John Tapsell

A Short Intro

  • Age: 24
  • Located in: Brighton, UK
  • Occupation: PhD Student in Mastering and Copying in Digital Holography
  • Nickname on IRC: JohnFlux

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I'm the current maintainer of KSysGuard, the KDE task manager.

When did you first hear of KDE?

At 16, some friends and I got together and bought some RedHat CDs for 1 each. That was a lot of fun. I naturally tried running every package there was, and installed every server there was. Of course I saw the KDE desktop etc. However I preferred Enlightenment because the menus spoke to you when you hovered over them, in a cool futuristic voice.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

I wanted to tie Konversation (IRC client) in with the Kontact addressbook. So I hung around in #konversation, and bugged them for a bit. I decided to just go ahead and do it, but then realised that the underlying architecture wouldn't support this feature. So I broke Konversation for several weeks while I re-factored it, with much help from PhantomsDad. That turned out to be a pattern, and at one point I had Konversation broken for about 5 months while I tried to switch over to KConfigXT. I don't think they ever forgave me for that :)

What was your most recent commit to KDE?

Switching from D-Bus to DCOP. Or is it DCOP to D-Bus. Whichever the older one is to the newer one. I'm not very good with names. :-)

I wish they called them completely different things.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

Unfortunately not. I do finish my PhD in January, so if anyone wants to hire me to do so they are welcome :-)

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

I work in bursts. Some weeks I'll work for 30 hours, and others not at all. It's hard to average.

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

The people behind it. They are all wonderful people, and have a large energy that is contagious. Sure people argue, but I see that as sign of vitality. If people started agreeing, then I'd be really worried.

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

A character selector! I love the gnome character selector program. I can actually search for a character. I did get about half way into adding such support into KCharselect, but that doesn't mean anything. I've 'half done' everything :-)

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

Lots. KSysGuard has come a long way, and has a much longer way to go. I have had long discussions with the open usability groups about it, and I will have someone work on it in January. I want to make KSysGuard fast and usable. It should pop up at the speed of lightning. Actually I want to integrate it into the desktop more (I don't think it should be seen as a program). In KDE 4, when you press Ctrl+Esc, it will use the comp manager to flash up KSysGuard in a ball of fire and lightning, flames of fire torching random apps on the screen. It will settle down into a mind blowing beautiful interface, with only flickers of flames around the edges.

Well, I might concentrate on the beautiful interface bit first.

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

Bugs. When I see a bug that itches me, I go and fix it. I like seeing how much energy everybody has. At KDE meetings, I can see in person how excited everybody is about KDE, and that's contagious. There's so much to do, and so many exciting new things happening.

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

I'm hoping to become a parent (good grief, I'm so old even at 24 ), and as such I hang around a bit in a UK parent website. There was a post there a couple of days ago saying that support for Windows 98 was ending. Someone else replied that they had switched over to Mandrake, and was using KDE, and suggested that other parents did the same! Of course I could not let such an outrage continue, and immediately flamed them, correcting them that Kubuntu was better.

I think our Konqi is getting a claw-hold in the minds of people. Each year we will make him stronger and give him more powerful claws so that he can decimate the population, and we WILL RULE THE EARTH WITH FEAR!

Which text editor do you use? Why?

VIM of course. Much better than Emacs.

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Kubuntu, because it's like Debian but has frequent releases.

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

Hmm, killer? KStars probably. It's an awesome app. You can hook it up to a motor controlled telescope and get it to swivel the telescope and hit people with it. I've always been interested in space and currently applying for a job to model the birth of the universe. They said I have the job if I can learn General Relativity in 3 months. :(

What does your desktop look like?

This is me working on KSysguard. I have just added anti-aliased bezier curves.


What makes you develop for KDE instead of the competition?

We have competition?

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

A female one I guess... Well, I'm hoping to get my significant other to help with Japanese translations. So I should probably say her otherwise she'll hurt me.

What is your most brilliant KDE hack?

KSysGuard in pretty much every 3.x release took ages to show the list of processes. I got annoyed, and one day had a look at the code. I realised the mistake was that someone had mistook a FIFO buffer for a LIFO buffer. I switched it around, and suddenly it appeared instantly instead of a 2 second delay. I committed, and ended up with maintainership of KSysGuard somehow.

What is your most embarrassing KDE moment?

I can't choose. So here's a few:

  • Breaking Konversation, then leaving it for 5 months causing the original maintainer to come out of retirement and have a heart attack. That continued until they teamed together, fixed it, and hired a team of investigators to hunt me down and hurt me.
  • Spending a week porting KSysGuard to QT4, then committing saying "I finally ported it to QT4! Woohooo!!" then my email box flooding with a dozen emails telling me I committed to KDE 3.5, and that someone has already ported it. I screwed it up so badly I had to get people to help me uncommit it.
  • And as a social faux pas: Going up to the founder of KDE, Matthias Ettrich, and not knowing who he was. So there I am trying to ask him who he was, and what he worked on in KDE, and not understanding why everyone around me was laughing. I hate you all.

Are you going to Akademy in Ireland this year?


What do you hope to get out of it?

A honeymoon. I'm getting married a few days before, and I told her Ireland would be a nice place for a honeymoon. I plan to slip out quietly at night to do coding. If I meet any of you while I'm with her, you all have to pretend that it's a complete coincidence that you're here as well, and you just wanted a holiday too.


My wonderful Saki


Not to be confused with Sake, the drink

Personal Questions

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

Soon to be married. How long that will last depends on whether she catches me at Akademy. So I need everyone's help here.

Do you have any pets?

Well, Saki says that I'm her pet dog.

Which book is on your bedside table?

Quantum Physics of Matter.

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

Meeting my girlfriend. She makes me eat better (Japanese food every night!) and so I can code for longer.


Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

Both. They have both matured over the years, and I think they are both very much needed.

How would you describe yourself?

Very very lucky. I live in a good time period, where Open Source is really starting to make a change. I believe history will see this as a turning point. I'm excited by the way Open Source is going, the way Wikipedia etc. is going, the way physics is going, and so on. I'm also in good health, and I have a great girlfriend. What more can I ask for?

What do you get passionate about?

Women. Computers, physics, maths, science in general. Space. Chemistry, biology, electronics. Religious discussions. Political discussions. Oh, and I like to discuss culture by using Star Trek references.

You're stuck on a train for 6 hours and are bored out of your skull. What do you do to amuse yourself?

Try to invent something. A hand-held Wikipedia reader. A home security camera that looks like a dragon. A pair of chopsticks hooked up to a high voltage power supply so that you can cook your food with electricity while you hold it. And a 100 other inventions that drives my girlfriend crazy. My room is littered with half-made and half-baked inventions.

What is your favourite place in the world?

I don't know. I've seen so little. I want to travel and see more of it :)

Final words

Finally I just want to say that I'm really looking forward to KDE 4.

People are always asking for sneak previews and want to try it out early. Previously they have been denied, but as a special treat, here's a teaser for the new KDE 4 start-up splashscreen.

KDE 4 Splash Screen