that software and hardware are the same from a source code perspective. Have you ever looked at the source code for a CPU? I have (many CPUs: ARM, Intel, and more). It's just code like if/else statements and assignments. Just like C (plus the extreme concurrency). Manufacturing? Yes, it's an issue. In theory, I could wave the FPGA argument, although it's not a practical solution.

This is a fallacy that I'd like to see removed from arguments about free software.

It doesn't matter if you don't have the skill to modify it as long as others do have the skill and freedom to modify it. They'll make changes for you!

See: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1351656

I agree it's a fallacy. Just note that I wasn't falling into that trap. The original author to whom I was responding was.

My point was entirely about whether hardware source code should be treated differently from software source code.

Didn't sun "open source" sparc? Doesn't ARM succeed partly because their licensing is more "open"? Now that the necessary software is mostly open I wouldn't be surprised to see people moving down the stack into firmware and hardware.

I'm sure that you know this, but "open" and "patented" are not mutually exclusive. Lots of codecs are "open source" but you can't use them commercially without paying money to someone (e.g. MPEG-LA).

ARM licenses the source code for the ARM platform so you can build your own SoC. I think ARM PLC is fabless.

Well honestly after reading all the boring "4 cores mac + dual 30 inches cinema display" that most of the reviews on this site are, i feel much more closer to rms than to lots of guys on that website.

This one is good too : http://jason.rohrer.usesthis.com/ refreshing :)

twelve lowly computers, that makes him waste more time waiting for stuff then coding: $2000

a pair of data hands that he found off ebay: $3000

I love usesthis.com. I guess you know that you are a geek when you enjoy reading about people and their computers.

I wasn't sure if he was joking or not, so interviewed him back in 2008. Here's the complete text of the interview. (I should've used the VERBOSE command.)

Q: I'm fascinated with a message I read about how you read the web with a wget demon. Could you elaborate on it?

A: It is a program that runs wget and mails me back the result.

Q: Do you then convert the HTML to plain text and read it by email, or do you load the retrieved file in a browser? (If so, which browser?)

A: I can do either one.

Q: Finally, is it free software, or something that you'd be willing to release?

A: I did not write it, but our sysadmins say it is kludgy.

Original entry: http://waxy.org/2008/01/personal_ads_of/

I suggest reading some of the other responses higher up in that thread if you want to see what RMS thought of openbsd at the time, I say thought as I don't know if his view has changed.

A quick summary is that RMS does not recommend openbsd because the ports tree contains links to non-free software and because these links are there openbsd is recommending non-free software.

Sometimes his ideals seem to just do more harm than good for free software and even though I do respect that he is so willing to follow his ideals to the letter he is eccentric enough to hurt a following.

The thread doesn't actually make me come away seeing anyone in it in particularly great light. There seems to be a lot of bitter sniping from all sides, and compared to Jan Stary and Theo de Raadt's thread contributions, Stallman actually comes out sounding like the calm and reasonable one (in relative terms).

When you're the pope of open source, you better be a true believer, that much is for sure. Unfortunately, that does lead to a bit of a contradiction when you have situations like this. Live free or die, he'd probably say.

I wonder if he eats open source food.

The funny part of the whole thread is that ports are not installed by the OpenBSD installer. You actually have to install it yourself. I wonder how many people would be taken to be trollin' if not for their previous reputation.

At some point in the thread RMS moves on to say that he would support it if openbsd did not link to getting the ports tree and did not host it with the rest of their things, but when you read the whole thing it seems that RMS likes to change his opinion as he receives more information.

Such as his comment that started an entire outrage was that openbsd contained non-free software, then his opening argument about non-free firmware blobs, and then onto the ports tree urls.

Edit: from Theo de Raadt http://article.gmane.org/gmane.os.openbsd.misc/134986

> but when you read the whole thing it seems that RMS likes to change his opinion as he receives more information.

He really does. I used to be involved in Emacs development back in the day and he frequently changed his opinion on things if you presented him with with a well-reasoned argument. Sure, he's a stickler for his principles, but he's not afraid to admit when he's wrong on practical details or unable change his mind about stuff if you give him a good reason to.

>> but when you read the whole thing it seems that RMS likes to change his opinion as he receives more information.

Seems like a good trait to have.

You should gather information before forming an opinion, particularly if you intend to chastise people for their behavior or practices.

It is impossible to know everything, so you must form an opinion with limited information. Once presented with new information, it is reasonable to change ones opinion. If you think Stallman's information theshold is too low, maybe you need some more information ;)

"It is impossible to know everything, so you must form an opinion with limited information." - true - BUT - that phrase doesn't help his cause. Instead of going off half-cocked with his hearsay, he could of asked a couple questions of the list and then made his accusations. If you intend to chastise people for some behavior, perhaps it is best to get the facts straight.

"If you think Stallman's information theshold is too low, maybe you need some more information ;)" - Love, the smiley face. Yes, in this case I think the e-mails prove his information threshold was too low and it shows. I think you need to read the whole exchange :)

I love the message that prompted this:


    I don't understand "send mail to try to find the message the URL refers to".

    How do you browse the web?
It's like peering into the entrance of the rabbit hole.

Whenever I read a story on RMS, something he said or done, it's always about something beyond the comfort level I can imagine.

I wonder if he refuses to drive because of the closed source on-board computer. I wonder how he feels about the flight control system of the Boeing when he's flying.

I deeply respect him for his dedication but find him lunaticly extreme in almost all the cases.

He sets an unrealistically high standard that others can fall short of but still be somewhere good. Not everyone can be a superhero (to borrow Steve Yegge's description of RMS), but just knowing that they exist can inspire ordinary people to behave better. Free software is not as important to me as it is to RMS, but it would be even less important if I didn't find him inspiring.

> I wonder if he refuses to drive because of the closed source on-board computer.

He doesn't own a car.

If you frequently travel to places where connectivity is spotty or expensive, or if you're under heavy time constraints, doing that sort of thing is far from unreasonable. In fact, if you're travelling often, regardless of what the connectivity's like at your destinations, it's probably a good way to get some use out of time in planes.

If you follow his lead, you could have your own personal Wayback Machine, as indexed & searchable as you want.

That strikes me as somewhat nifty.

Sounds like Instapaper.

Agreed, although it would make online shopping a bitch.

RMS probably could have patented it and won.

I often wondered why Linux did not start a UX revolution. I suppose attitudes like Stallman's is the root cause, where attitude is given to "be-like-historical-me" rather than "lets-move-towards-the-future-together".

You have the source. You have the toolchain. If you want something different make it or pay someone to make it. Stallman made something that suited him and was nice enough to share it. Other than criticize the attitudes of others, what have you done?

I ... I can't tell if he's serious ...

I suspect he is. In every email conversation I've had with him since 1998, I get this auto-reply (or something like it; it has likely morphed somewhat over the years):

I am not on vacation, but I am at the end of a long time delay. I am located somewhere on Earth, but as far as responding to email is concerned, I appear to be well outside the solar system.

After your message arrives at gnu.org, I will collect it in my next batch of incoming mail, some time within the following 24 hours. I will spend much of the following day reading that batch of mail and will come across your message at some point. If I can write a response for it immediately, the response will go out in the next outgoing batch--typically around 24 hours after I collected your message, but occasionally sooner or later than that. As a result, you should expect a minimum delay of between 24 and 48 hours in seeing any response to your mail to me.

If you are having a conversation with me, please keep in mind that each message you receive from me is probably a response to the mail you sent 24 to 48 hours earlier, and any subsequent mail you sent has not yet been seen by me.

Might as well just write by post

Not feasible. The software used in the mail sorting machines is not open source.

Neither is a lot of the software used by the network hardware of the internet's backbone, but that hasn't stopped RMS from using the internet.

sounds like he's using the TCP/pigeon protocol

He is. I've seen him do it.

The Internet and the Web are not synonymous. I'm surprised that this title doesn't seem to bother anyone on a site like HN.

I hate to imagine what it'd be like to browse a forum like that. Of course, I imagine RMS doesn't browse any forums.

It seems Craigslist is an example of about the most browsing you could really do, as it's only ever 1 link deep (if you form your own search URL's). Only problem there is time is always a factor on Craigslist. Well, that and Craigslist probably isn't open source. (I don't know the man very well. Would he refuse to use something like Craigslist if the code is private?)

Craigslist is interesting because it functions in spite of the fact that it is technologically unsophisticated. I can't imagine that there would be earth shattering trade secrets in it.

I do not think it's a matter of connection speed. This way of "browsing" is not "browsing" -- you're just getting what you want. It's really about efficiency (in the sense of not wasting your time).

On a couple of occasions I surfed a site from my gmail account. Very nice/different experience. I am not sure how this happened. I tried to do it again but it wouldn't work. I would love it if I could browse HN from my email just as I do on the site itself.

this is a good example of productivity

probably this is the reason that he is going to release GNU HURD soon! http://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/hurd.html (this is a joke guys, he is going to release HURD soon since 1990)

that's just crazy

No crazier than Donald Knuth: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/email.html

Or all the people who self-impose IP blocks against popular timewasting sites. Or people who have "noprocrast" enabled on HN.

We are not logical creatures, but we cope.

DK: "Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things."

Most of the time I like to be on top of things and I use email, IM, the web. Its not a distraction, because it is important for me to see whats happening around me.

So, horses for courses :-)

I turned noprocrast on, on a lark. I was obsessively distracting myself from a project that was too important to me to start and I figured it couldn't hurt. (Can't do poorly if you don't do at all.) Its been on for about 2 weeks now and I love it, most of the time I had taken to reading HN when I wanted to be doing other stuff. Now I read HN when I want to read HN (chrome's privacy mode is an easy work around) instead of when I'm avoiding other stuff.

It seems like once a day there's a well-received front-page article on time management, avoid distractions, multitasking, and all that. He claims that his method is a "very efficient use of [his] time". I don't see this as any different.

I don't actually know why he does this, but if I had as high a profile, and was as politically active as RMS, I might consider such measures if for no other reason than security. I imagine hacking his system would be a real feather in certain caps.

Then again, he may just be nuts...

---- (I don't really think he's nuts. Toleration of eccentricity is a sign of a high level of civilization.

That could actually work if you were trying to read articles. Other than that, I am not sure I would like to do it t

He also likes to pick stuff off of his feet and eat it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I25UeVXrEHQ

Absolutely repulsive. I'm sure I'll get a down-vote by the RMS Zealot Society because of saying that.

add.: I wonder if the down-voting is because of the "RMS Z S" remark, or because of the implied crowd of down-voters apparently thinks eating things off of ones own feet is acceptable when it's RMS doing it - I honestly don't know what to think.

That's a fake video. Can't you see that?

Stallman travels a lot, South America, Asia and in these conditions the only way to get internet is to go to a net cafe where they only run windows XP full of virus with IE6. It is a really slow, frustrating and annoying experience, believe me. More than once I wished I had exactly that, a daemon that would download all my stuff so I could get them on my laptop and get the hell out of those net cafe asap. So yes, what Stallman is doing here is not political, it's actually a great, useful hack that unfortunately always gets quoted out of context. It's actually the best way to surf the web when you're travelling in those countries.

Three years ago, sure.

But now he can get one of those 3G USB modems and change the simcard in each country.

I don't think he is hacking the network or whatever. He is hacking his time, and his attention, and that's more like meta-thinking.

His daemon solution actually sounds simpler, and much cheaper...

RMS doesn't use cellphones 3G/GSM for privacy reasons.

If that's the case, can't he use a 3G card but just send all his data over a VPN/ssh tunnel/ssl proxy/whatever?

No, that doesn't help.

Why not? With a VPN, anyone capturing data on the wire would see encrypted traffic to a single server owned by RMS or someone he trusts.

I believe that the issue is that he doesn't want the network service provider to know where he is.

Many net cafes let you connect your own laptop, and those speaking engagements often have internet.

But even then, the net is very slow there, so it's faster to bulk load everything compressed and read it later.

Reading the title alone was enough to expect a bit of paranoid schizophrenia to pop through.

Over the past 12 hours I've watched the rating on this comment go from 0 to -2 to +3 back to -1 Apparently we're divided on how we view Mr. Stallman.

Poor man.

To each their own, I guess.

However, that method is not getting him lots of girlfriends.

And I submit this months ago... clearly, title is everything.

Not sure if it is a contributing factor, but it was also posted on Reddit a day ago. But title probably helps if you want to catch eyes :)

RMS doesn't browse the internet. He has his own version of the internet that's made up of sites that give the user complete rights to fork, reuse, recycle, or modify the product without any previous permission. Anything else is illegal, a scourge to tech, and must die.

(I'm willing to "spend the karma points" on this one)

This isn't Reddit, nobody cares about your vitriol. Take this nonconstructive commentary elsewhere please.

Please take your anti-Reddit vitriol elsewhere.

HA HA HA HA.. Oh my god I just snorted coffee out of my nose and onto my keyboard because of that. You just made my day.

(ditto on the karma points)

The commentary wasn't contributing to the conversation and doesn't fit the tone the community seeks here. Playful/rude banter is fine, but this isn't the place for it.

Try not to encourage this kind of mindlessness.

P.S. I'm a BSD supporter, so this isn't a matter of 'factions', I just have a vested interest in preserving the culture here.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Oh please - get of your high horse. A simple down vote would have conveyed that, no need to get all high and mighty on me.

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