An interview with dmizer

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

As I’ve been saying since September, there’s a lot more to a person than a slick username and a 90×90 avatar, and dmizer is another example. Dale is part of the forum’s Unanswered Posts team — a collection of idealistic forumgoers who envision a world where no question goes unanswered … or at least, probed for further information. But even beyond that, dmizer is quite an interesting person. A self-described adventurer, he has a long list of unusual experiences to report, starting with …

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

dmizer\'s avatarHello, my name is Dale. I’m downright astonished to be among this list of distinguished and extremely active members of the Ubuntu community.

I am a US ex-patriot living and working in Japan as a technical writer for Yamaha motors. I moved to Japan four years ago after I got fed up with American corporate internal politics (among many other things). I quit my highly stressful, dead end job (programming cross-country Nortel DMS250 switch translations, and fielding corporate toll-free and VPN system outages), had a garage sale, sold everything I owned, threw a dart at a map, literally bought a one-way ticket to Japan, and I’ve been here ever since. Didn’t have a visa, only knew one person here (but didn’t even know where he lived), didn’t speak the language, and didn’t have a job lined up. First six months were extremely tough, but now I’m quite competent with the language, and I am doing what I consider to be something of a dream job.

I’m an extremely firm believer in “nothing is impossible.” My favorite example of this cliché put to practical use is from my college days. I needed to get from southern Kansas to Chicago with no car, and only $50 to my name.

So, I searched the creek near my dorm and found an abandoned bicycle that was in reparable condition. I fixed it up, bought new tires and a chain, and rode it to Chicago and back. Took me three days each way, and aside from some terrible weather and a personal crisis moment in Danvers, Illinois, I loved every second of it. What an adventure!

I’m an adventurer at heart. I absolutely love to travel, meet new people, and experience new things and this passion has taken me all over the world. Despite the fact that I’ve never had a surplus income, I’ve managed to visit each of the 50 states at least once, travel to Europe several times, visit many places in South America, and now Asia. In the near future, I am looking forward to visiting Africa and Australia.

I have an extremely wide variety of interests and hobbies that range from concert bassist, and fiction writing, to amateur radio, and restoring antique motorcycles. Any time I find myself twiddling my thumbs too much, I tend to start a new hobby.

dmizer

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

I don’t ever remember being without a computer. As a very young child, I remember helping my dad sort through and debug IBM FORTRAN punch cards for the local police station’s ancient, but still employed, IBM mainframe.

The first home computer I remember using was a Radio Shack TRS-80 model I, and I used it to play simple text adventure games, and tinker with BASIC programming. Later, we had a Model III with all the trims including a tape deck and a teletype that received ticker-tape alerts from the NWS and clacked out a hard copies of posts to the BBS in a crude version of IM.

Interest in Linux came much much later, when I purchased a Packard Bell (piece of junk) P100 machine for college. It had Windows 95 on it, and since I had been familiar with the stability and usability of both Norton Commander (on my Kaypro IBM clone) and Windows 3.1 (on a 386), I was less than impressed with Windows and began to look for an alternative that would run on my computer.

I found Red Hat back in the pre-anaconda days somewhere around “Hurricane” or so. Battled with it endlessly to get it to do my bidding but I was mostly unsuccessful and broke things frequently. With the exception of my trusty Knoppix rescue CD, I stuck with Windows ever after that.

Then, I moved to Japan, and was in need of a computer. I found a used computer store near my apartment, and purchased a 1Ghz PIII NEC laptop (no OS) for less than 10000 yen. I intended to install my cracked copy of Windows 2000 (never liked XP) on it, and carry on with my frustrated Windows life.

But the laptop I purchased was a VersaPro va09j, and what I didn’t know at the time, was that the “J” stood for Japan-only model. Unbelievably, this meant two things. First, that it had lots of hardware which would only talk to Japanese drivers. Second, that the Japanese drivers would not install in my English version of Windows.

I stuck my Knoppix CD in, and the machine booted perfectly. Astonishingly, everything worked perfectly. I installed Knoppix but quickly realized that Knoppix was not designed for an install, and I began to look for a replacement, specifically looking for something other than Fedora Core (still quite jaded about my experience with Red Hat).

Someone on the Knoppix forums suggested Debian, but I couldn’t make it boot after install. But I knew that Knoppix was Debian based so I refined my search and eventually landed on Ubuntu Hoary. I’ve been running Ubuntu ever since. Been a very bumpy road, but I’m not one to shy away from challenges.

That old va90j is still in my stable, though I rarely use it anymore. It’s really been my most dependable machine to date. And Ubuntu has opened a whole world of computing that I would never have approached with Windows.

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

Signed up shortly after my first Ubuntu install, and my role has steadily moved from requesting help to offering help. Early in my forum membership, I posted more than a few threads which either received no reply, or no solution.

Ever since then, I’ve dedicated most of my time to answering zero-reply posts. So, about my only “official” involvement with the forums is as a silent member of the Unanswered posts team. If I had more free time, I would do more, but I’m also a believer in not getting involved in more than I can handle. So, I just spend my spare time trying to post helpful replies.

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

With the exception of my office PC, it’s 100-percent *buntu for me. I have a local vmware host running Dapper, my personal photo journal website is a LightTPD server running in Dapper, as well as several laptops either running default Ubuntu or Xubuntu of various release versions. I run Windows and OS/X in VMware, in part to keep myself current in the closed source environment, as well as to perform a few functions with my cell phone.

I’ve dabbled with Fedora Core (still hate it), OpenSUSE, MEPIS, Puppy, Gentoo (I’ve yet to get a working install of Gentoo), Symphony OS, among others, but nothing compares to the usability and ease of Ubuntu, to say nothing of the community.

I love love love LightTPD as a webhost. It’s super lightweight, secure, and it was an absolute breeze to configure. I also find it indescribably useful to be able to export files from OOo to PDF. Plus the usual stuff like Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, and Gimp. I use SSH so often that I nearly forgot to mention it. With all the computers I have in my internal network, as well as the growing numbers of remote systems I administer, SSH is one thing I cannot live without.

I despise how Nautilus handles remote file systems like samba, nfs, and ftp. While I now know how to mount them manually, it was once a source of unspeakable frustration for me and I can see that many new users are going through the same experience.

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

I have just as many success stories as I do failures. My easiest converts have been users who have very little experience with or knowledge of computers. I can just hand them a configured system, and (for the most part) they happily use it without any issues.

I forced my parents to use it because it’s easier for me to administer it from here in Japan, but it’s been a fight because they are quite familiar with Windows and how Windows works, so when they can’t do something the Windows way, it’s maddening for them.

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

The two things that continue to impress me the most, and the things that keep me rooted to Linux, is its ability to handle multiple platforms, and its ability to handle multiple languages. Windows completely fails at these important tasks. There is nothing like feeling the freedom of pulling a laptop hard drive, installing it in a new laptop with completely different hardware, and booting to it without flinching.

Where localization is concerned, in my office there is an entire department dedicated to handling the issues that crop up regarding how Windows (and the host of closed source software that runs on it) handles international character encoding. Not to say that there are no problems with Ubuntu, but nothing like how miserably Windows fails.

So with that in mind, where Ubuntu is concerned, I really think it’s headed in a fantastic direction. I really like how things are moving with Ubuntu and how things really seem to be getting done with hardware manufactures and localization as well as its interaction with the Linux community at large.

With the speed at which computer hardware is developing, and with the Internet bridging together massive international communities like the Ubuntu forums, I think these two points should be the fulcrum from which the Linux community as a whole is leveraged.

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

Be patient. You will not become proficient in Ubuntu overnight, just as you did not become proficient in Windows overnight. Patience is also necessary when handling problems. Some problems you had in Windows will not be problems in Ubuntu, and some things that worked easily in Windows will be a problem in Ubuntu.

Patience also carries over into distribution upgrades. It’s so nice to have the latest and greatest, but with that comes questionable reliability and hardware incompatibility. Wait, watch, and listen for the kinds of problems everyone else encounters so you can know how to handle your own after you upgrade. I have six active computers in my network, all running Ubuntu. Only one of them is running Hardy, and it gets the least amount of use.

Get a better look at dmizer’s forum presence by visiting his user profile page and Launchpad page. He also has a Web site which he has promised to share with others, if they PM him for the address. ;) For more interviews with forum members and staff, please read Nine simple questions.

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6 thoughts on “An interview with dmizer

  1. Pingback: Nine simple questions « Motho ke motho ka botho

  2. dmizer

    Indeed that is Ubuntulite. Not really so ancient though, since Dapper is LTS, it’s still quite useful to me as a web dev box. I think it’s a shame the project fell through the cracks.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu numéro 96 du 15 au 21 juin 2008 « Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu

  4. Epictete

    So interesting interview Dmizer!

    This point particularly, coming from a geek (who could be more reckless than a newbie !):
    “Patience also carries over into distribution upgrades… I have six active computers in my network, all running Ubuntu. Only one of them is running Hardy, and it gets the least amount of use.”

    I’d like you to tell us what delay, after a new version of ubuntu is out, you could name reasonable and which delay you respect for your own computers.

    Thank’s !

    PS. Sorry if my english is not so good.

    Reply
  5. dmizer

    Hi Epictete,

    Sorry about the delay in my reply. I hadn’t realized anyone else had posted a response to this.

    I don’t think there is any set time delay you should observe. I just keep an eye on the forums, and watch what kind of problems other people are running into. If the problems are related to something that I will need, then I wait until someone posts a reasonable workaround or fix.

    Common things I keep an eye out for are problems with the upgrade itself, as well as hardware issues like sound, video, and other networking. Just watch for threads like “I just upgraded and now my XXX doesn’t work”. To be sure, many of these problems are just people who are not familiar with the upgrade process and are solved fairly quickly, but many times these problems are very real and have bugs reported against them. Watch the threads and learn how to distinguish between these two kinds of posts.

    Of course, someone has to upgrade at release time in order to report problems, but if you’re a new user and unfamiliar with linux you’re best bet is to avoid becoming a new release test subject. Watching the forums, and being patient will save most new users a great deal of headache.

    Thanks for the question,

    Dale

    Reply

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