Perhaps the most enjoyable emotion, however, was the sense of personal fulfillment. When it came to hacking, Stallman was a natural. A childhood's worth of late-night study sessions gave him the ability to work long hours with little sleep. As a social outcast since age 10, he had little difficulty working alone. And as a mathematician with built-in gift for logic and foresight, Stallman possessed the ability to circumvent design barriers that left most hackers spinning their wheels.

The German sociologist Max Weber once proposed that all great religions are built upon the "routinization" or "institutionalization" of charisma. Every successful religion, Weber argued, converts the charisma or message of the original religious leader into a social, political, and ethical apparatus more easily translatable across cultures and time.

Another favorite maternal anecdote dates back to the early 1960s, shortly after the puzzle incident. Around age seven, two years after the divorce and relocation from Queens, Richard took up the hobby of launching model rockets in nearby Riverside Drive Park. What started as aimless fun soon took on an earnest edge as her son began recording the data from each launch. Like the interest in mathematical games, the pursuit drew little attention until one day, just before a major NASA launch, Lippman checked in on her son to see if he wanted to watch.

When he wasn't working on official projects such as Sussman's automated circuit-analysis program, Stallman devoted his time to pet projects. It was in a hacker's best interest to improve the lab's software infrastructure, and one of Stallman's biggest pet projects during this period was the lab's editor program TECO.

Such mythological descriptions, while extreme, underline an important fact. The ninth floor of 545 Tech Square was more than a workplace for many. For hackers such as Stallman, it was home.