People of openSUSE: Jim Henderson

Jim Henderson

I noticed Jim by his thoughtful replies on openSUSE mail lists and forums. He has ability to listen, understand and answer in the way that correspondent can not only find correct, but also understand, which is seldom found talent.

Please introduce yourself!

I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US. I’ll be 39 years old this September, and currently reside in Salt Lake City, Utah, with my wife Amy Parker and our son Ken McClure. Yes, our family name sounds somewhat like the name of a law firm (Henderson, Parker & McClure) – this is part of the reason for our family motto. We have three cats and look after a feral cat colony (we participate in a Trap and Release program).

I’m currently the testing program manager at Novell, with responsibility for the business side of certification exams – in particular, our practicum exams. I worked in IT for about 15 years before coming to Novell, where I have worked in training and support, doing things ranging from teaching advanced eDirectory courses to managing programs and providing back-end support to the SysOps on the Novell Support Forums. I used to be a Novell Support Forums SysOp myself as well, specializing in NetWare and NDS/eDirectory.

I’ve also co-authored a couple of books (with Peter Kuo) on troubleshooting Novell’s directory service products (NDS at first and now eDirectory).

Tell us about the background to your computer use.

It all started with a Commodore PET when I was in elementary school back in the 70’s. Got my first UNIX exposure in the 6th grade, and in college some exposure to SunOS 4.2. I had also played around a bit with UnixWare after Novell acquired it from USL – I still have the discs somewhere in the basement. I pursued (but didn’t earn) degrees in Aeronautical Engineering and Aviation Computer Science, but it was while attending college that I was hooked by computer networking using Novell’s NetWare.

I use computers for a lot of things – I have interest in computer graphics, and am a long-time user of POV-Ray (though I don’t have a lot of actual artistic talent – at least I don’t think so). I participate in the POV-Ray community as well as the Novell and openSUSE communities. I’ve relatively recently started doing digital image processing (for fun) using my digital camera and the GIMP.

I love using computers to manipulate data. I use a number of tools to analyze data, but probably more than anything I use awk. I think awk is often an under-appreciated language for text processing, and often Perl is used when awk would probably be a better fit.

I also love flight simulation. I am a frequent flyer in X-Plane for Linux.

When and why did you start using openSUSE/SUSE Linux?

I started using Linux with RedHat 5.2 back in about 1998 if memory serves. I had used Ximian’s Red Carpet to keep it updated and that got me using the GNOME desktop (prior to that, I had used Enlightenment). I still use GNOME, but I don’t often understand why there is so much vitriol in the GNOME/KDE desktop environment debate. It’s just a DE – the important thing is the applications. The DE just enables you to run them and organize them. Both do a fine job, I think, it’s just that some are used to GNOME and some KDE – and some ICEWM, some FVWM, some Enlightenment – and so on.

I started using openSUSE with SUSE Professional 9.2, not long after Novell acquired SuSE. I’ve looked at others (I subscribe to Linux Format Magazine out of the UK, so get the discs and the chance to try many other distros running in VMware) but have never found a compelling reason to switch – I have 5 computers here in my home office that run versions of SUSE (mostly openSUSE 11.0, but two of them run SLES with Novell Open Enterprise Server on them). My wife and stepson also both use openSUSE, though Ken also runs Windows for some of his games. He prefers openSUSE on his laptop which he uses for his classes at the University of Utah.

When did you join the openSUSE community and what made you do that?

I’ve been a bit of a lurker in the openSUSE community for a while – I follow the mailing lists using and the openSUSE forums. I’m a huge fan of using NNTP, prefering that to web forums or mailing lists – this lets me absorb a lot more information using a single program.

I’ve always felt that even as a user of openSUSE, I’m part of the community – and as a part of the community, I should give back in some way, whether it be helping others, just participating in general discussions, or helping nudge the community in ways that help users – new and long-time users – to do things better. The openSUSE community is a great community, but there’s always room for improvement. Continuous improvement requires continuous feedback, and I like to provide feedback when I think it can be valuable.

In what way do you participate in the openSUSE project?

Mostly as a user of the software; when I run into problems, I report them using the tools available. I try to help out on the mailing lists (in particular) when I can.

What especially motivates you to participate in the openSUSE project?

It’s difficult to say specifically. I think the people are generally good and try to be helpful. I like looking at new things, and I enjoy the process of troubleshooting my own problems as well as others’.

What would be your the most important contribution to the openSUSE project and community, or what is the contribution that you’re most proud of?

I like to think that I can be a voice of reason when things are getting loud. There are a lot of strong opinions in many of the groups, and sometimes it takes someone to stand up and say “you know, you both have good points here, but let’s focus on the issues rather than calling each other names, shall we?” I like to think that I can help cut to the core of an issue and help build a consensus on a path forward. I don’t know that I always succeed or that others see me succeeding that way, but I think a lot of time really important issues get lost in the noise of a handful of people yelling at each other, so I like to try to cut to the root of the issue and get people talking about the issue.

When do you usually spend time on the openSUSE project?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific time; usually when I’m not doing other things (though often I’ll use it as a break from doing work).

Three words to describe openSUSE? Or make up a proper slogan!

Solid. Reliable. Dependable.

What do you think is missing or underrated in the distribution or the project?

Hard to say, because I have a habit of finding what I need if it’s missing (I’m not afraid to build from source). Probably better support for Blackberry connectivity would be high on my list at the moment.

What do you think the future holds for the openSUSE project?

I think the future for openSUSE is bright. There is a strong community around it. The community doesn’t always agree on things, but I think disagreement in the community makes the community stronger. If everyone agreed all the time, the boundaries wouldn’t be pushed, and boundaries always need to be pushed.

A person asked you why he/she should choose openSUSE instead of other distribution/OS. What would be your arguments to convince him/her to pick up openSUSE?

My normal approach to this type of question is a needs assessment – I find out what the person needs, and then explain how openSUSE provides that to them, if it does. I find I usually don’t have to convince someone who’s asking – if they’re asking, they’re interested, and they just need some assurance that what they want to do can be done using openSUSE.

Which members of the openSUSE community have you met in person?

I was introduced to Zonker at BrainShare a couple years ago by Ross Brunson. Uwe Buckesfeld (one of the OSF moderators) is a good friend of mine, as is Kim Groneman (also from OSF and the Novell Support Forums).

How many icons are currently on your desktop?

The fewer, the better. I don’t like a cluttered desktop on my computer; my real-life desktop is cluttered enough as it is. 20 on my 64-bit system, but I don’t actually use the desktop icons to launch things, I tend to use Alt-F2 – I type faster than I move a mouse, generally.

What is the application you can’t live without? And why?

That’s hard to say. Life would certainly be more difficult if I didn’t have an awk interpreter, but I could probably cope if I was missing any specific application. I tend to “route around” deficiencies and look for alternate solutions if what I need isn’t there. I have some programming background (I wouldn’t call it “software engineering” background), so often times I’ll create what I need if it’s simple enough.

Which application or feature should be invented as soon as possible?

At the moment, I’d love for there to be a kernel driver for the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, since I just got one at a good price and thought I’d read (before I purchased it) that there was support for it. Turns out it’s for the predecessor.

Which is your preferred text editor? And why?

vi or gedit. Just what I’m comfortable with and used to using.

Which famous person would you want to join the openSUSE community?

Stephen Fry. He’s already a big supporter of open source software, and I think it’d be extremely cool if he were advocating for openSUSE specifically.

Which computer related skills would you like to have?

I wish I had some real skills in the area of video compositing and electronic music composition. I have taken classes (years ago) in music composition as I used to play the violin, but I don’t remember much of the theory any more. I like the idea of composing composite CG/Live Action into a single coherent scene, with proper lighting, textures, and everything.

The Internet crashes for a whole week. How would you feel, what would you do?

I’d probably go through withdrawl, but on the flip side, I’d probably spend more time at the gym.

Which is your favorite movie scene?

I’d have to say my favourite scene isn’t from a movie, but from a radio program. I’m a huge fan of the radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (but didn’t like the movie so much). One of my favourite scenes (for there are many) from the radio series is when Ford and Arthur are sitting on prehistoric Earth drinking some homemade booze, and the conversation goes:

Arthur: “But have you got an answer?” Ford: “No, but I’ve got a different name for the problem!”

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek, but more at the DS9 end of the spectrum. Both Star Wars and Star Trek used technology to support a character story, but Star Wars was a relatively simple messiah/redemption story, and the characters generally didn’t have a lot of depth as a result. DS9 in particular had very complex character interaction and the characters themselves had a lot of depth. I like when characters are not clearly “the good guys” or “the bad guys”, but when the lines are blurred. DS9 is about as close as the Trek franchise got to that ambiguousness, and even then, it was still pretty clear who the good guys and the bad guys were.

The latest iteration of Battlestar Galactica is the type of thing I really like in Science Fiction storytelling.

What is your favorite food and drink?

Both vary, but I really like curries, especially homemade. For drink, tea and VitaminWater are what I usually have.

Favorite game or console (in your childhood and nowadays)?

Had an Atari 2600 when growing up, and really liked playing Pitfall on it. On the Commodore 64, I probably spent more time playing Seven Cities of Gold and M.U.L.E. than any others. Today it’s mostly X-Plane and Sudoku.

Which city would you like to visit?

Never been to Sydney, Australia. There or Edinburgh, Scotland. Or Dublin, Ireland. Prague also intrigues me; I’ve been a lot of different places already; I wouldn’t mind going to Moscow again, or Kiev, or St. Petersburg – I would like to see more of the Hermitage Museum.

What is your preferred way to spend your vacation?

Relaxing. I don’t like coming back from vacation needing a vacation to recover. I like seeing things, but on a lazy schedule rather than trying to cram too much into a day.

Someone gives you $1.000.000 – what would you do with the money?

Pay off debts, travel a bit, invest a bit, give to worthy charities.

If traveling through time was possible – when would we be most likely to meet you?

Probably in the future, looking to see if things are the way I think they are. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the past, too, particularly in, say, the Middle Ages in Europe.

There’s a thunderstorm outside – do you turn off your computer?

Generally no, though I have had a computer struck by lightning before. I have a couple of UPSes to protect my equipment now, but if the storm gets really bad, I might unplug things.

Have your ever missed an appointment because you forgot about it while sitting at your computer?

Many, many times.

Show us a picture of something, you have always wanted to share!

OK, I’ll attach that as well. :-) The picture is a photo of the mountains to the east of the Novell campus in Provo, Utah. I enhanced the image myself using the GIMP as an experiment in just general image manipulation, and I really liked how it turned out.


You couldn’t live without…

My wife. We’ve been married 13 years, and every day she means more to me. I can’t imagine or remember life without her.

Which question was the hardest to answer?

Identifying my contribution to the openSUSE community. It’s sometimes hard to know the impact one has on those around them, whether in the real world or an online community.

Well, that and the next one. :-)

What other question would you like to answer? And what would you answer?


What do you like to do when you’re not working on a computer?


Watching TV (though I don’t watch a lot, I prefer movies), working out at the gym. I like hiking in the mountains, but it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do that – there is some amazing scenery out there.