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Jack Moffitt: Everything but a private eye

By JT Smith on September 19, 2000 (8:00:00 AM)

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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 CMGI acquired Green 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 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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