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Communication

The word "home" is a weighted term in the Stallman lexicon. In a pointed swipe at his parents, Stallman, to this day, refuses to acknowledge any home before Currier House, the dorm he lived in during his days at Harvard. He has also been known to describe leaving that home in tragicomic terms. Once, while describing his years at Harvard, Stallman said his only regret was getting kicked out. It wasn't until I asked Stallman what precipitated his ouster, that I realized I had walked into a classic Stallman setup line.

Lippman, on the other hand, entertains the possibility. She recalls a few stories from her son's infancy, however, that provide fodder for speculation. A prominent symptom of autism is an oversensitivity to noises and colors, and Lippman recalls two anecdotes that stand out in this regard.

Almost a quarter century after its publication, Stallman still bristles when hearing Weizenbaum's "computer bum" description, discussing it in the present tense as if Weizenbaum himself was still in the room. "He wants people to be just professionals, doing it for the money and wanting to get away from it and forget about it as soon as possible," Stallman says. "What he sees as a normal state of affairs, I see as a tragedy."

For all the agony it produced, adolescence would have a encouraging effect on Stallman's sense of individuality. At a time when most of his classmates were growing their hair out, Stallman preferred to keep his short. At a time when the whole teenage world was listening to rock and roll, Stallman preferred classical music. A devoted fan of science fiction, Mad magazine, and late-night TV, Stallman cultivated a distinctly off-the-wall personality that fed off the incomprehension of parents and peers alike.

The programming session lasted 10 hours. Throughout that entire time, Steele says, neither he nor Stallman took a break or made any small talk. By the end of the session, they had managed to hack the pretty print source code to just under 100 lines. "My fingers were on the keyboard the whole time," Steele recalls, "but it felt like both of our ideas were flowing onto the screen. He told me what to type, and I typed it."

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