An interview with matthew

The management of the Ubuntuforums includes a Forums Council, which was established in the past year as a way of integrating the forum community into the greater Ubuntu framework. It generally handles the arrangement and presentation of the forums, and serves as a liaison or contact point for other Ubuntu projects. It also fields member disputes and other issues, as they crop up. The council is presently made up of forum administrators; matthew — a writer, guitarist and father — is one of them.

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

matthew’s avatarMy real name is Matthew Helmke. I am a 37-year-old male American who is currently living in Morocco, along with my wife and three kids. I am a writer (feel free to search for me on Amazon … ). I am a proud graduate of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, U.S. I speak some Arabic, Spanish, French and a little English. 🙂 I don’t mention it too much, though. Oh, and I love to play the guitar.

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

I got my first computer in 1981. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer that booted up into a MS-BASIC editor. I still remember how exciting it was the day I upgraded the memory from 4K to 32K.

Then I got my first floppy disk drive (5 1/4-inch, of course) and one disk could hold a whopping 180K!! I remember thinking I might not need to buy more than one disk in my lifetime. 🙂 It wasn’t too long before my friends and I discovered that with the precise use of a hole punch, you could double the storage capacity of the disk. …

That was probably the beginning of my “hacker” life, the first time I can remember figuring out how to use something in a way that was different from its original design, to make it do something really cool.

My Linux and Ubuntu journey started at the same time, in the spring of 2005. Back when I was in the university, in the late 1980s, I had used Unix systems. After graduation, however, I used nothing but Microsoft products, DOS and Windows, as I had always owned PCs and Unix was only for big mainframes.

In early 2005 I was unhappy with a new computer I had purchased. The hardware worked fine, but I felt like the OS it came with limited my ability to configure, play with, and break it. I began looking for other options. I bought a Linux magazine in April 2005 that included an Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog) disk, installed it, and haven’t turned back.

Now, I’ve played with at least 3 dozen other distros as well as a few of the BSDs, but I have found the Ubuntu community to be so wonderful that I have no real interest in going anywhere else.

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

I joined the forums the first week I tried Ubuntu. I did a search on Google to try and find the answer to a question I had about the wireless network card in my laptop. That led me to a thread on the forums, and some very friendly and useful assistance.

At the time the forums had about 17,000 members. I spent a lot of time learning and asking questions, as well as doing fun things and being relational. I got so much help from such wonderful people that I felt I needed to give something back, so I started to look for questions that people were asking that I knew the answers to. I also contributed a “how-to” article or two at that time.

Eventually I was asked to join the staff, and felt quite honored to even be considered. Currently I am one of five members of the Forums Council, the group that oversees the running of the forums as a community, and subsequently am a forums administrator.

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

I am an Ubuntu member. My primary contribution is my volunteer time and work in the forums, although I have got my hands dirty on occasion with other things.

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

Between my home and office I have four computers, some older (like a PIII with Edubuntu on it for my kids to play games on), and some slightly newer. All of them run some form of Ubuntu.

I have played with lots of distros and can say wonderful things about each of them. What I appreciate most about Ubuntu is that I can configure it how I want, but I don’t have to do a lot of work to get it set up or configured, unless I want to do so. That’s nice, and there are only a few distros good enough at that to be among my recommendations to friends.

Software I use regularly? Hmm. Evolution, Firefox, Liferea, OpenOffice, Amarok, and I’m also running a LAMP server on my laptop for web development. Conky is pretty fun, and probably my most recent toy.

I don’t really have a least favorite piece of software. If I don’t like something, I just find something else.

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

I loved the moment I was asked to be on staff. At the time all the staff had avatars based on a particular set of cartoon characters, personalized by a now-former staff member. I had made one of my own, but it wasn’t as good. The day I accepted the invitation and was made a moderator I was given my own “matthew-as-a-powerpuff-guitar-player” avatar. It was like a geek initiation rite at the time.

Becoming an Ubuntu member was pretty cool, too. I did that before being a part of the forum staff made acceptance pretty much assured, and it felt good to be welcomed. Mostly, though, it’s just been fun to be a part of a group of people that share the same interests, and who do so in a friendly and welcoming way.

Worst memory. … I don’t think I want to dig that up. Let’s just say it involved silliness and drama, and I have very little tolerance for adolescent-style drama.

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

I’m not an active evangelist for Ubuntu, or for Linux in general. When I am asked, I do tell people what I use and why. In that way alone I have helped five or six people switch completely to Ubuntu, and there are a few more of my friends and acquaintances that have expressed a real interest.

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

The current goal of making thing “just work” is a good one. In addition, I would like to see fewer attempts or requests to make Linux appear or become more like some other operating system. We have an amazing group of people around the world working on various parts of Free and Open Source projects, many of which end up being incorporated into Ubuntu releases.

I especially applaud those that are creative and revolutionary, rather than reactionary or imitative. When developers write for fun and out of passion, with an eye toward serving the community while creating something they themselves find amusing, stimulating, creative or fun, we end up with some of the best software available on any operating system anywhere.

We also end up with additional people longing to become a part of the process, contributing their ideas and code, and we subsequently find the end result to be better than any one person could have imagined.

The biggest thing I would like to see is more free and open hardware drivers. This isn’t something that Ubuntu, Canonical, or that the worldwide Linux community can do alone. I am thrilled to see the advances being made recently in this area, but there is still a long road ahead.

With Ubuntu being offered preinstalled on computers by major manufacturers and retailers like Dell, I think we have a good chance of seeing some financial pressure put on the hardware manufacturers to help with this process, either by providing a framework around which drivers can be written, by providing the drivers themselves in source form that can be modified by the community, or at a minimum, providing the specifications necessary for the community to write them from scratch.

The first hurdle I met when originally installing Ubuntu was making my Intel ipw2200b/g wireless card work. At the time (Hoary, April 2005) this required downloading source code and installing both the firmware and an updated driver if one wanted to use WPA encryption. Now, the card just works at installation because of the way Intel has been working with the FOSS community.

Yeah, I know it isn’t a perfect example because there are still binary blobs in the firmware and things like that, but we have come a long way in the last 2 1/2 years.

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

Learning a new operating system is work. With some patience and a willingness to try to wrap your head around a new way of thinking, it can also be fun and rewarding. Do your research, check Google, the Ubuntu Forums, the Ubuntu Wiki and so on. Ask good, clear questions with as many details as you can give. Then be patient and try to keep a friendly attitude and you will discover that this is one of the most amazing, helpful, and fun communities anywhere.

matthew keeps a blog at For more interviews with community members and staff, read Nine Simple Questions.


9 thoughts on “An interview with matthew

  1. bapoumba

    As usual, very interesting and enjoyable reading, Matthew 🙂

    And many thanks to K.Mandla to keep this interview project alive.
    You guys definitively make Ubuntu a better place.

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