Jason Harris

A Short Intro

  • Age: 34
  • Located in: Tucson, AZ
  • Occupation: Astronomer
  • Nickname on IRC: LMCBoy (the LMC is my favorite galaxy)
  • Claim to Fame: Lead developer of KStars; initiated the KDE4 Release Team
  • Fav. KDE applications: Konqueror, Kontact, KDevelop, Kile, KPDF, Kalzium, Marble, Amarok, KBounce, digiKam, emacs, the Gimp, Hugin, NX
  • Hardware: Work: Dual Intel Xeon 3.4 GHz / 6G RAM
    Home: AMD64 3400+ / 2G RAM
    Laptop: Macbook Pro 2GHz / 1G RAM
  • Homepage: (personal) (work)
  • Blog:

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I'm the lead developer of KStars, the desktop planetarium, and I wrote KPlotWidget, which is now part of kdelibs. I'm also one of the admins for the kde-edu mailing list, I was involved in Google Summer of Code 2006, and I initiated the KDE 4 Release Team.

When did you first hear of KDE?

I actually don't remember. I'm always very impressed how specific the answers to this question usually are! I do remember using KDE 1.1, so probably sometime in 1998 or 1999. This would have been while I was in grad school, and around the time I awakened to the world of Free Software.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

I started KStars in April 2001 as a standalone app, and was invited by Anne-Marie Mahfouf to join the kdeedu module in September of that year.

What was your most recent commit to KDE?

Nothing exciting, just some EBN fixes.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

No, it's just my hobby.

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

Sigh... not very much these days, I'm afraid. There's been a lot going on in my life, so I'm lucky if I can get a couple of hours per week. That's simply not enough time to do much of anything. I'm hoping I'll have more time for KStars this Summer (in Tucson, Summer is the "indoors" season).

Which section of KDE is underrated and could get more publicity?

I'm not sure. I think the KDE desktop is insanely great, so as long as very few people are even aware of us, I'd say the whole thing could use some more publicity. But I guess the question is, "What part of KDE could use more publicity, among the people who already know about KDE?". In that case, I'm going to go with Krita. I don't actually use it much yet, but I do keep up with its development, and I've been really impressed with what Boudewijn and the rest of the Krita-ers have been up to. Their Best Application Award at aKademy 2006 was certainly well deserved!

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

Games! Many of the KDE games are really fun, but only a few currently (talking about 3.5.x here) rise above "amusing distraction" level for me. I'd like to see more games with networked play like KBattleship, and more that allow user-created content like Kolf.

When I was a wee lad, I was obsessed with a game called Ultimate Wizard on my Commodore-64. It was not only really fun to play, but you could design your own levels with a drag-and-drop editor. It would be great to have a game like that for KDE. I guess KGoldRunner is close in terms of game mechanics, but I find it to be too frustrating and there's too little variety between levels, IMO.

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

My plan right now is to find enough time to whip KStars into a releasable state. It's been ported to KDE 4, and I've managed to add some new features, but I really need to start QA testing and squashing the hordes of bugs that are infesting every dark corner of the codebase.

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

I have two main sources of inspiration. The first is the joy of creation. I think of an idea, then figure out how to make the computer do it, then (after lots of debugging), like magic, there it is on my screen! I think KStars, as a relatively complex simulation, is particularly well-suited to this kind of creative satisfaction. My second motivation comes from the occasional email I get from a user, telling me that they were inspired by my program to learn more about astronomy, or just that they find it beautiful and fun to use. To have a positive influence on the lives of complete strangers is really gratifying to me.

What chances do you see in your country for KDE as a desktop platform?

With some more publicity, I think it's possible that we could see some dramatic increase in the number of KDE users, especially after the KDE 4 release. However, I think what we really need are more "KDE participants", much more than we need more users. From that point of view, I would hope we concentrate our marketing efforts on schools, universities and the IT sector, where we are more likely to recruit active members into our community. I'd be personally much more excited to hear that KDE had been deployed in 5,000 dorm rooms than on 50,000 government or corporate thin-client desktops.

Which text editor do you use? Why?

Mostly emacs, sometimes Kate. There are a few editors out there that let you do wizardly things; emacs is simply the one on which I learned how to do those things, so it's the one I continue to use.

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Gentoo. I really like the portage system, and the way it avoids the versioning hell of distros based on pre-built packages. Plus, the gentoo forums are a great source of information.

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

Konqueror. KIOSlaves and KParts.

What does your desktop look like?

I keep one desktop for email and web browsing. At work, the others are a mess of overlapping emacs windows, Konsoles, and astronomy programs like ds9 and idl. At home, the others are usually KDevelop and Konsoles for KStars development.

What makes you contribute to KDE instead of the competition?

The community, and the API. Qt+KDE is a really fun API to develop with.

If you were shipwrecked and had to share an island with a KDE contributor who would it be?

I wish I knew more KDE devs to answer this properly! I guess I'll say Michael Pyne, since he's in the Navy and could probably build us a nuclear-powered ship in a couple of weeks.

If you could be any part of the KDE platform, what would you be? Why?

Hmm. I'd be something that's always there for you, but not often noticed: Klipper! Mostly because I have a really bad memory, so I'd enjoy having its history feature :)

What is your most brilliant KDE hack?

I don't know, I guess KPlotWidget? That's my sole contribution to kdelibs.

What is your most embarrassing KDE moment?

So many to choose from! Pick any of the several occassions on which I posted a problem report to kde-core-devel that turned out to be my own stupidity.

Will you be going to Akademy in Glasgow this year?

Alas, no. I'm crossing my fingers for an event in North America.

Personal Questions

First things first. Married, partner or up for adoption?

Recently married (less than a month ago!).

Do you have any children or pets?

We have a cat, Sedona.

Which book is on your bedside table?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the Monkeywrench Gang.

Who or what in your life would you say influenced you most?

My parents and grandparents, of course. Also, I've been fortunate to have made good friends throughout my life, and I've learned quite a bit from each of them.

Is your best friend from the physical or online world?

My best friend is my wife Haiyin! We met in the real world, at an ultimate frisbee game in Baltimore.

What is the best birthday present you could receive?

Funny enough, my birthday was a few days ago, and I got my favorite gift: a fun dinner out with good friends.

Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

I respect both men immensely. I know they are seen as opposite sides of the Free-Software coin (Stallman's unyielding idealism versus Torvalds's devil-may-care pragmatism), but I think our community is what it is because *both* of these points of view have such powerful voices.

How would you describe yourself?

A decent and rational being. Funny and generous. Geekier than average, and proud of it.

What would you do more of if you had the time?

Develop KStars. Seriously. I've been neglecting it, but I just don't have time. I need your help! Join us at kstars-devel; let's whip this monkey into shape!

What do you see from your window?

Here's the view out my front door, of my front garden.

What do you get passionate about?

Sadly, the honest answer is world politics. I had written a mini-rant here, but I guess I'll spare myself the embarassment. Suffice to say, I am less than satisfied with how my government has been occupying itself over the past six years.

What does "success" mean to you?

Success means doing that which makes you happy, and doing it with excellence.

What do you do in your spare time?

"Spare time", you say? I don't understand the question. Until recently, we were spending all of our time getting ready for the wedding, so now that it's over, maybe I'll rediscover this thing you call "spare time". Also, I discovered when we recently moved to our current house that if you have a pool in the back yard, pool maintenance is automatically your new hobby. I do enjoy hiking and photography, preferably both at once.

What is your favourite place in the world?

Sedona, AZ is certainly high on the list:

Also Yosemite Valley, and the Canadian Rockies.

Final Words

I just want to thank all of my fellow KDE developers and community members for their participation in this excellent project. There aren't many examples in history of a truly worldwide volunteer effort to build something so beautiful and worthwhile. It's truly exciting to be part of it.