September 19, 2000

Jack Moffitt: Everything but a private eye

Author: JT Smith

By: Julie Bresnick
NewsForge Columnist
Open Source people

He says Jack Moffit's not a cool name, though I keep wanting to put it in
front of "private eye," and his family liked it so much they've used it three
generations in a row. He's says it's not cool because in grade school and
high school a popular nickname was "meoff." But the fact that his
friends make fun of him for being a vice president of technology at iCast tells me that teasing Jack is more
about him than his name. He's just a good sport. In one email he uses
close to 20 smiley faces. And it's not just the drugs, this kid is
genuinely blessed.The first computer he bought with his own money was a 386XS20. He made
the money buying and selling cattle. He took the $200 he had one way or
another amassed since birth and turned it into $1,700. One of the cows he
bought turned out to be pregnant and his profit increased significantly. He
paid his father grazing fees and spent the remaining $1,300 on the 386. He
was 12.

He finished high school in three years while it takes most kids four, and
later went on to be a president's scholar at Southern Methodist University.
All this even though he hated school. He took piano lessons, got sick of
playing other people's classical music over and over again, so he started
composing his own stuff that he felt was more expressive, reflective of him.
Indeed, iCast got more than the leadership at
icecast when CMGIacquiredGreen Witch last January, they got a
lucky charm.

It was Jack and his friend Barath Raghavan who started writing icecast,
an Open Source audio streaming server, back in December of 1998.

Jack started using Unix just before college, and once he had the adequate
time and bandwidth matriculation provided, he got up to speed on Linux
and FreeBSD. He liked it but he was no stranger to giving away code so it
wasn't until he met Apache that he was introduced to the power of
collaboration.

"Apache always worked. It was regularly updated. It did cool stuff
other software didn't do, and it did it well. I started noticing that kind
of software worked a lot better than most commercial systems, and it was
easier to obtain and play with."

After a few years engaging in the process from his post in the webmasters
department at SMU, he met Barath, who was then at linuxpower.org and they decided to
implement the ultimate test.

"We kind of decided on a whim that we would try out this Open Source
thing and see if it was all it was cracked up to be. And voila! Instant
response. That changed my life for sure. Far more interest and help
happened than we had ever dreamed. I actually got free gifts in the mail
from happy users!" He didn't receive any gold, but close enough.

"I can definitely say Open Source improved my quality of life
significantly. I dropped out of school, moved half way across the country
and I make far more money than I ever did at the webmasters office for sure.
And the fact that I get to do most of my hobbies at work isn't bad either."

All work is play and Jack is a happy boy.

His first computer was an Apple IIe and at six or seven his first
inclination was to make it print "Jack" over and over again until he decided
to tell it to stop. His second was to write a program that made it count to
one million. No doubt his parents are relieved today that their first born
was not as adept at audio then as he is now.

"I think I have always programmed computers. I don't think I was ever
just a user. We didn't have that computer for very long and then I was
without computing power until about fourth grade when we got an XT. Loved
the 4MHz turbo mode and 20MB hard drive space ...

"The way I learned computers was basically to screw around running every
program until I seriously broke something. Then I would learn how to fix it
before my dad came home and found out."

His engagement didn't stop at programming. Jack found computers a great
way to communicate. He makes several references to people he's met
professionally as "friends" and with the exception of his fiancee, Kim, who
he claims seduced him with Java applets, every significant person in his
life he met online first.

I can understand how. His correspondences are energetic and his words
are playful. But the truth is he is only outgoing figuratively. In fact,
save to skate, he hates going outside, doesn't like the sun. He's currently
searching for something darker than the curtains he's now got covering his
south side windows.

Legos, computer games, programming, music; indoor passions indeed, but
they also all speak perfectly to his current task which is building,
continuing to build, and eventually making icecast, Ogg Vorbis, Tarkin (a video codec now at
the beginning stage), and whatever other multimedia tools he and his team at
iCast think up, interoperate on a common open framework.

"Think about networking before the Internet. BBSes trying to work
together, Novell trying to get people hooked up. Microsoft had its own
standards, and businesses were using things from IBM and others. None of it
really worked together well. Now think about today. Everything works
pretty damn well together. Email is ubiquitous. Posting a web page is a
global endeavor. Released source code can sometimes be a *big* deal.

"Now look at the current multimedia landscape. There's almost NO
interoperability. You have lots of competing closed standards, and worse
yet, you have committees defining 'official open standards' that really use
proprietary and patented algorithms. I think multimedia will mature faster
and a lot farther if things are more open, and people can build tools that
work together. After all, the user doesn't care what codec the audio is in
for the most part. They want to click a button and play it."

If he could vary the size of a digital smile, this idea would be followed
by an extra large one.

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