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As a conference curator and fellow argentinian, and due to the lack of any reports in English, I thought I’d share a brief summary of a very unfortunate occurrence: Richard Stallman, father of the FSF, had his bag containing his laptop, medicine, money and passport stolen after his talk at the University of Buenos Aires on Friday, June 8.

Despite his controversial views on a variety of topics, his evangelism work all over the world is a true inspiration for countless people. Almost a decade ago, as I was getting fully immersed in the world of Unix and programming, I sneaked out of school to watch the genius who created GCC, GDB, emacs deliver a compelling presentation in flawless spanish.

Stallman and me in a similar presentation in Buenos Aires, ~8 years ago

His presentation back then was followed by a ritual that was repeated yesterday: anyone in the audience could walk up to him, exchange a few words, get a sticker and a picture. Unfortunately, on this occasion someone decided to take advantage of the ruckus and take his bag.

Shortly after he realized his bag was gone, according to Partido Pirata, Stallman found himself in utter despair, cursing out loud. The report goes on to convey the truly heartbreaking image of a hopeless RMS sitting at the university staircase, crying.

As a result of this occurrence, he was forced to cancel his talk in Cordoba, and it’s still unknown how this will impact the rest of his speaking engagements throughout the world.

For the rest of us who also do fair amounts of traveling and speaking, more than ever is it important to emphasize that it is not just cyber-crime we should watch out for.

Update: it was clarified to me that force was not used during the occurrence and I therefore updated the title to reflect this.

54 Comments

Arun said

This is bound to happen to any person who walking around on the street anywhere in the world, I have all my backup on my cloud.
My second backup would be my hard disk which stays at home always.

Pablo Antonio said

Hi Guillermo. I was right there, after the talk. It was a very sad moment. He was really distressed. He started yelling and punching himself in the head. He was worried because he had to be in Brazil soon, and he wouldn’t make it without his passport and all. And, apparently, his notebook was stolen too, and he said he wouldn’t be able to work for a week or so because of that. Next time we have to be more cautious, especially regarding the speakers belongings. (And even more if the speaker is someone like RMS.)

Lars said

This is absolutely horrible, especially when considering how careful RMS even is about going onto the internet, what’s the likelihood of him having an accessible backup of his lost work?

hal turner said

If the guy who did this is cught and sent to prison, would that make Stallman an enemy of freedom?

Chas. Munat said

Having had this same thing happen to me on the streets of Buenos Aires, I can confirm that it is utterly devastating. It’s one thing to be robbed of a little money. It’s quite another to lose the tools you use every day to do your job. I was pretty much paralyzed with despair for almost 72 hours and it took me months to fully recover. But I agree that this can happen anywhere in the world and is not a reflection on Argentina in particular. I have friends who’ve had similar misfortunes all over the world.

I’m very sorry for Mr. Stallman’s misfortune, especially since he is one of the few people around who is truly working to change the world for the better and to eliminate or mitigate the conditions that cause this sort of crime. I hope he’s able to get back on his feet quickly, and that this experience does not cause any lasting harm.

Mateus Caruccio said

That’s a good reason to “webcam” the conference hall and rooms during all the time (even when closed).

Tim Dysinger said

Arun, I’ve been all around the world and never once been robbed. If you pay attention to your things they don’t get taken from you without force (which is rare).

Sanjay said

Claimed by FLF (Free Luggage Foundation).

Lee said

Unfortunately this is a typical experience in Argentina.

I have written about it in my blog after my 5 years living in Buenos Aires Argentina. baexpats.net

soto said

If you want to have more security then you will have to lost a bit of freedom: webcams, check in at the door with ID, etc. etc. wait, wait I forgot this is something that Stallman doesn’t like, I hope he learn about his extremism is no good

Kaipee said

How do we go about setting up a fund to get him some cash quickly?

Nope said

This is the nicest blog I have ever seen.

ptolemy9 said

I live in Argentina.They will steal anything not nailed down. Scamming and petty thief are the main industries here and lying a way to enhance the truth. Don’t trust anyone here and hold onto your bags at all times. If Stallman needs a place to stay while sorting things out, tell him to contact me.

taulbow said

“I was pretty much paralyzed with despair for almost 72 hours and it took me months to fully recover.”

“He started yelling and punching himself in the head.”

Theres a whole lot of overreacting going on in this thread. Make some backups, take out some insurance.

Nathan said

Arun, let us know how you go travelling with a digital copy of your passport, and taking digital copies of your medicine.

perdida said

Same thing happened to me in Argentina but my soul was stolen

ClintBrow said

“If you want to have more security then you will have to lost a bit of freedom: webcams, check in at the door with ID, etc. etc. wait, wait I forgot this is something that Stallman doesn’t like, I hope he learn about his extremism is no good”

God I hope you’re trolling. If not its distressing knowing people are this ignorant.

n3storm said

can we organise a guerrilla like campaign in buenos aires to ask the robber for stuff back? bus stop, shops,etc with a reward…

Anon said

This site is terrible. Can’t view it on the phone, it redirects outside of iframes and breaks the back button. Seriously, get your fucking shit together.

NAG said

I think the laptop and data is secondary. The man does not have his medicine. That is hard to replace quickly. How often must he take the medicine? Daily? Twice daily? Can the medicine be replaced in 12 hours?

At best I’d imagine that skipping medicine would make him uncomfortable (say it was for heart-burn). At worst he may could be hospitalized (if it were for a heart condition).

anon2 said

Not sure what phone you’re using, but the site works wonderfully on my BlackBerry.

anon said

This site is working fine for me. I’m viewing from Android. Poor Stallman.

Warren said

And that my friends is why you always keep your passport in your hidden travel wallet. So at least if something goes down, you can get out of the country. As for the medicine and other things, that’s just sad. Sorry to hear about it. I’m sure he had his laptop encrypted so he’s not worried about the data, only the inconvenience.

name said

@Anon – no trouble with disabling javascript

sarlanga said

Nos tapo el agua. Que lo pario!. Sin palabras…

Felipe Sanches said

As far as I can tell, RMS’s computer is a Lemote Yeelong, a chinese notebook that uses a cpu architecture for which Windows or MacOS are not built for. This means that, whoever stole this computer will probably have a hard time trying to sell it, since it will only be possible to use it by installing some sort of free software operating system on it.

“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.” –rms
source: http://richard.stallman.usesthis.com/

I hope this information is useful for police to try to find the stolen machine. It’s definitely a very peculiar hardware setup.

http://www.lemote.com/en/products/Notebook/2010/0310/112.html

Edward said

Police trying to find the stolen laptop in Argentina? That’s cute.

mamer said

Well… being smart and street smart don’t necessarily are skills that go together. Actually, more often they don’t. As bad as I feel for RMS, I will never get tired of telling people not to carry their documents and laptop together. Leave your passport in the safe at the hotel or carry it in your front pocket. Don’t carry a big wallet. Anyway, I’ve seen this happen to quite a few people that visited my beloved Argentina for a conference, and as an Argentinian it makes me feel really bad. It is the organizers duty to educate visitors before they arrive and to help them after such as distressful incident.

Wing Tang Wong said

While a sad thing to happen to anyone, it is especially sad when it happens to someone who tries to do right by the world. Glad his laptop is a custom unit that can’t readily be used by anyone else who isn’t up to snuff on their custom operating systems. At the very least, perhaps someone will find it laying somewhere, know what it is, and return it to him.

However, if this is a grab and toss thief, then it’s quite likely the cash is gone and the meds/passport/laptop already sold off to a third party for next to nothing.

Belgian "Taxi" Driver said

Years ago, I was volonter to catch Richard from Airport to his Brussels sleeping place before doing his Fosdem presentation. After a short discussion about eVoting with or without Free Software (alway bad), there was a short discussion about GPS, running non free software and maybe secretly recording our every move, even if it would have been an interesting piece of equipment to get to our destination.
The interesting bit is that he almost forgot his laptop bag in my car (he was catching up some email while I was driving). When he noticed this almost loss, he started to “run” after the car shouting. Of course this was Belgium (not Bueno Aires) and I was not a real Taxi Driver, but a supporter and would have bring the laptop back to him as soon as I would have noticed.

anon said

“He was really distressed. He started yelling and punching himself in the head. ”

Anyone have the video to this? I’d love to see this for the lulz.

Fernando Cassia said

I can’t believe someone who almost “lives traveling around the world” cannot follow BASIC safety procedures outlined in almost EVERY TRAVEL SITE advice guide…

“Do not carry your passport in the same place as your money or pack it in your luggage. Remember to keep your passport number in a separate location”
http://www.churchmutual.com/print.php/choice/risk/page/ITA_out/id/42

“PASSPORTS: Do not carry your passport with you once you arrive at the convention destination. Make a copy of the passport if you so desire and carry it with you but leave your passport at the hotel. If the room you are staying in has a safe, lock it in the safe. If it doesn’t, consider leaving it in the hotel safe. Most important, do NOT carry it with you.”
http://www.conventiongoers.org/security.htm

“Do not carry your passport around for ordinary day excursions. Keep two photocopies of your passport – one in a separate part of your checked luggage and another in your hand luggage”
cardiostart.org/documents/Volunteer_Safety%20Policy.docx

“Traveling abroad? Your passport is the most important document on your packing list; protect it, and it will protect you. Having your passport lost or stolen could turn your otherwise flawless trip into a potential disaster. Read on for ideas about how to protect your passport — and tips for what to do if it’s lost or stolen while you’re traveling abroad.

Pre-Trip Planning
Before you leave home, make two copies of your passport identification page. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives and carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport. It’s also a good idea to bring along two or three passport photos; these should be identical 2″ x 2″ photographs taken within the last six months, featuring a front view of your face on a white background. Be sure you also have another form of photo ID and a copy of your birth certificate (or another document to prove your citizenship). If your passport is lost or stolen, having these will speed up the replacement process.”

“Do not leave your passport in checked luggage (but do leave a photocopy of it in your luggage), a handbag or an exposed pocket. If possible, leave your passport in a hotel safe, not in an empty hotel room.”

http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/troubleshooting/lost-and-stolen-passports

“Passport, credit cards and cash should go into the hotel safe. If possible make copies of your passport to carry with you and leave your passport in your hotel”
http://www.cheapostay.com/hotels/safety-tips.asp

“Leave your passport and valuables in the room safe or in the hotel safe. ”
http://www.hotelanywhere.co.uk/resources

So, gee, how dumb has poor RMS been?. That’s surely the reason for him hitting himself on the head.

FC

pw said

> If the guy who did this is cught and sent to prison, would that make
> Stallman an enemy of freedom?

It will make the guy who did this an enemy of his own freedom. :))

Dana Cline said

I wondered about RMS’s sanity since I met him at the first Linux Lunacy cruise conference. Here I had grown up thinking him a hero, and when I finally met him, he turned out to be a poor specimen of humanity. A great coder, sure, but sadly lacking in the most common sense.

One particular event that really made me wonder was seeing him on a beach, on Holland America’s private island, walking down the beach in long pants, long sleeve shirt, and carrying his laptop (less than two feet away from salt water). Supposedly he didn’t trust the cabin steward, or the ship’s safe, or presumably his own unbreakable encryption.

And his talk as St. Ignuious (or whatever) was just silly, reflective of more like a child’s skit. That man needs a PR handler if he ever wants to be a driving force in the world. He just doesn’t realize that if he does a few things (cut his hair and beard, take a shower, think before he speaks), he could increase his influence many times over. As he is, most people cannot take him seriously.

Shawn the R0ck said

this is really suck… I hope this event will not affect the his next speech. All i can do…pray for him!

sebastian bassi said

I’ve LOL after reading this comment: “I hope this information is useful for police to try to find the stolen machine”. There is no chance police in Argentina will even try to find any stolen computer.

Brian Fox said

This man is my personal friend. If this happened to your personal friend, how would you react?

If you use a Mac or a *nix machine of any type, you almost certainly are using my software or rms’ software. This might make him a friend of yours, also.

Ignacio said

No me extraña, en Argentina tuvo que ser.

Z.Shang said

Damn the fxxking thief!

John Sullivan said

RMS does not take a salary from the FSF, but we do supply his computer and other equipment he needs to travel and do his work. Also, some donations intended for the FSF were in the stolen bag.

We’re prepared for unfortunate occurrences like this — he was back on his feet doing work again with a day — but donations to help replace these lost items would be appreciated at https://donate.fsf.org.

RMS is incredibly careful with his bag while traveling. He has traveled 200+ days of the year to all corners of the world for many years, and only very, very rarely had this sort of thing happen to him.

TNT said

While I am not trying to defend Stallman’s behavior, and I agree that often he seems lacking communication skills (to put it mildly), the fact that he was walking “in long pants and long sleeve shirt” on the beach doesn’t sound that aggravating does it? I mean the man doesn’t have exactly a body builder’s body.

BlackThought said

The site http://freedomincluded.com/ is selling the Leemote Yeeloong for $449

Kevin Bailey said

Dooes anyone know how/where we can make a donation to get RMS a new laptop?

Dana Cline said

The fact that he was walking in long pants and long sleeves was odd only by comparison to the fact that the other 1000+ people there were in swimsuits or shorts/Tshirts. That plus the fact that the temperature was in the “hot” category. It just seemed out of place, and reinforced the image of him as a “basement dweller”.

The St. Ignucious talk disturbed me more. Not an image of someone who is “serious” about converting someone to their viewpoint.

Similarly his insistence that everyone call Linux GNU/Linux. Sorry, GNU is NOT an operating system, merely a collection of utilities in search of an operating system.

Jon said

@Dana Cline

RMS is person with a strong position that he is prepared to discuss and argue about reasonably.

Just because you clearly disagree with him, you mock him personally and call him names.

I’ll take this ‘poor specimen of humanity’ and ‘basement dweller’ any time over your behaviour.

Ryan said

@Dana Cline, and yet in South East Asia, in areas where it’s 40C all year round, many students and business people still wear long pants and shirts because culture and social norms call for it.

Why are you in such a rush to imitate your surroundings? Are you so spineless that you don’t have any free thought? Because I can tell you that’s one thing that you certainly can’t accuse RMS of.

Your thoughts?

About Guillermo Rauch:

CTO and co-founder of LearnBoost / Cloudup (acquired by Automattic in 2013). Argentine living in SF.