November 21, 2000

GIMP's Lillqvist quiet about accomplishments

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people

Don't think just because Tor
Lillqvist
developed the Windows port
for
GIMP that he prefers Windows. On the
contrary, he's of that staunch and self-stated breed simply known as
Unix
guys.
In fact, as senior systems specialist for the Research and
Development Department of the Espoo branch of Tellabs,
he
administers Unix systems. And if administering Unix systems for a
global
telecommunications company doesn't confirm his legitimacy as a Unix
guy,
then consider that he learned the program in its beginning, in Version
6
from Bell Labs when "the users dmr and ken [were] still in the password
file."

Consequentially, it is Linux he prefers. But when he found that his
Minolta Dimage Scan Dual slide scanner was not supported by the public
domain API, SANE, he had to
use
it on Windows and thus, in order to use the Open Source image
manipulation
software, GIMP, he had to use that on Windows, too.

Not surprisingly, GIMP had not been ported to Windows. Having come
of
computing age in a time "long before the term 'Open Source' was
invented,"
when sending "patches and enhancements to authors of stuff distributed
on
USENET" was par for the course in programming, when computing was more
science than business, he proceeded in the most practical manner he
knew
how. He started the project himself.

He anticipates a common programmer's response at the page he posts
the
port on, "I did look into reverse engineering the protocol to be able
to use
the scanner under Linux, but that seemed very hard." Or harder, at
least,
than porting it to Windows which he approached thinking, "what the
heck,
let's try it, it might be an interesting intellectual challenge.

"Maybe I'm a bit perverted," he goes on to concede merrily, "but I
actually have enjoyed the porting, even if I do much prefer Unix to
Windows."

Maybe he's not perverted (in fact maybe he's going bravely into the
belly
of the beast) but, being the true-blue programmer that he is he has
previously been known to exercise his masochistic side, popping
caffeine
pills (he doesn't like coffee) in order to continue programming into
and
through the night.

Now that he's older -- he's 41 -- he exhibits his affection for the craft in other
ways
than 24-hour devotion.

"My earlier job was programming oriented, but I kinda got bored of
coding
with deadlines, and the 'the customer is always right' and 'as long as
it
looks good to the user/customer, who cares what the source looks like'
mentality.

"I also didn't like C++ and formal OO methods etc. Or, I didn't like
them
when I knew the actual code written to the specs was still ugly. Thus I
deliberatedly decided to switch to a purely sysadmining job, and do
programming in my spare time in the Open Source context, where you can
choose whom you work with, and the quality of the source code is much
better
IMHO. (Quality as in elegance, style and hack value.)"

He also chooses a less consumptive path so that he can spend more
time
with his 10-year-old son, Niklas, playing
table hockey, flying
kites, taking him to play soccer or floorball. (I know Niklas is not
10 in
that picture but who can resist a little gratuitous baby in the basin
shot?)

You probably know a lot of this if you've ever been to his Web site
where
he posts personal pages along with those concerning the port. Lillqvist is instead succinct in a
forum
which the masses have come to view as a place to let their mind run
amok, a
forum for the ceaseless profusion of their personal thoughts, where it
is
not uncommon for individuals to literally broadcast their every
movement.

His "opinions" are covered on a separate page and offered in a grid
display. He assigns each subject into one of three columns titled
"yes,"
"no," and "maybe." The "maybes" are open to debate. Star Trek? No.
Public transportation? Yes. Beer not vodka. He likes Madonna, Scelsi,
and
emacs, isn't into vi, disses Elvis and is still considering his
position on
Richard Stallman. He's also not sure of his stance on drugs, but
considering
that after working, spending time with his family and developing the
GIMP
port, he uses any leftover time to catch up on sleep, it doesn't sound
like
he's going to be doing the kind of experimentation a verdict might
require.

Under the "personal info" title he gets the reader up-to-date on the
life
of Tor Lillqvist in an efficient 653 words. After reading it, one knows
where and when he was born (Vaasa, 1959), the highlights of his
computing
career, that he was a loner until he went away to college and
discovered
Goth which gained him passage into the world of women, which included
his
wife Taina who died of cancer five years after their son Niklas was
born in
1990.

On a connected page he pays tribute to Taina. Tor tells us how
she
incurred a major tailbone injury while cross-country skiing, enjoyed a
brief
reprieve from the back pain after pregnancy only to slip on the ice
while
playing with Niklas a few years later. In 1994 she was diagnosed,
perhaps
related perhaps not, with a rare type of cancer called adrenocortical.
It is
a "rare tumor afflicting only one to two persons per one million
population.
It usually occurs in adults, and the median age at diagnosis is 44
years."
Taina was 33 when she died.

More than put a face on the deceptively comforting statistic
concerning
the occurrence of adrenocortical cancer, it is as if Tor's effort on
the Web
is an act in self-definition, a way of putting it all into perspective.
The
only emotional response he allows for at the site is that the relief
from
pain death provided for Taina offers him only limited solace and that
it was
difficult, at the time of the writing at least, to simply be at home
where
they shared the most memories. The rest is definitive, matter-of-fact.

Tor was confronted with death once before. In Finland men are
required to
do military service. Tor opted to apply for alternative service.

"I was working as a programmer for the City of Oulu Health Department,
writing
some patient billing software in an obscure programming language called
FAS.
We (the guys doing their alternative service at the Health Department) lived
close
to the city hospital, during weekends we sometimes were asked to help
in the
transporting the body of a diseased patient to the morgue. We got some
extra
'pocket money' for this.)"

Privy to such markedly mature experiences, fluent in three languages
(Swedish, Finnish, English), able to read headlines in at least three
others
(German, French, Dutch), open, comfortable and clear in his beliefs and
priorities,
Tor is evidently worldly in every way.

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