Two Hours from Death? (2004-09-28 to 2004-10-02)
So various people began trying to find a way I could get there early enough to do this. The last flight in the evening was too early, we discovered on Wednesday morning. There was a train leaving at 2020 which I could have taken if I ran out of the speech a little early and canceled my invitation to dinner. I was thinking of doing that when someone had the idea that people in the free software community could drive me to Paris. Ultimately we chose that solution. Three free software enthusiasts met me after dinner, borrowing my host's car.
Departure was scheduled for 10pm, but was delayed because my halo was missing. It had fallen out of its bag while that was in the back of a car, and rolled under a seat, where we did not see it. After looking in the other possible places such as the room where I had spoken, and not finding it, we searched the car thoroughly.
We should have dropped me off in Paris around 330pm, but we got lost there. They were following a navigation system in the car, and it got confused. When I recognized where we were headed and give directions, there was a misunderstanding that got us lost again. Eventually we ended up at the Etoile, and the navigation system started working. We got to Francis Muguet' apartment and they dropped me off. The three people from Amsterdam headed back, but did not arrive. They had an accident.
Despite the many things I had to do, I got about 3 hours of sleep before I had to go and speak. I gave a good short speech to a workshop (perhaps a third of the conference), and then Francis for me to do more. The French Minister of Industry was scheduled to speak that afternoon; he is the one who decides the French policy on software patents. It was arranged that I would be able to ask him a question for certain, if he accepted any.
While walking into the conference room, and discussing with Francis what I should say in my question, I received a phone call telling me that the car had crashed and one of the men who had driven with me was dead.
This was a sobering thought. I did not feel personal grief, because it was not a personal loss. The three were strangers who had helped me for the sake of free software, rather than personal friends, and we only barely had begun to be acquainted. However, it was weighty to realize that someone had died because he had helped me get to Paris for this meeting. I did not feel guilt about his death--I did not cause the accident--but I felt a responsibility to make his death count for something.
I asked the minister whether France would sustain the European Parliament's vote against software patents. His answer showed total incomprehension; he spoke about the virtue of copyright and the "principle" of "intellectual property" (thus illustrating why people must reject the use of this term). I felt a sense of total failure. Francis told me he cried at this point.
As the minister was leaving, I had a chance to exchange a couple of sentences with him. He really did not know how patents affect software developers. Francis says that the minister wanted to talk with me further about the issue. I am on my way out of France right now, and may not have a chance to be back in Paris until it is too late. But maybe we can find someone else who can follow up on this contact.
It was only later, when I saw there had been some public discussion of whether I was in the car at the time of the accident, that I realized that I too had had a somewhat narrow escape. If the accident had happened two hours earlier, I would have been in it.