An interview with popch

Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.

An important rule to learn on the forums is that your “bean count” — the number of support replies you’ve made, roughly — doesn’t imply anything. There are plenty of Linux veterans and computer experts camouflaged by a low “bean count” — one such member who has drawn the staff’s attention is popch, an IT head for a local government in Switzerland. With over 30 years experience with computers and programming, popch is an example of a helpful and knowledgeable community member whose “bean count” doesn’t tell you nearly everything.

Tell as much as you’re willing about your “real” life — name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.

popch’s signatureMy name is Philipp. I am 56 years old, married and father of a son of 23 years. I live in the northwestern part of Switzerland. Although I have moved several times, I still live within walking distance of the place of my birth.

My professional life in IT began in 1974 when I started working as a “junior programmer.” The job title was at first largely honorific because I had yet to learn how to program. At that time, this was quite usual. You could get a job in IT provided you could sign a contract. The education was then provided by the employer, and at full pay.

In the course of time, I have written parts of major application systems in COBOL, was responsible for the installation and maintenance of the operating systems of several IBM host computers, virtualized IBM host computers, developed in cooperation with IBM what today is called an IDE, became responsible for the selection and deployment of programming methods and tools, oversaw programmer’s instruction and quality assurance programs, introduced data management into the enterprise, guided the introduction of Personal Computing into the enterprise, developed and moderated workshops in strategic IT planning with the managements of the various corporations of our group and became head of IT of one of the local government departments.

City Hall where my office is located. Really.

In my free time I work in the managing staff of a housing cooperative, where I am responsible for finances and for the more complicated legal contracts. Its purpose is to provide housing for families at reasonable prices.

In theory, my hobbies are photography and music (the piano). For lack of time and energy, the photography is now reduced to taking family and travel snapshots and the music to playing the iPod. From time to time I find a few hours to work on the family archive of photographs made by three generations of Sunday photographers and dating back to about 1905. I much enjoy reading, mostly science fiction, mostly in English. I still find some time for that, often while riding to and from work.

Lastly, one of my hobbies for which I still have time is tinkering with software, and that — by some strange coincidence — leads to the second question.

When and how did you become interested in computers? in Linux? in Ubuntu?

I do not think that I have to explain how I became interested in computers. Given my occupations I always had to keep abreast of current technological developments. It became unavoidable for me that my profession also became my hobby. As soon as computers became affordable and usable by ordinary humans such as myself, I had to have one of those. The first one which fit the bill for me happened to be an Apple ][. After the introduction of IBM compatible PCs at work I obviously had to have one of those, too.

I don’t really remember when or why I started using Linux. Most likely it was because I noticed that local shops started selling boxed distributions. I bought the first one in a book shop, and that must have been SuSe Linux 6.3 or thereabouts. Since then, I have bought practically every edition of that distribution, up to 10.0, because each one was a bit closer to usability than the one before, and they all got installed in succession either on a spare PC or in a corner of the disk of the main one.

Since I installed and tested many software products in the course of a year, I had acquired the habit to re-install Windows twice a year. In due time, it penetrated even my prejudiced mind that I did not really need Windows any more for the software I had to use, and that re-installing Linux with all the applications took far less time than did re-installing Windows.

I did not plan on “detecting” Ubuntu Linux any more than I had planned to use SuSe before. I happened across a number of reviews at a time when I was a bit disenchanted with Novell. After reading that Ubuntu came on live CDs, I could not resist. After a very short period of testing it became my favorite OS which now runs both of my laptops.

When did you become involved in the forums? What’s your role there?

I stumbled upon a cheap offer for a very nice but dated tablet PC. Since I wanted to make sure that I could use it with Ubuntu, I first searched all available documentation, then the forums, where I found very good circumstantial evidence that the thing was indeed usable with Ubuntu. After the new toy was delivered, I kept coming back to the forums because there were quite a few things to ask, install, adjust, tweak and swear at, until everything went just-so.

Someone once said that only a dullard can consult an encyclopedia and put it away after having read the article wanted. I am not that dull. I kept coming back, found some strange places where interesting discussions were going on.

That about defines my role here: browser, user and occasional contributor to discussions ranging from the care and feeding of bytes up to life, the universe and then some tall topics.

Are you an Ubuntu member? If so, how do you contribute? If not, do you plan on becoming one?

No, I am not a member, and I think it’s quite unlikely that I will be able to reliably contribute within the near future. I do, hovewer, look quite often into my favorite subfora, and from time to time I find a question for which I know an answer. Some of my answers have turned out to be useful, which pleased me quite a lot.

What distros do you regularly use? What software? What’s your favorite application? Your least favorite?

At work I use Windows XP, MS Office 2003, Oracle’s Collaboration Suite and some dangerous tools — mostly admin tools — which I keep in a virtual machine in VMWare. One of those “dangerous tools” is Open Office. I used it several times to repair MS Office documents which had become damaged in the course of our migration from MS Office 2000 to MS Office 2003. My least favorite application is MS Outlook.

Being the IT manager of our department I am not free to choose the software I use for my work. My employer, the government, has standardized the client OS and the kind of office products we may use, and that’s a good thing. In our current situation, it is much more important that we use similar products than that each department use a “best” product. I am a member of the committee which defines those things, and I had to be very persuasive, just to arrive at that result.

At home I use Ubuntu Linux only. I use Open Office for both jobs and the household chores. I also use CrossOver and Access for those applications I still need to have. Otherwise, I mostly use the applications Ubuntu comes with, including some of the games.

I admit to having a couple of virtual machines with Windows 2000 and XP and even an XP partition for dual booting. Those are for testing purposes, mostly. The last time I absolutely had to use one of those Windows machines was for the income tax declaration. They offered a Linux version, but it did not run in my environment. At my office I do not let “my” users install their own software, so I would not do that, either.

What’s your fondest memory from the forums, or from Ubuntu overall? What’s your worst?

I find it very touching how members discuss highly controversial things in The Backyard with some very emotional points of views while at the same time trying to outdo each other in helping members solve their problems. I am also very impressed to see how much of the personalities of both members and staff can be glimpsed throughout the forum. Of course, the primary purpose of the forum for many guests and members is to receive technical support and advice, but it is so much nicer when you can feel genuine people.

Being a bit of a leg puller and punster, I also appreciate meeting like minded members and having a laugh from time to time. I apologize to the members who at times can’t make head or tail of my posts.

I must admit that some of the requests for help I find here nearly make me pull my hair in despair. I am not the most patient person there is, and in some cases I think doing at least some reading before asking would have been perfectly excusable. In those case I admire the patience and courtesy of both staff and members which staunchly refuse to go “RTFM,” even when that was perfectly justifiable.

What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?

I do not try to influence people in that respect because I am afraid to become the PC support guy for all my family and acquaintances. When asked for advice, I usually recommend a shop which can do basic support. When asked for assistance, I suddenly feel my age and become very hard of hearing. I do not ask for professional advice at social occasions and expect not to be asked.

I once tried to convince my son to use Linux, but I had the misfortune to happen upon my first SuSe release I have ever known to destroy the Windows partition when trying to install a dual boot system. My son then detected that his backups didn’t work. He was not amused, re-installed his Windows and would never let me near his PCs again. Other than that, we’re still on speaking terms and learning much from each other.

What would you like to see happen with Linux in the future? with Ubuntu?

I am not very good at predictions. Sometimes I do not even predict the present properly. Still, I would be more than glad if Linux was here to stay and to gain momentum for at least the next 10 years.

I do not know if the recent appearance of ultra-low priced computers with Linux that have been discussed in the forum can be properly called a “trend” yet, but I would be thrilled to bits if that would continue.

We all know that “out there” there is a large number of hardware products which all work flawlessly with practically all kinds of Linux. Now, if those products had one more logo on their boxes which said “I work with Linux,” that would be very nice, too. Of course, to be useful the small print should show the kernel release and any other prerequisites, too.

If there was one thing you could tell all new Ubuntu users, what would it be?

People need to do very different things with their computers. Also, they have wildly different motives for trying to use Ubuntu. I can’t think of anything which would be useful, encouraging or even amusing to all of those. Perhaps “enjoy?”

For more interviews with Ubuntuforums staff and community members, read Nine Simple Questions.

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7 Responses to “An interview with popch”


  1. 1 matthew 2008/01/11 at 6:42 PM

    Another great interview! Thank you both. :)

  2. 2 John.Michael.Kane 2008/01/12 at 12:00 AM

    Another interesting interview.

  3. 3 nikopsk 2008/01/12 at 12:39 PM

    Very nice once again. Thanks k.mandela!

  4. 4 Dr Small 2008/01/13 at 5:01 AM

    That was a very good interview.


  1. 1 Nine simple questions « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2008/01/11 at 11:33 AM
  2. 2 Ubuntu Look » Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #73 Trackback on 2008/01/14 at 1:49 PM
  3. 3 Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu n°73 du 6 au 12 janvier 2008 « Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu Trackback on 2008/01/16 at 7:21 AM

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