On not being destroyed by travel

On G+, Stephen Shankland links to RMS’s travel rules. He faintly praises their transparency but finds them a bit bizarre. For contrast, here are my travel rules, from back when I was accepting a lot of speaking engagements:

Yes, mine are much simpler, but don’t be quick to judge RMS until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. The kind of constant travel and speaking he does, and that I used to do, is more psychologically exhausting than anyone who hasn’t done it will ever understand. Even the smallest details of comfort start to matter a lot after a few months of it; it’s like your nerves get scraped raw.

I used to think rock bands on tour were just being primadonnas when their tour contracts specified minute details about their dressing room setups and what small luxuries promoters should lay on. Now I know better – it’s a psychological and even physiological survival tactic, minimizing cortisol stress.

So: conditions such as RMS and I insist on may look like we’re demanding to be coddled in odd and arbitrary ways just because we can (IIRC Perl Jam’s tour contract actually specified the color of the M&Ms in the bowl in the singer’s dressing room) but don’t you believe it. After a while such exactness becomes brutally necessary, and even so you still get weary unto death. This is high on the list of reasons I don’t tour any more.

And it’s doubtless harder on RMS than on me. At least I’m an extrovert.

56 thoughts on “On not being destroyed by travel

  1. Wow… Dr. RMS has indeed covered all bases. I suppose that comes with experience. (BTW I was half expecting something about height of toilet seats and so on).

    From his POV, I agree 100% with his stance about not the policy of not bringing up “Open source” or “Linux” in his meetings through confusing it with his FSF movement. He must have heard that one millions of times.

  2. Indeed, ‘some freak’: they specifically used the ‘M&Ms’ test to validate attention to detail. They figured that if they arrived and found that the venue had set out the M&Ms correctly, this suggested that the venue had reached the very top of the trivia-tree; thus, it was highly likely that the organisers had paid attention to the more important details in the band’s spec sheet, many of which had genuine safety implications.

    If the band arrived and found no M&Ms, or polychromatic M&Ms, then this was a warning that they needed to validate the more important details, which may also have been ignored.

    Think of it as a funny little parity-check hack.

  3. >If the band arrived and found no M&Ms, or polychromatic M&Ms, then this was a warning that they needed to validate the more important details, which may also have been ignored.

    I believe this. But all interesting behavior is overdetermined (that is, has multiple sufficient explanations). It was a parity check, but also psychological/physiological self-protection. Trust me on this, I’ve been there and done that and have the battle scars.

  4. This is pretty clearly an invited talk laundry list that has grown and grown over many years, and had less effort put into refactoring. A bit like gcc, really.

  5. >A bit like gcc, really

    The parallel is less exact than you think. Until recently gcc’s factoring was deliberately bad; RMS feared that if the intermediate representations were too well exposed and documented, eeevil corporate entities would exploit gcc for gain without contributing their code back to the project. By contrast, the bad factoring of RMS’s laundry list is probably just inattention.

  6. RMS’ list seems moderately sane and practical to me. Also pleasingly consistent with the public persona. Moreover that consistency pretty much lines up with the bits I think are less sane so that if you read/listen to RMS’ messages then you’ll grok why he does things aren’t necessarily what other people do whereas I’d be more troubled if it turned out he wanted a 5 star hotel, hot’n’cold running starlets etc..

    I also note that despite the need to refactor this list is practical, if I were inviting him I could work around his quirks quite easily having been given the detailed list.

  7. Well, yeah. When you’re a popular and in-demand speaker who doesn’t charge a lot, and you’ve been doing this for a couple of decades, you’ll have every reason to really be quite fussy.

  8. >Nothing unreasonable in his list.

    Well…not if you share RMS’s ideological assumptions. A lot of it is divisive politicizing – you wouldn’t find me refusing to speak at a “free software” event (even though I think that terminology has done us a lot of damage) or telling conferences not to use a gnu as an emblem. But the personal stuff is pretty reasonable if you know what being on the road a lot is like.

  9. Been there, done that. While I don’t get as many calls to make trips as Eric or RMS, I do get the occasional one. My guidelines are much like Eric’s, and for many of the same reasons. If you’re going to make money off of my visit, I expect to have my needs taken care of with minimal hassle. I’m fairly flexible about the details, but do have preferences, and expect them to be catered to in greater or lesser degree according to the abilities of the folks I’m coming to see to deal with it.

    RMS’s requirements are, well, typical RMS. I’ll confine myself to noting with glee that they probably mean that we will never speak at the same event, and that I read his comments about Coke while sipping my morning Diet Coke with Lime.

  10. It’s much more efficient for a local to go shopping to stock a band’s dressing room. The members of the travelling crew all have other jobs to do, and they don’t know the lay of the land. But every band wants something different, so it’s best to lay it all out explicitly. It sounds petty and picky and prima donnaish, but it’s really a simple solution to a simple problem.

    I read a bunch of riders on a website somewhere, and the interesting thing I noticed was that all of the laid back happy hippy bands had these really complex dietary needs, like fresh juice concoctions with 15 ingredients and vegan raw food 100 mile diets.

    Meanwhile the big money O-G rap acts all wanted a carton of smokes, 2 bottles of champagne, a case of Corona and a bucket of fried chicken.

  11. ESR,

    It’s not just the content, it’s the delivery. Your list of requests reads like it was written by a rational person, RMS’s list reads like it was written by a child with some sort of serious illness. It’s insanely wordy, and is chock-full of repetition. His conspiracy theories and demands are completely unreasonable. What was particularly mind-boggling to me was the various description of technical things: internet access, audio and video CODEC’s, etc.

    And his describing of his own behavior is just childish and maddening. He prefers NOT to stay at a hotel, because staying on a person’s couch and spending time with people is more fun, yet he reserves the right to whip out his laptop at the dinner table if he gets bored? I mean, really… Not that I’d ever be interested in having him talk somewhere (he did great things for the movement in the 80′s, but is now 100% irrelevant), but after reading this, I’d never, ever consider letting him into my house.

  12. I imagine a lot of the rules have bad experiences behind them. When I promoted concerts, the bands with whom I worked were accommodating with changes to their hospitality and technical riders as long as it made sense and they were told about it ahead of time. For example, a band specified a 3 foot stage but understood not all venues could provide it. They asked because they had experience with venues which did not have any stage which results in a bad experience for the audience. However, if it wasn’t necessary for a particular venue, they understood.The hospitality riders were never a problem. You’d be surprised at what can go wrong that you never thought of, e.g. brown outs from a bands’ electronics.

    IMO it helps a promoter to know what the talent wants and if possible provide it. That way you can plan everything ahead of time which results in a smoother operation the day of the event and leaves you free to deal with what goes wrong (something will -always- go wrong). If you’re smart, the hospitality generates more good will at a lower cost than what the equivalent bump in guarantee would provide. e.g. a home cooked meal costs less and is more appreciated than if the band has to go out to eat . Which means the talent will trust you more when the inevitable hiccup happens.

    In my experience, unreasonable demands were only made by bands that wanted to live the rock ‘n’ roll life style without earning it.

  13. What are your battle scars from touring? Do particular things just make you uncomfortable now? Is it harder to be the extrovert you are sometimes? Less desire to travel? I’d be interested in knowing. I’ve always kinda been fascinated by that lifestyle a bit.

  14. Aaron hit it perfectly there. And at this point I don’t really see why anyone would want RMS to speak at an event anyway. Back when the FSF was churning out useful open source software, it was cool, but nowadays it’s just a bunch of petty whining about how open source needs to be called “free software” and Linux needs to be called “GNU.” They need to get over it, get back behind the keyboards, and get back to writing great software instead of trying to be a whinier version of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  15. LOL. The part about “ethical streaming” really cracked me up. I completely get it, but come on. That’s hillarious. I will not be part of an unethical internet stream format!

  16. I used to think rock bands on tour were just being primadonnas when their tour contracts specified minute details about their dressing room setups and what small luxuries promoters should lay on. Now I know better – it’s a psychological and even physiological survival tactic, minimizing cortisol stress.

    More than that — Van Halen used to get persnickety about the colors of M&Ms they were to be supplied with, for instance, just to make sure the venue operators were paying attention. They had tens of thousands of pounds of gear to load on stage, and if the venue operator didn’t read the specs for stage load capacity requirements, power requirements, etc. damage and even injury were likely to result. The M&Ms were a first-level test that the venue operators were on the bounce: if they saw a brown M&M it meant they hadn’t read the specs and the band was taking a risk going on stage there.

  17. > And at this point I don’t really see why anyone would want RMS to speak at an event anyway

    I’m actually going to a talk RMS is giving whilst in the UK in that time frame. Correct he hasn’t done much recently, but all things are built on past accomplishments are they not? I’ve also heard he’s a fantastic public speaker.

    With regards to the list I’d say most of them don’t seem overly unreasonable, they’re consistent with his views at least.

  18. Absolutely, Aaron & IGnatius — it must all be Stallman’s bizarre eccentricity, since none of your personal, subjective dislike could possibly be your own responsibility.

    The nerve of that guy!

  19. I have no first hand knowledge, but someone told me that friends of theirs that RMS stayed with have stated, simply, “He doesn’t know the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’” …

  20. Acksiom: The political stuff that pervades the document is all about how everyone should buy into Stallman’s utopia, and if you don’t want to do that, he’s not interested in talking to you. It’d be like me demanding that I get a chauffeured car, but not a Lincoln Town Car, when I arrive at the airport, just because I have no use for the Ford Motor Company and refuse to give them my money.

    He wants to spend his time among sycophants and toadies. That’s fine if it floats his boat, but, as I said, I’m happy I won’t have to deal with it myself.

  21. From his POV, I agree 100% with his stance about not the policy of not bringing up “Open source” or “Linux” in his meetings through confusing it with his FSF movement. He must have heard that one millions of times.

    I don’t understand it. The “open source” meme was like JATO for the free software movement. Stallman’s primary mission was useful in getting the hacker hardcore onboard. The appeal — and money — of proprietary platforms threatened to snuff out an important culture and philosophy, and Stallman kept the torch burning.

    In order to achieve Stallman’s true goal of replacing proprietary software with free software, he needed to sell it to the wider world and that is simply beyond Stallman’s powers. He has two problems:

    1) He is deontic in his approach. (You should use and write free software because it’s the Right Thing To Do.) We don’t live in a deontic world. At least not in the United States. We’re not really motivated to do anything unless there’s something in it for us. The “open source” narrative provides the “something in it for us”.

    2) He is antagonistic to corporate America. He is right in that corporate America currently rules the world. Which means that active, open hostility to them is not going to help much in promoting your message. Insulting the king and spitting in his face will land you in jail or worse.

    The notion that open source is a “reaction against” the free software movement is held solely by Stallman and his disciples. Open source and free software are the same thing (hence constructions like FOSS, etc.) but the provenances of their philosophies is different. In Lisp terms they are equal? but not eq?.The open source narrative was masterfully constructed to help free software get to places it couldn’t go on its own.

    Now I think we have expended the last of open source’s narrative power. Proprietary software platforms where developers must pay to become licensed to distribute software on the platform have proven themselves utterly compelling from an end-user standpoint, for exactly the same reason why the simplest solution to the spam problem — assess a fee for each email sent — is also the best one.

  22. @Jeff Read,

    I get what you’re saying, that’s why I added “from his point of view”. He is at least openly consistent (and transparent) about his political view. For that, and for what the FSF has achieved in the past, I respect him.

    It doesn’t lie in my mouth to speak ill of RMS or ESR or any other “elder” of the hacker tribe. I might not always agree with their world view or even in relation to software, but I am from a cultural background that makes it incredibly hard to openly disrespect my elders as well as people who have achieved bigger things than me. It always makes me a bit sad to read the insults directed at his person (deserved or undeserved).

  23. @jeff read
    >>exactly the same reason why the simplest solution to the spam problem — assess a fee for each email sent — is also the best one.

    I always felt that tracking down the people who actually BOUGHT viagra and enlargement pills from these spam emails and somehow blacklisting them from the internet (or cattle-prodding them) was another ;)

    Dave

  24. I always felt that tracking down the people who actually BOUGHT viagra and enlargement pills from these spam emails and somehow blacklisting them from the internet (or cattle-prodding them) was another ;)

    I’ve long advocated that each recipient gets one punch per e-mail received…

  25. Without some sort of multilevel Pyramid of Pain scheme, delivery of the punches will be logistically highly difficult at best.

  26. @ David Scott Williams:
    > I always felt that tracking down the people who actually BOUGHT viagra and enlargement pills from these spam emails and somehow blacklisting them from the internet (or cattle-prodding them) was another ;)

    No, just publish their details and photographs in public. Given their presumed motivation, humiliation will work better.

  27. Jay, thanks for directly demonstrating exactly the point I was making.

    Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better example of exactly the kind of blatantly hypocritical solipsism I was ironically identifying and criticizing.

    I owe you one, guy. You’re a real trouper.

  28. >I am from a cultural background that makes it incredibly hard to openly disrespect my elders as well as people who have achieved bigger things than me.

    You do understand that neither RMS nor I want this immunity, right? We both find cultures with such norms repellently anti-individualistic.

  29. >I am from a cultural background that makes it incredibly hard to openly disrespect my elders as well as people who have achieved bigger things than me.

    Is there no difference between disrespect and “call bullshit”?

  30. > And it’s doubtless harder on RMS than on me. At least I’m an extrovert.

    It shows in his “rider” : a lot of it is : “this is how I behave, this is how I react in this and that kind of situations, here are things that you might do that make me uncomfortable or will result in awkward situations”.

    What I enjoyed about reading it is his rational approach to it, how he’s giving the information upfront to avoid his hosts having to find out by trial and error on the spot (and cause all sorts of awkwardness and embarrassment and mutual irritation). Like a man page. It’s probably rare for people to try and put that kind of rationality and efficiency in social interactions, but I like it.

    A lot of it sounds very familiar. I do wonder where the “One situation where I do not need help, let alone supervision, is in
    crossing streets. Please just leave me alone when I cross streets” comes from.

  31. > That is an awfully long BUGS section.

    but it’s still consistent with the rationale for having a BUGS section in man pages : you know what you’re dealing with, and what situations will cause non- or contra-productive results.

  32. @kn: “I do wonder where the “One situation where I do not need help, let alone supervision, is in
    crossing streets. Please just leave me alone when I cross streets” comes from.”

    Unfortunate run-in with an overzealous boy scout?

    Regarding the earlier part of that comment, it actually makes a lot of sense from one point of view. For an alternative, imagine dealing with Sheldon Cooper.

  33. >>>The kind of constant travel and speaking he does, and that I used to do, is more psychologically exhausting than anyone who hasn’t done it will ever understand. Even the smallest details of comfort start to matter a lot after a few months of it; it’s like your nerves get scraped raw.<<<

    Yikes. Based on this post, I'm going to make damn sure never to do anything that requires traveling to speaking engagements… o_o;

  34. > If the band arrived and found no M&Ms, or polychromatic M&Ms,

    polychromatic M&Ms were fine. You had to take the BROWN M&Ms out.

    (Jebus, you’re all so YOUNG!)

  35. If anyone is so much as thinking about buying a parrot because RMS said he likes parrots, they should definitely add the price (including the price of the cage) to his speaking fee. Those birds aren’t cheap.

  36. RMS could learn to embrace the world, instead of thinking the world will be better to embrace him. He would learn more about the world, and have more knowledge.

    I remember how intolerant I was when I first started traveling for adventure around 1990. I remember my “no planning” spontaneous personality causing me to leave on a mountain bike from Manila at 5pm, ended up riding up Tagatay mountain at the time when there was no street lighting and freezing by the time I got to Tagatay hotel. Riding down to Batangas the next day, taking a small pump boat over to Puerto Galera, Mindoro, then losing a couple of nights sleep while being eaten by mosquitos in a Nipa hut (w/o mosquito net) on the undeveloped (at that time) White Beach. At that time, I could not adjust to local food, mosquitos, temperature, humidity, noise of chickens and barking dogs, etc.. I was 26 at the time.

    Now 46, my energy is significantly less, but my ability to tolerate variances is not perfect but quite extensive. So now my trips consistent of throwing some clothes in my car and drive away. I can sleep outside on a hammock with a sheet to cover up with, and eat any natural food. I barely notice the bite of a mosquito, although it is good to avoid them because of the diseases they spread.

  37. Esr,I think you misunderstand. My definition of respect is not blind acceptance. And my culture does not force any norms. What I mean is that I am averse to name calling of the kind that seems very common on the internet.

  38. > Is there no difference between disrespect and “call bullshit”?

    Here is the difference. When the bullshit (as you call it) is targetted at the broader issue, then I do that regularly, though I might couch my criticism in rather different terms than you might.

    When the bullshit is targetted at individuals in person, and has nothing to do with the issue, then I don’t do that. Even when I don’t respect the person.

    And then with people like RMS or ESR: I am not saying I will grovel before them or agree with all that they say, but in their case, I pay more attention because they are experienced and know a lot more than I do. And I recognize that. It’s not humility or anything: simply a realization based on reality. Therefore I consciously avoid calling “bullshit” until I have a solid foundation for my own statements or at least believe that I do. Take this post, for instance. I know exactly what my principles are. ESR doesn’t, with all his experience, and hence the misunderstanding arose.

    Take my first post:
    > Wow… Dr. RMS has indeed covered all bases. I suppose that comes with experience. (BTW I was half expecting something about height of toilet seats and so on).

    Without a personal attack, I just found his “list of wants” slightly bewildering and humourously (as I thought) added something about height of toilet seats. No judgements there.

    I am not passing judgment on RMS as many people here seem ready to do. Because I don’t know the man. Never seen him in my life. I have no basis for understanding why he insists on so many conditions other than secondary sources of information. If I start abusing the man because I find his personal habits intolerable, THAT is what makes me disrespectful. And that I try to avoid because it’s part of my mental make-up.

    A few posts in the comments seem targetted at RMS the person. I’ve also seen insults targetted at ESR the person in many other comments on this blog.

    “Calling bullshit” is a very broad term. In what context you call that is what matters.

    Again, this should not be seen as an imposition of my values on others. This post is merely an explanation of my stance.

  39. @hari, differentiate between ad hominem attack and a statement of fact that happens to say something about an individual’s thinking. For example, I tried to argue the loss of knowledge value of a world view that says the world should harmonize to my intolerance. If I am able to tolerate more situations, then I am exposed to more of the free market, and thus should be open to more diverse experiences. I tie this into RMS’s politics, which are not freedom, because he thinks there is only one right way for the market operate.

  40. @Shelby, of course I do. And I think you address the broader issue here. My point is that sometimes the line is so narrow between getting personal and staying on the broader issue that it’s hard to differentiate.

    I didn’t want to take an example from this comments section, but I think that stating things like “I wouldn’t let him into my house” is disrespect at a personal level whether that disrespect arose from disagreement at an impersonal level or subjective dislike/revulsion. It’s not the larger issue. It boils down to personal preferences. And while neither condemning that statement nor praising it, I say that it’s the kind of thing I would never say in public about any person because ultimately who I invite to my house is a matter of personal choice that adds nothing to the discussion and creates nothing of value to people unconcerned about the personal issues.

    My philosophy can probably be broken down to: (1) be as nice as possible, if possible (2) if cannot be nice, at least avoid being nasty (3) if neither of the above, try to avoid it, outright.

    I realize of course, that it is an oversimplification. Again, I try not going to go to the actual merits of the case: whether a personal insult is warranted or not. If merits have to be discussed, let it remain at the impersonal level.

    Ultimately neither ESR nor RMS’s personal lifestyle, habits or beliefs matter to me and since I respect them for their achievements in a particular field. Not to say I would worship the ground they walk on… in my book respect != immunity from criticism/disagreement on an impersonal level.

  41. hari:

    >>>I didn’t want to take an example from this comments section, but I think that stating things like “I wouldn’t let him into my house” is disrespect at a personal level whether that disrespect arose from disagreement at an impersonal level or subjective dislike/revulsion.<<<

    Those are the only possibilities? You don't think someone might say "I wouldn't let him into my house" based on concluding from the evidence in his rider that letting him into one's house could be a very unpleasant and possibly disastrous experience?

    I don't believe that respect has to be earned initially, but it *can* be forfeited, in which case it then has to be earned *back*.

  42. You don’t think someone might say “I wouldn’t let him into my house” based on concluding from the evidence in his rider that letting him into one’s house could be a very unpleasant and possibly disastrous experience?

    Taken in that light, I agree that it doesn’t appear to be so disrespectful. And I agree partially with the sentiment behind it.

    But even then, stating it in public in another thing . Now, if a person forcibly invited himself to my house and I had to suffer his bad behaviour/habits, then the context changes. When he has openly stated what his requirements are and he’s not forcing anybody to take him as a guest, I myself wouldn’t have commented thus. At least, RMS was honest about himself and gave out enough information for people to take a decision in that regard.

  43. Aaron: As someone who spends about half his time around folks on the autistic spectrum, RMS’s delivery sounded pretty familiar to me.

  44. I think there’s a big difference in terms of respect between “I wouldn’t let him into my house” and “I’d bethe wrong host for him”.

  45. > This is high on the list of reasons I don’t tour any more.

    That is bad I think you should come back we are missing you and well I think the Open Source Movement was stronger when you were there.

    BR

  46. >Movement was stronger when you were there.

    I hope not. Movements that rely on the personal charisma of their leaders have short half-lives. The very top reason I don’t tour anymore is to avoid encouraging that dependency.

  47. I’ve been wondering about the people who get angry about the RMS care and feeding rules here and here, and what I think happens is people imagine themselves having to be that precise in taking care of RMS, don’t want to bother, and then blow up as though they actually had to meet his requirements.

  48. Since I first saw this, and then saw the reactions from various people in various forums, I’ve been slightly depressed. Not by the contents of the rider, which I think seem to be clearly explained (yes, maybe slightly wordy, but that’s hardly a hanging offense), but by the outrage of people.

    As ESR expressed, this has probably built up over a number of years. It could probably do with some refactoring, but hardly requires it. It clearly expresses RMS’s needs and desires when traveling. It explains some situations which may come up (such as if he is working on his laptop, and someone wants to ask him something, just ask, don’t bother waiting), and expresses some personal preferences. Now, I may not agree with everything, but it doesn’t matter. People are getting all uptight over something that doesn’t matter at all!

    If you don’t ever want to invite RMS to speak, this list of requirements should be irrelevant to you. If you do, but the requirements are too much work, then don’t invite him. If you can meet the requirements, then happy days!

    Look over that list again, what’s the most offensive thing there? Oh, he might start working at the dinner table, or he says that dinner with too many people is work. I’ve certainly been in situations where I wished I could pull out my laptop and get to work instead of not being able to have a conversation even with the people next to me because the noise was too much. Yes, it’s eccentric, but it’s not the end of the world. Would you rather your guest be bored because he can’t understand or hear what is going on, or working?

  49. This kind of thing is why I find I can neither ignore nor sign onto the anti-racist, disability rights, feminist etc. memeplex.

    There’s a tremendous amount of bad-tempered callousness in the world– if you don’t have that sort of problem, imagine the situation of someone who has ongoing problems like low-and-erratic energy levels, non-obvious limitations on their mobility, allergies to common substances, etc. They run into reactions very much like those from the folks who hate Stallman for having unusual requirements, and possibly are getting those reactions from people they’re living with.

    At the same time, I’m not convinced that more bad-tempered callousness is a good solution. I don’t know what a good solution is.

  50. Umm…. er, well, a lot of RMS’s demands seem quite reasonable to me.

    But then, I think I am at least an half-aspie, m”self.

    Among the things I hate and despise arre communal dinners. I like to eat by myself with a book in front of me.

    Or maybe with one other person who has a book in front of him or her.

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