Meet the LibrePlanet 2017 Speakers: Denver Gingerich
Would you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, and although I currently live in the New York City area, I am undeniably a West Coast boy at heart. I was always an extremely quiet and shy kid, but had no problem making friends with computers. So naturally, my high school socializing involved a lot of LAN parties, which is where I discovered that installing Apache on GNU/Linux was MUCH easier than on Windows. That was where my interest in free software really began, and it has been a big part of my life ever since. When I'm not sitting at a computer, I love traveling, and generally being outdoors as much as possible—hiking and skiing are favourite pastimes, as well as exploring new places I have never been before. I am also a transit enthusiast; I love learning about the history of subway systems, transit networks and infrastructure, and trains of all kinds. I generally find it fascinating to learn about how things work, and how things came to be the way the are, and because of that, I often fall down Wikipedia rabbit holes. I will also eat just about anything, and never turn down a free conference T-shirt, no matter how hideous the colour.
How did you first become interested in having your cell phone be fully free?
I first got a cell phone number in mid-2009, but I didn't have a cell phone—the number was hosted by Google Voice. I was mostly able to use the number with free software (using email for SMS and SIP for calls) so I didn't think a lot about the freedom implications of cell phones then.
I purchased a Nokia N900 and used it when I wasn't near a computer. It still ran a lot of non-free software. Later I learned that the most significant piece of this non-free software was the baseband firmware.
A few years ago I started my transition away from all Google services. I wanted my computer to remain my primary device for SMS and calls, so I needed a Google Voice replacement. I tried to find an equivalent service, but could not find one. So I decided to write my own.
That led to the first version of Soprani.ca, which I use to this day. I've recently created a newer version of the software, called JMP, which is easier to use for the average person. Both allow a person to use phone features like SMS and calling without a cell phone (and thus without baseband firmware). And both are free software, licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 or later.
I'm still interested in this topic because people still use phone numbers and cell phones, even though they have certain "reprehensible" features, as RMS puts it. I hope by showing people ways to communicate with cell phone users that do not require a baseband firmware that we can take back control of our communication from the cellular companies and proprietary firmware makers.
Is this your first LibrePlanet?
No, this will actually be my fifth LibrePlanet in a row! I'm looking forward to chatting with all the wonderful people that I know I'll find there, and hearing some great ideas for how we can advance the free software movement.
In particular, it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy a computer that will function with only free software. I've met people at past LibrePlanet conferences who are building their own hardware so they can continue to run exclusively free software (such as the EOMA68 CPU card). These efforts are critically important, since existing computer manufacturers will no longer create the hardware we need. I hope to learn more about these efforts and ways I can contribute to them so that we'll still be able to run free software even after the last ThinkPad without a Management Engine stops working.
How can we follow you on social media?
What is a skill or talent you have that you wish more people knew about?
My wife says that if stubbornness and perfectionism could be counted as Olympic sports, I would win all the gold medals... She is smarter and much better looking than me, so she is probably right.
Edited for content and grammar.