Hammy Havoc

CEO of Split An Atom

[February '22]

Hammy uses FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from February 7th to 14th. Thank you, Hammy!

Please tell us about yourself

I’m Hammy Havoc, born as Louis Stuart Routledge. I’m the CEO of Split An Atom, an “integrated marketing agency” cum creative studio, and CEO of Previous Magazine, a digital technology and lifestyle publication. That’s probably by far the least interesting stuff for most people. The interesting stuff is that I do audio production and post-production for motion picture, I compose for video games like All Walls Must Fall (on Steam and Nintendo Switch) as The Orion Correlation, and I dev.

What are you working on right now?

Following the theatrical release of our latest documentary in Guyana, Eco Travellers (2021), I’m currently awaiting the files for a Guyanese TV pilot we’re doing post on, and working on an original score for a video game called Manta. In Linux. Now do I have your attention?

How did you first discover FOSS?

If I recall correctly, my first distro was Slackware in the nineties when I was around five years old. Whilst I didn’t stick with it long-term, it opened the door, and thus my mind, to the possibilities outside of generalist operating systems like Windows and macOS. Not just operating systems though, it showed me how users could cherry-pick what they wanted and needed to use on any OS or hardware of their choice.

What prompted you to start using FOSS?

The lack of tools/functionality available from major software vendors. Specifically, I got tired of being told that a feature I needed was “too niche” to implement when most people won’t use it. One size doesn’t fit all, hence different forks of projects existing.

The nice thing about FOSS is that you usually don’t need to buy any specialist hardware, and frequently you’re not even forced to switch to another operating system for the overwhelming majority of projects. “Come as you are.” Nothing to lose by giving it a try.

How do you use FOSS?

I use it as much as I possibly can. I’m answering these questions via my Nextcloud Docker container. I use so much open source that it is overwhelming to list it off. I’ll mention the first that spring to mind, but this list is by no means comprehensive.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Fedora Workstation as my daily driver OS on both my desktop PC and ThinkPad.

I’ve replaced all of my messaging apps with Element, which is a Matrix protocol client. My Synapse server bridges all of my other messaging apps to a single user interface, meaning I can interact via Facebook Messenger, for example, without needing to run Facebook Messenger itself on any of my devices. As a result, my battery life is much better. Whilst I don’t use Facebook directly, and wish I didn’t need to use it at all, there are some people who are simply never going to leave it, and that’s the only way to communicate with them.

Some software doesn’t need to be FOSS, but in an ideal world, it would be. What counts is that FOSS provides the foundation and backbone of my workflow. The important aspects of it are FOSS. PipeWire allowed me to finally make Linux my daily driver for audio work, the stability and latency are excellent. In full disclosure, neither DAW I currently use on Linux is FOSS, but I’ve reached out to the Ardour folks and offered to help get Ardour to where it needs to be for game audio and motion picture post, which admittedly doesn’t mean as many changes as you might expect. Ardour already has a very modern workflow, and IMO, the UX surpasses that of the major DAWs in several key aspects, especially when working with video files within the DAW itself.

On the topic of audio, the Nunomo QUN synthesizer and Zynthian are a big part of my synth workflow.

Graphics-wise, I’m getting a lot of joy out of the latest Krita, Inkscape, and of course GIMP. They have all come a long way from where they were a few years ago.

Our public-facing websites all use WordPress as a CMS, which I’ve contributed to for many years, and written several open source plugins for, including Cookie Dunker.

If a tool doesn’t exist, I build it myself, and end up releasing it, or contribute to an existing project to improve it to fulfil my requirements. Sometimes the pull requests get accepted, other times they don’t, and that’s absolutely fine, because for anybody who needs it, it’s right there, for free.

Why should others use FOSS?

We’re approaching a fork in the road of technology now that smartphones have taken over in the consumer space. Down one path, we’ve got closed ecosystems and platform lock-in, and down the other we’ve got a lot of user freedom. Proprietary SoCs and cell phones are taking us further and further down the path that isn’t going to be good for options in the future due to concepts like locked bootloaders. Want to turn back and venture down the other instead? It isn’t too late to make a change that generations to come will thank you for.

The FOSS community is amazing. Whilst the likes of Reddit is a karma-obsessed negativity-hole as it is for every subject or niche interest ever conceived of, the likes of Matrix, IRC, Twitter, dedicated forums, mailing lists, and software repositories are fantastic examples of how beautiful communities develop naturally. The passion and talent on display every day is staggering and humbling.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

A handful of fragile egos within the community, and some of the older demographics still fearing open source as taking away revenue from biz.

I have respect for Richard Stallman, and his contributions to the world. However, figures like Richard can be quite polarizing for many reasons, including how they politicize software, stoking a fire in the community, for better or worse—and whilst I agree with a lot of what gets said software-wise, there’s a time and place for it. Humans tend to project their values onto their tools, even if they didn’t create those tools. As a community, we need to understand that whilst we might not all share the same values, the goal of creating great software is what we all share, and we need to put political differences aside, remain neutral, and respectful of each other.

In terms of disagreements between prominent groups, the fork button exists on repositories for a reason, and life is too short to squabble over nonsense. Celebrate and embrace your differences, and allow them to build bridges between different groups. There’s always an overlap in goals.

We need to try and leave the world a little better off than it was when we entered it. People and planet before profit.

How can they be solved?

Fresh perspectives. Interviews like these. Pushing to replace closed source whenever it makes sense.

Whilst I don’t expect people heavily entrenched in closed source software who have spent 20–30 years using the likes of Pro Tools to ever jump ship to something else, the people coming up today who have minimal to no investment, muscle memory, etc., should not be afraid to think outside of the box and think about what kind of future they want themselves and the next generations to live in. We should have the tools that we want, no matter how niche our needs may be. Some of the most influential and important careers are the most underserved when it comes to software and hardware.

We need to stop treating Linux distros and operating systems as a whole like football teams. What’s good for one, is ultimately good for all of them. The point of a football team is to succeed, the point of a piece of software is to fulfil a function for a user; there is no winning and no prize in FOSS as a base concept. What suits one person won’t necessarily suit the next, and that’s the beauty of comparing workflows with others, and figuring out if something they’re doing might work better for you, or maybe you can improve a tool they use every day but they lack the skills to make the change themselves, and vice versa.

I’m extremely happy when people love something that I don’t, because that instantly justifies why there are so many options. Even if I’m not keen on something for my own needs or preferences, I can frequently see the genius of it, and how the developers arrived at those conclusions. The enthusiasm that developers and users have for their respective projects and tools of choice is contagious.

Monetization is a loaded topic, but life is a journey; you need fuel, thus money is an inevitability under our current systems. There are a lot of corporations using the work of single developers and very small teams on zero-to-shoestring budgets. Financial support from those making many millions or even billions might be nice, but it needs to come with no strings attached.

If a philosophy like ethical veganism can be so widespread that countless people around the world believe and follow it, I am a firm believer that the same can happen for technology and media. People need to care about where their software, hardware, and media comes from, who made it, their working conditions, how they are treated, the consequences and impact of it, and what the future roadmap looks like. I’ve yet to coin a catchy term for this, but I’m working on it.

What concerns you right now?

Without delving too much into politics and keeping this interview as light as possible in tone, the last major interview that I did regarding what concerns me was with Recount Magazine.

Whilst some things have changed societally since then, and for me personally, overall, I’d still say that my views are largely the same. The biggest change is that I no longer endorse cryptocurrencies in their current form. I don’t use them. I don’t accept them. I don’t recommend them. I am completely disenchanted with them in execution. “Not fit for purpose” is how I would describe them. They’re also not being used as a currency, they’re being used to speculate, and they’re also too volatile to be treated like a currency, and that’s without getting into societal and environmental impact, or getting into NFTs.

I’m also more concerned than ever before about the attack on encryption within the UK. I’ll also say that Brexit does not reflect the views of the people, myself included. We love you, Europe.

What does a perfect day off look like?

Retro or indie video games with the missus and our family (open source and FPGAs galore), followed by a walk on the beach or promenade, gardening, and metalworking in our new workshop. I think it’s important to stay as physically active as you’re able if your career and downtime revolve around sitting for long periods of time.

I particularly enjoy being outside in the rain as it usually forces you to disconnect from technology for a while. Unplugging now and then can be a good thing, especially if it means that you get to talk to others about issues they are facing in their daily lives, because you might be able to help, or introduce them to someone else who can, or maybe even point to a turn-key solution that’ll suit them perfectly. Whilst a lot of important conversations take place online, equally important ones still happen offline.

What else are you interested in?

Something not a lot of people might know about me is that I’m extremely interested in cultural preservation, and experiencing that culture as authentically as possible. Whether that’s work done by digital archivists, or projects like MiSTer involving FPGAs in place of aging computer hardware to give something that emulators simply can’t, I believe it’s important to keep all this culture available to future generations. Book restoration is something that I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos on lately. We need to make sure that this information and art is not lost.

I recently bought a Sony CRT PVM for watching old media and playing games on as digital displays can’t handle dithering without using some kind of post-processor, which never looks quite right. Throw composite blending and scanlines into the mix, and you start to realize that analogue media should probably be played on an analogue line-based display instead of a digital pixel-based one. Open source rewrites of game engines are important to keep things playable on modern machines too.

I’ve also recently acquired a 1920s portable Decca gramophone that plays 78 rpm records. My dad has always talked about my great grandmother, and of course I never met her, but understanding the culture she listened to at the time gave me a connection that I never would have otherwise had, and gave me an understanding of what her life was like at the time. Priceless. Makes me feel like we would have gotten along and had a lot in common, despite a hundred years of time between us.

Please don’t misunderstand this as a hobby though. This is also not me admitting that I’m a luddite or deeply nostalgic for times past. I genuinely feel that there is value here because it tells the story of the cultural zeitgeist at that point in time. We can’t understand who we are as humans and where we’re heading culturally and societally without being able to access and understand our past.

Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?

Are you frustrated with the software you use? How about the hardware? Are you tired of your voice not being heard and want to take things into your own hands? You don’t need to jump into Linux or swap all your software to FOSS. Any small change that improves your life and that of others is positive in and of itself.

RISC-V has me extremely excited. Watch that space with intense interest. I’m hoping to see to much more open hardware becoming available.

Blender is the best thing since sliced bread. Doesn’t matter what OS you use—it is incredible, and so is the work being done with it. In the same breath, Watchtower for Blender is really going to help further the adoption of Blender for animations.

Godot, a game engine, is also extremely impressive. Whilst it isn’t trading punches with Unreal Engine just yet, I don’t think it needs to for the overwhelming majority of games that aren’t coming out of AAA studios with massive budgets.

In terms of the future of Linux, I’m working with several major software houses that are household names in the audio world. Whilst this software won’t all be FOSS, it’ll of course be compatible with existing FOSS, e.g. a DAW on Linux, and the interest from corporations is very telling about things to come within the realms of desktop Linux. There are contributions to major FOSS projects happening as a result of it too.

Whilst the Steam Deck may not be the be-all and end-all of portable gaming, it has already changed things in the consumer space, leading to anti-cheat support from major devs finally available on Linux, and of course Proton leaping forward with compatibility for major titles. I expect to see many more consumers looking into Linux as a result of it, and thus heavier awareness and adoption of FOSS as a whole.

Proper Linux on phones that aren’t Android is something I’m very much looking forward to seeing gain more traction. There are a lot of very talented people working on overall UX and power management currently. PINE64 is making some great devices for devs, which is really helping the pace of development. On that note, PineTime is looking good, especially for the price.

If you’re unsure about whether making the switch to Linux is right for you, or if you’re unsure about what distro to start out on, don’t be afraid to ask the community, let them know your needs, and I’m certain you will get many brilliant recommendations.