An interview with 23meg

A common misconception on the Ubuntu Forums is that people directly involved in its development aren’t common visitors. To get the attention of the developers, it’s often said, you have to make your way out of the forum and into the rest of the Ubuntu community. That’s not necessarily the case. 23meg is an Ubuntu member and Forum Ambassador with a direct hand in bug triaging, idea collection, documentation and even moderating. An artist and a computer enthusiast with a history that dates back to 8-bit machines, 23meg is a perfect example of how someone can be involved in many different parts of the entire Ubuntu whole — and all at the same time.

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

23meg’s avatarI live in İstanbul, Turkey, am in my mid-twenties, and contrary to the general perception on IRC and the forums that puzzles me, I’m a male. I do freelance design and photography (in which I have a bachelor’s degree), and am working on my dissertation for a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual design.

I don’t have any hobbies, in the sense that I regard activities such as making music, reading and writing as actual work that’s central to my being, not pastimes reserved to “spare time”, a concept I don’t have. I’m single, live with a close friend, and am not religious.

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

Like many people of my age and social class, my introduction to computers was through the Commodore 64. I was given one around the age of five, and BASIC commands such as PRINT, GOTO, LOAD, RUN were among the first words I learned to read. I soon got bored of playing the games that came with the computer, and delved into the excellent manual that was provided by the local Commodore distributor, Teleteknik.

In retrospect, I regard the depth and simplicity in which that manual introduced the inner workings of the computer and its operating system as a very fortunate thing for a whole generation of “computer kids.”

Before long, I was writing simple programs that tweaked the behaviour of the default OS, and copying and modifying programs that were given with the Commodore and RUN magazines. Computer magazines used to have software supplements in low quality print that consisted of pages and pages of commands that you were supposed to type in, in order to “have” a piece of software that you could use.

There really was no other way to share software; modems were new and telecommunication was wholly impractical, and floppies cost too much for magazines to distribute with every issue. Often, programs would fail due to a simple error buried somewhere after hours of laborious typing in, and there was no debugger.

Years later when I got introduced to the idea of FOSS, my first reaction was to associate it with the form and political economy, so to speak, of this naïve distribution method.

My second computer was the Amiga 500. The spirit of amateur creativity, freedom and sharing that was inherent to the Amiga community is still echoed in my experience with free software today.

I had flirts with UNIX and Slackware in other people’s computers in the 90s, and started using Red Hat Linux myself in 1999. But the low ratio of the actual functionality that I got out of it to the investment in terms of time and energy that I had to make in order to master it, along with the near lack of locally available support and software for my purposes, kept me on proprietary operating systems, which never satisfied me as a former Amiga user.

After becoming acquainted with the origins and raison d’être of free software, however, I became much more eager to pursue a path to a free software environment for all my computing needs.

In 2004, I began to note that on the Mac user-dominated .microsound mailing list, where I had been lurking for a long time, many artists whose work I was familiar with had either moved, or were eagerly planning to move to a free software environment for audio production work. This further encouraged me, and I started using Planet CCRMA, and later Debian, full time.

Looking for documentation on compiling a realtime kernel for audio work in Debian, I stumbled upon Ubuntu, which had just had its debut 4.10 release. The code of conduct, Canonical’s sane business model that emphasized software freedom and encouraged community participation and governance, Chua Wen Kiat’s excellent Ubuntu Guide, and the presence of some brilliant people from GNOME and Debian in the project were the main factors that drew me to it, and I’ve been using it full time since then.

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

I registered in March 2005. I started posting how-to guides shortly afterwards, and was called to join one of the first wave of forum teams some months later. That involvement didn’t go very well, due mostly to the strict “chain of command” mentality that some people had, which made me grow cold of the whole idea.

At present, I’m one of the leaders of the Forum Ambassadors team, whose purpose is to improve the relations between the forums and the wider Ubuntu and free software communities. The team seems to hit a hiatus due to everyone, especially the leaders, being busy with other things, but hopefully we’ll wake up and get back to work very soon. I’m also a moderator in the Ubuntu Idea Pool and development forums.

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

Yes. I triage bugs as part of the Bug Squad, participate in the Forum Ambassadors team, do translations and file lots of bug reports. I’ve also recently taken the role of Ubuntu Studio‘s documentation lead, but have yet to do any real work on that front due to time constraints.

Future plans are to become a MOTU within the next year, join the Bug Control Team soon, contribute to official Ubuntu documentation to fix some of my favorite shortcomings of it, and be physically present in future development summits.

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

I use Ubuntu for everything, and Debian, which is an all-time favorite, for ensuring compatibility of my contributions to Ubuntu with it. I also keep an eye on the blog aggregators of some distributions to keep informed on what they’re up to. Getting stuck in one community is rather counterproductive; it’s always good to know how your fellows in other places are going about things.

It’s hard to pick favorites among applications, but these days I’m mostly intrigued by the possibilities offered by Tracker. Ardour, Liferea, cURL, dragbox, todo.txt, Deskbar, Aptana and Processing are some of my fixtures.

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

I can’t really pick a best and a worst, but the highlights must be those times when people give feedback on their positive experiences. I like it when people give others open and sincere feedback on their influence on them, be it negative or positive, and it feels good to know that someone you don’t know is getting things done exactly the way they want thanks to your help.

Some of the worse memories are those of dealing with people who’ve refused to make any effort to understand how things work and why certain things are done the way they’re done, and stick out for their own fixed ideas.

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

I’ve never actively done it. However, almost all people I know who are seriously into computing have started using Ubuntu one by one in the last year, and most got introduced to it when they saw me or heard of me using it.

I share Paul Graham‘s observation in his “Microsoft Is Dead” article: everyone around me who takes computing seriously uses either OSX, or some form of BSD or GNU/Linux, of which Ubuntu is the most common variant.

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

I’m pretty bored of reading people’s nebulous speculations for “the future of Linux” everywhere, so I’d rather refrain from producing any myself. We do too much fortune-telling about things that we can have direct effect on, especially in the forums, and to some extent, this inhibits our collective ability to practice that effect, because it makes us lead people, especially newcomers, away from the prospect of a truly participatory culture to the old passive culture of using what you’re given and just gossiping about it.

So I’ll take the liberty to reinterpret this question as “What are you looking to contribute to and take part in improving with Linux and Ubuntu in the future?”

I’m quite obsessed with usability and am looking for every way to improve it in GNOME and Ubuntu. A complete free software environment for audio and graphics production has been my desire for a long time, and I’m happy to see it slowly becoming reality with Ubuntu Studio, in which I’m looking to participate further than documentation in the future. I have a genuine need for a good general purpose information management system that integrates well with the whole desktop environment, so I’ll probably scratch that itch in some way.

Metadata-awareness in applications and the gradual move from the application-centric paradigm to a data-centric one in desktop environments also intrigue me. Improving community processes, empowering people with the knowledge and tools to make them active participants as opposed to passive consumers, and attracting new people to work on free software are also my interests. And I’d like to work more toward improving the overall bug situation with GNOME and Ubuntu.

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

Regard Ubuntu and free software as more of a process than a product, and get involved in the process.

For a summary of 23meg’s involvement in Ubuntu, take a look at his Launchpad page. For more interviews with community members and staff, read Nine Simple Questions.

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