Troy Unrau

A Short Intro

  • Age: 23 - but I had to do the math before I was certain. I don't really mark my birthdays.
  • Located in: Winnipeg, MB
    (city of about 750,000 people, central Canada)
  • Occupation: Geophysics Student Extraordinaire
  • Nickname on IRC: troy
  • Claim to Fame:
    • Road to KDE 4 author is what I'm best known for... while egosurfing with Google, that is now just about the only results you'll get for my name.
    • I've spent a lot of time on IRC helping users, as time permits, or doing small "fixup" tasks in SVN.
    • I have a few projects in the works, such as a proposed PDF magazine for KDE users and power users. Danny Allen (the interviewer) also has his hands dirty with this one, so I guess we have gotten to know each other pretty well over the last 6 months.
  • Fav. KDE applications: "startkde" is my favourite application, since it lets me use all my other favourites :)
  • Hardware: AMD64. I'm a big AMD fan, but I cannot seem to logically justify that choice. Could be a mindshare thing :)
  • Homepage: Currently out of commission - I haven't reactivated my server since I moved, over a month ago. When it does come back online sometime over the next months, it'll once again live at unless I come across some money to buy a real domain :).

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I write user-oriented KDE press for The Dot, the most prominent example being the Road to KDE 4 series. I occassionally drop a few lines of code, but C++ is not my strong point. As time permits, I've contributed a few lines to KDE 4, such as moving some of the kdesktop code into krunner (screensaver controls) and a few other bits.

When did you first hear of KDE?

There were KDE 1.0 alpha RPM's on a CD for the first version of RedHat I tried... circa 1998 (not sure of the exact date). I had much difficulty getting KDE up and running at that time since I had a hardly supported Intel i740 video card and the only drivers were proprietary.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

Well, I've been in #kde for almost 10 years, helping users when I could. Additionally, I've been hanging around with the developers since 1.1.1 on mailing lists, IRC, and so forth. By the time KDE 1.1.1 was coming down the pipes, I was pretty active on IRC. When KDE 2.0 was released, the #kde channel hit 50 users, which at the time was a record. Lilo (rest in peace) sent a wallop to the entire openprojects network inviting everyone into the channel for the IRC release party. With a few brief breaks every now and again, I've pretty much been in the #kde channel for nearly 9 years.

So, I learnt quite a lot about KDE in my time, and if I'm paying attention to the window, I generally try to help out the KDE users that ask little questions :) After a while, I got a CVS account (sometime in the 2.0 development cycle) which sat mostly unused except for the odd tweak or fix here and there.

What was your most recent commit to KDE?

Something krunner related, I'm sure. That could be up to three months ago already. I guess if you count uploading KDE News article screenshots, then it's probably more recent.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

Nope, starving student :)

I have a research grant this Summer that should give me a little spare time to work on KDE. My grant isn't at all KDE related though. I am to be installing seismographs within the province of Manitoba in order to help construct a grid across North America that is used to peer into the deep Earth. Basically what happens is that when there is an Earthquake in parts of the world, the seismic waves pass through the centre of the planet, eventually arriving here. We analyze the waveforms themselves (sort of a reverse ray-tracing) in order to peer into the mantle and determine some of its composition and physical properties.

No matter what the movie 'The Core' told you, we cannot actually drill that deep, so this is the only way of getting information from the Earth. Incidentally, the stronger the Earthquake is, the more we learn but this often has the side effect of killing a lot of people. For example, the December 26th, 2004 quake that killed nearly 200,000 people in the Indian Ocean provided some of the strongest, clearest seismic signals we've ever recorded. Sort of a morbid silver lining but it's the only way. So when you see a Geologist getting excited about an huge Earthquake on the other side of the planet, just remember that it's not because people are dying - but rather that they are using that natural phenomenon to study the planet.

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

10 hours per week, plus or minus 20. Most of which is idling on IRC, getting the scoop on things I'm planning to write about :). I am often asking the developers questions so that I can form articles, or solve user problems. Having been around KDE for so long, I am acquainted with a lot of people, and if I don't know the answer, I can usually tell you who does.

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

Well, that's just it. I make it my job to find parts of KDE that need some press, and then just do something about it. The parts of KDE that need press are all over the place, however sometimes things are so buried that not even I know about them. In that case, I need some help, with people coming to me with things they would like featured :).

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

Well, the biggest problem I have is that OS configuration tools are still distribution-specific. This crossing of the functional layers will really be required for KDE and Free software to really succeed, IMHO. However, this level of co-operation is a very long, slow process.

A good example of crossing the barriers between the different functional levels would be moving KIO into a lower level, such that all low level tools could use URL's seemlessly. I understand that FUSE already lets you do something similar, but I'd much rather just do "cat" and so forth.

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

Press, acticles, a snippet of code here and there... I have intentions of creating a mineralogy application for KDE as an educational tool, but haven't really gotten it off the ground yet. That and writing for the proposed KDE Magazine will keep me pretty busy I think.

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

The community is great, but there is the altruistic motivation. I am a firm believer in the free flow of ideas and information, and the KDE community is ever-supportive of this sort of culture. Additionally, I am a big fan of the way KDE operates - the so called 'meritocracy' where good ideas are accepted based on their merit, not in some top down decision. We have no "self appointed benevolent dictator for life" like Mr. Shuttleworth to control the general procedures, and the fact that anything gets done at all is a true token of how well the KDE community gets along with each other as peers first and foremost.

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

Well, at the university I occasionally see it on laptops and the occasional professor's computer, which is a good sign - especially considering this is all outside of the Computer Science department. As far as the country goes, well the uptake is slow but steady, for personal use more than anything else. I can't speak for the corporate side of things, since I'm really much more associated with the academic world.

Which text editor do you use? Why?

Kate/KWrite in the GUI, nano when I'm using SSH or similar. Mostly because I don't particularly care for editors trying to do my work for me, but I do like the syntax highlighting in Kate, plus having the list of open files on the left side ready to rock is quite useful. I find it especially useful when I'm working with more modular code where I am constantly switching back and forth from various headers to understand the API in C++.

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Kubuntu, but I'm not especially attached to it. In particular, I prefer distributions that don't clutter or pollute KDE itself, and as such, I'm always open to ideas and suggestions (but not Gentoo, that community drives me nuts). I recently took the GoboLinux LiveCD for a test drive, and really liked it with a few reservations: no HAL installed by default. That said, the idea of segretating the packages from each other is great if you aren't a UNIX purist. I for one believe that a good idea is a good idea, even if it occasionally breaks a tradition or two. Also, their KDE installation is pretty much pure, directory structures notwithstanding.

Thankfully KDE has made a point of not hardcoding paths wherever possible, so this isn't really much of a stretch.

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

I'd have to say KParts and DCOP/D-Bus are killer libs, and apps that use them (Konqureror and so forth) are the killer apps. That said, I cannot begin to list the things I miss from KDE when I try to use Windows or Mac computers - okay, I guess I'll begin ;)

  • K3b
  • Krita
  • Amarok is really killer
  • Konqueror (especially fish:// I miss)
  • ...and KStars is great too
I particularly missed KStars recently, as I was in an argument with a couple of peers at the university about what planet was up in the sky at 10pm at night near the horizon. Had I had KStars installed on my laptop (didn't have kde-edu installed) I would have solved it right then and there - instead our argument turned into a three way bet with a couple of beers on the line. A PNG file exported from KStars when I got back home was worth 8 beers to me :). I guess I should give a cut of those beers to the KStars developers...

What does your desktop look like?

I hardly ever see my desktop, as I usually have maximized windows above it... but here is a screenshot.

You can see quite a few artifacts on the desktop from my writing efforts for The Dot. The image is a artists conceptualization of a station in orbit.

What makes you contribute to KDE instead of the competition?

When I started, there was no competition yet. By the time GNOME was really an alternative, I had become so happy with the KDE community that I have no reason to ever leave. These people are the nicest people in the whole Marble widget--errr, world.

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

Well, as long as I have some BBQ sauce, I'm sure any one of them would be tasty :P Honestly, I think I'd have to do with someone who works on the libraries - wizards that they are, they'd probably turn the island into a resort island in a few months and invite tourists down to be stranded with us. We'd license the island under the "Deserted Island Public Paradise License (DIPPL)" or some such. It'd be great.

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

I'd be a line of comment somewhere in the source. Not doing the actual work, but without which KDE would be more difficult to program for all of those involved.

What is your most brilliant KDE hack?

Brilliant? Umm, I purposefully killed kdesktop :) I had moved most of its functionality (except the actual desktop rendering) into krunner already, and in order to get krunner to start when one runs startkde, I had to remove kdesktop references. David Faure made me do it :) Basically, he said "well, once you get rid of it, people will be encouraged to fix krunner" (slightly paraphrased).

Will you be going to Akademy in Glasgow this year?

No, but fortunately my writing skills will not be too missed, as we have other representatives there. Since I'm on the other side of the pond, travel to Akademy is quite expensive. I've been hoping that perhaps there would be a North American event someday that would be easier to attend - it may be that I'd have to step up an organize such an event. I'm told that KDE e.V. might have partially funded my trip, but the reality is that I would have mostly been there in the role of a reporter, and since Danny, Jos Poortvliet and others are already going, it seems like it was partially redundant. I have never been to a KDE conference and would like to go someday.

Personal Questions

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

I'd be married, if I believed in that institution, but since I don't submit to the religious definition of marriage, it becomes to me simply a silly tradition. That said, I am taken since several years. Included in my picture up at the top of this page is my other, cuter half, Sonya. She's been a KDE user for a while, and is pretty much the perfect girlfriend for a geeky type like me.

Do you have any children or pets?

I have a cactus named Eleanor. She's in the window picture that I have further down. I'd like to move to the countryside where I can have some pets without having them stuck inside all the time. I'm a cat person, but I like large dogs of the larger friendly varieties (Collies, Golden Retreivers, and so forth).

Which book is on your bedside table?

After a quick examination of the bookshelf beside my bed, here are a few representative samples:

  • "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" - Robert A. Heinlein
  • An Encyclopedia of Ancient Mythologies
  • EOS (Earth Observation Sciences) Journal, Volume 88, Number 15 with a headline article entitled: "Emergence of Complex Societies After Sea Level Stabilized"

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

  • L'Etranger by Albert Camus
  • The principles of uniformitarianism as established by James Hutton.
  • Sir Isaac Newton for pretty much having his name attached to every other scientific and mathematical method even several centuries after his death.
    (Heat Flow, Entropy, Caluclus, Telescopes, Square Roots, Equation of Time)... his name will pretty much never die.
  • Star Trek. Seriously.

Is your best friend from the physical or online world?

Physical; Sonya as I mentioned above. Several years back when I was addicted to Evercrack, I was playing so many hours a day that when I dreamt, it was no longer of people but of avatars! It was pretty bad, and that was the thing that finally made me quit.

What is the best birthday present you could receive?

My birthday coincides with an annual meteor shower, so clear skies are nice :) That said, I don't usually mark my birthdays, and don't really care about my age.

Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

Linus: rather than talk about idealism, he just goes out and acts in a reasonable fashion. Although, having met neither of them (yet), I will reserve final judgement.

How would you describe yourself?

  • Scientist: question everything, assume nothing. Believe only that which you have strong evidence for, but be prepared to adjust should the evidence be to the contrary.
  • Futurist: dreaming of the future of humanity, the developments of higher technologies, robotics, space exploration, and more.
  • Nerd: I like my Nintendo, but I rarely play it. Sci Fi is nice, and lord of the rings is the best book ever written.
  • Jock: I play hockey and softball, cycle, hike, canoe, and more. I especially like hockey.

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

Build a self-sustaining, deeply buried bunker that is self sustaining (like Biosphere2, only successful, and deep underground) such that some small part of humanity could survive a global catastrophy. Plus these technologies could be then used on the Moon and so forth. Of course, I'd need to make myself rich first, which may be quite possible with Geophysics. :)

What do you see from your window?

The river is the Assiniboine river, which ends about 400m to the left after having flowed for over 1000km to get to this point :)

It's Spring so it's finally green, and no snow. This picture would be a lot bleaker in the Canadian winter when it gets down to -40oC ouside. The city I live in is quite nice, although the people that live here have somewhat of an inferiority complex caused mostly by Calgary. I personally blame Aaron. :P

What do you get passionate about?

Logic, Freedom and planetary sciences. If there is any way I can be involved in the efforts to permanently move humanity off the planet, I'll try to do it.

What does "success" mean to you?

Having done something to have your name recorded in history, preferably in a good context. There were ancient Egyptians that believed so long as someone knew your name, you were immortal. See my comment about Newton above.

What do you do in your spare time?

If I had more spare time, I might have time to use the telescope, go for a walk along the river. Usually I spend my spare time learning things that are of interest to me by means of reading journals and so forth. Being pretty much a starving student, my knowledge is my most valuable asset, and so I do my best to look after that asset.

What is your favourite place in the world?

I only need to go 200km from this city to reach wilderness that is in many cases truly unexplored.

This sort of landscape is fairly typical of the uninhabited parts of central Canada. Quite nice. :) Studying Geology often brings me to parts of Canada that aren't the most populated... what am I saying - there are parts of Canada where there is not a single person for a 200km radius. I like those parts.