Rik Hemsley

A Short Intro

  • Located in: A dark corner of the UK
  • Occupation: Unemployed programmer
  • Nickname on IRC: rikkus
  • Claim to Fame: People seem to know me as the Empath man, but it's not even released yet
  • Fav. KDE applications: Kicker, Konqueror, KMail, Noatun, KSysGuard
  • Hardware: x86 in tasteful beige

The Interview

What is your role within KDE?

Day-to-day I look hard at KDE in general and try to find ways we can improve it. I usually investigate problems first, talking to those who are responsible or have good knowledge of a subject area. I then try to work with people to find solutions. This yields better results than simply filing bug reports.

Developers are always more open to help solve problems if you do some of the leg-work yourself. Sometimes I have been able to provide fixes myself, but I'm happy to at least help people uncover the reasons behind problems.

Accessibility is one of my main interests. I believe accessibility goes beyond high contrast color schemes and large icons. For example, The user should receive feedback for everything they do. The system should feel like a piece of hardware and respond as quickly. This doesn't mean that every operation should give instantaneous results, rather that you should not be left sitting wondering what is happening.

Behind the scenes, I've been working for over a year on a groupware infrastructure. The idea is to modularise, and provide flexible interfaces to, the facilities provided by our 'PIM' (Personal Information Management) software, i.e. KMail, KOrganiser, KPilot, etc. Development was paused for a while before KDE 2 was released, to allow concentrating on polishing KDE 2.

The groupware framework is now quite mature, though now that it's almost possible to use threads within KDE some code needs work before it's again ready to demonstrate. Expect to see an application similar to Outlook appear sometime soon, but don't expect that kind of interface to be the standard. I think the KDE way of using separate tools that work together is better than integrated apps. Yes, Konqueror embeds viewers for mime types, but that's different to embedding a word processor for editing.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

I was working as a UNIX sysadmin at the time and feeling overworked, undervalued, bored, and ill. I wanted to help with Linux, which looked like the future of operating systems (and still does.)

At the time there were various projects involved in writing new GUI applications for Linux, but the combination of a window manage and a bunch of applications just didn't work very well. Without consistency, interoperability and a shared framework providing a solid foundation for application building, the picture was pretty grim.

Personally, I was happy with vim, mutt and a decent shell, but I felt quite sorry for anyone coming to Linux and being unable to use it due to the spartan, programmer-oriented environment.

After discovering KDE and seeing how easy to use, powerful, consistent and generally professional feeling the Qt toolkit is, I quit my job and started working full time on teaching myself to write C++. I understood the basic concepts behind programming, and learned most of what I needed to know to get started from the C++ FAQs book - and reading the current KDE source.

Getting involved in KDE is a refreshing experience. The team are very friendly and keen to help those who show they are serious about getting involved. Being new to programming, I was having difficulty with things like the now-obsolete OpenParts, but whenever I asked for clarification on a point, I always got great feedback. It's also great to see decisions being made for practical reasons.

For example, OpenParts was replaced by kparts, which meant we lost the buzzword CORBA, but the technical reasons behind the switch are sound and have paid off in ease of development and efficiency, without us losing any important functionality.

I think this general willingness to help out up-and-coming developers is one of the major strong points of the project. There's a real spirit of teamwork.

How much time do you spend on KDE?

A few hours most days. Probably between 20-40 hours a week. Recently most of this time has been spent on finding problems with KDE 2 and fixing them. The rest of the time I'm working on the groupware stuff.

What is your favorite tool? (for developers; what is your favorite editor?)

Vim, of course. What else is there?

Is there a process you follow when you code?

I draft designs in my head, then in code. Sometimes in parallel. I know academics say this is wrong and I should get out a pen and paper, but I don't trust academics. Qt allows me to prototype very quickly. Once I can see how the design is panning out, I usually scrap everything and write from scratch. Programming is like cooking. If you add too much pepper, you can't really cover it up. Best to just start again and remember your mistake next time.

Sketching out a design in code, using stubs and scaffolding to see how the less important parts will fit in the the whole, gives you a good idea of what the finished system should be like.

I don't like code being used until I consider it perfect, so many times I will simply scrap an idea because I haven't found an elegant solution yet. A few weeks later I might have come up with some new ideas about design and find that they solve the problem I put away.

What was your first computer?

A Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I still miss those rubber keys. Most programmers I know seem to have started out hacking their programmable calculators and writing assembler. I just played Jet Set Willy II.

Which program would you say every KDE user should have?

KOrganizer. I say that because I have it and don't use it properly. I should, because I'm as forgetful as a goldfish. Being organized is a virtue. Probably.

Where do you see yourself and KDE 5 years from now?

Myself, probably 5 years older and no wiser. KDE, probably the standard desktop on all UNIX platforms and always mentioned in the same breath as Linux. I don't think it'll be the standard on the corporate desktop by then, but I'm sure it will take a significant chunk. The success of KDE really depends on the success of Linux, and vice versa of course, though don't tell any kernel developers I said that.

Are you being paid to work for KDE and if yes by who?

Unfortunately not.
I have done a bit of contract work using Qt, working from home. It's the ideal way for a programmer to work, or it would be if I could find another contract involving Qt...

I'm looking for a 'real' job now. [*editors note; Hint hint, employers, need we say more?]

Personal Questions

Where and when were you born?

Sunderland, UK, 1976. A small town, not exactly a visitor attraction.

Which University/School did you go to?

University Of Nottingham, UK. The Uni is great, but the Comp Sci course I did was pathetic. I had expected to learn about the two most useful topics, i.e. system administration and C++/Java/VB programming. What I got was electronics and LISP.

What's your status, are you single and up for adoption?

Yes, and yes. [*editors note; Hint hint, need we say more? To send fan-email; look for the address below]

If maried/girlfiend/partner(m/f), how does he/she cope living with a KDE addict?

I don't spend my whole life programming, so KDE is more like a normal job with flexible hours (and terrible pay.) I don't usually talk about programming or KDE in real life. It's not _that_ interesting. Oh, sorry, I'm not married or attached. ;-)

Do you have children?

No. I wouldn't have some of my own anyway, I'd adopt. There are too many kids who lead horrible lives because they were abandoned or taken away from their parents. I'd rather help out those who need it than indulge the desire to create in one's own image.

Do you have pets?

No. I don't mind them, I just wouldn't make a point of getting one. Are there any animals which can make coffee and play the drums?

What is your favorite food?

Ice cream. Preferably chocolate, mint, coffee, pistachio or vanilla flavour. Or all of them at once. Lots of it, anyway.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

Probably home, but if home is somewhere hot with a pool, so much the better.

What do you (and your s.o) like to do in your sparetime?

Play my acoustic guitar, sing (badly), and talk to my friends.

What was the last movie you have seen?

Fight Club. Good stuff.

What was the last fiction book that your have read?

William Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night. Good stuff. Don't read it all in one stretch though, unless you're confident in your ability to get back to reality.

What songs do you sing in the shower?

Soundgarden and Radiohead. Stevie Wonder in the bath.

You are having a BBQ in your backyard and you're allowed to invite 3 famous people who would you invite and why?

William Burroughs, to freak everyone out.
Jimi Hendrix, because he makes me happy.
Will Self, because he has my sense of humour.

Is your best friend (no family) a real person or an on-line one?

Real. I don't know which of my friends is the best, though.

Did you ever met a fellow KDE'r in person, when and where?

I met quite a few of them in Trysil, Norway, during a bug-fixing session before KDE 2.0. They eat cold meat for breakfast and make jokes about gzip. Very odd. You'd better avoid them.

Name your favorite quote/saying.

"Yes, of course we have mint choc coffee pistachio vanilla flavour."