Anthropology PhD, photographer and developer of Rapid Photo Downloader
Damon makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from January 27th to February 3rd. Thank you, Damon!
Please tell us about yourself
I am a male in my late 40s from Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand). However, I currently live in the United States. My wife is Iranian. The head of our household is our feisty little cat Leia, who is from Tajikistan. Last year I completed a PhD in cultural anthropology. My research was on what war does to a war survivor’s sense of time. I also have an MA in International Peace Studies. I have worked for civil society organizations in South and South East Asia, the Middle East, and my home country. I like to take photos. I like coding too!
What are you working on right now?
I am currently developing a website for a center at a University that works on peace and overseas development. A small project like this is a good chance for me to be able to catch my breath after a massive effort on my doctoral dissertation.
When I have time, I maintain my FOSS project Rapid Photo Downloader, which I started in 2007.
What is most interesting about that?
The web development job draws on my background in social science and computers, which is pretty cool. As an added bonus it gives me a chance to see how much has changed in the 15 years since I last seriously engaged the web. A lot has changed. I think the emergence of static website generators is a fine development.
The most interesting aspect of Rapid Photo Downloader is trying to understand what is in the minds of its users when they run it. Sometimes I am greatly surprised when I learn what users actually think, as I opposed to what I assumed they would think!
How did you first discover FOSS?
I was going to say Python circa 1997, but in reality it was probably GNU Bison and GCC in 1993 when doing assignments for a computer science class on compiler design and construction.
What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?
My initial motivations have not changed since I got into it in 2007. First, I see it as an act of service. Second, I see it as part of a contribution to a bigger movement, the free software movement. Being a part of this movement is one way of giving back a little of what I have received from others. I would not have been able to create this program were it not for the hard work of many others — including those who wrote the software libraries without which my own program could not be developed or run. Plus, I was fortunate to receive an excellent education in computer science — two years at Victoria University of Wellington, and one semester at the University of California at Berkeley. Many hardworking, extremely talented people are denied a good quality education through no fault of their own. I do it for them too. Finally, I do it because I like programming.
Why should others get involved with FOSS?
If you want to be part of something bigger and grander than yourself, then I say go for it. You will probably eventually end up working on something fantastically small and refined, which can be deeply rewarding.
How should they get started?
People are different. Learn from people you admire the most — learn from what they do right, and from their mistakes too.
What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?
Like any large human endeavor the FOSS movement is riddled with small problems that could be solved, and grand challenges that are so big and unwieldy they might never be solved. Probably the most important challenge right now is that society does not directly reward the maintenance and development of FOSS. Instead it is primarily left to corporations and volunteers, which strikes me (and plenty of others too!) as shortsighted.
How can they be solved?
Countries could develop equivalents of the U.S. National Science Foundation the world over that are directed to nurture free software. These foundations could collaborate on confronting challenges faced globally, as well as those specific to unique locales.
Where do you see difficulties in contributing?
For me personally, there are several recurring barriers that truly slow down program development and maintenance. Poor or nonexistent documentation is probably the worst. The lack of standardization among Linux distributions is another big one. Anyone who has developed a serious proprietary or FOSS program for Linux is intimately familiar with this problem! Standards are essential. Mentalities within Linux distributions must change. Mentalities among some developers must change too.
What does a perfect day off look like?
Spending time with my wife and our cat.
Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?
A big thank you to all the users of Rapid Photo Downloader who have contributed to the project through donations or their insights on how the program could be improved. I truly appreciate it! And another big thank you to those who take the time to translate it into their own languages. And finally, another big thank you to all those who do so much to advance FOSS in whatever capacities they can.