An interview with tseliot

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

There was a time when installing Ubuntu required fierce acrobatics and an unnatural ability to analyze your hardware. That quickly evaporated though, and the current state of affairs, whether or not you agree, is a huge improvement over Ubuntu’s earliest versions. tseliot is someone who can attest to that — and has had a huge influence on Ubuntu’s usability. With projects like Envy in his resume, there’s scarcely a forumgoer who hasn’t heard of, recommended or been recommended tseliot’s work as a solution to a problem. But that is just a small slice of his presence on the forums. …

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

tseliot’s avatarMy name is Alberto Milone, I am 24 years old (to be perfectly honest I’ll be 25 in April), single. I was born in Turin but I live in Lecce, a small town in the south of Italy. I am a Catholic but I believe all religions to be equal and I respect atheism, agnosticism, etc.

I am a student in foreign languages and I will graduate in March. I have spent five years of my life at the university (3 years in first level degree, 2 years in second level degree), mainly because of my passion for the English language. I didn’t choose Computer Science because I don’t like either maths or the exams of the courses in computer science in Italy.

I have always been a swot and there’s nothing I can do about it. I started learning English to play computer games which were available only in English (and no, I’m not kidding). I still remember a summer I spent playing Final Fantasy VII with an English dictionary on my lap. I would have loved to study Japanese at the university, however it wasn’t available at the time (at least in Lecce) and I chose Spanish instead (which I also like).

I enjoy studying in my spare time. I used to read English literature (this is why I chose “tseliot” as my username on and English grammar books but now I prefer programming books (in English, of course). I have an English dictionary beside my bed, just in case.

Software development is my main hobby. I’ve got plenty of ideas on my mind to make it easy for new users to switch to GNU/Linux. There are still tasks which are unnecessarily difficult or time-consuming on Linux and I would really like to solve many of these problems. I also see that there are certain fields in which (proprietary and free) software are a bit lacking but I won’t tell you exactly which, since I’m planning to work on a new program and it’s a surprise.

Other hobbies include troubleshooting and technical support, which I provide almost 24/7 via email, on my blog and on the forums. Unfortunately I haven’t been very active on ubuntuforums the last few months since I’ve been very busy with the exams and with my thesis.

My professional life has yet to begin. I wrote a few programs in Python and GTK in my spare time but as soon as I graduate I will focus on studying C++, QT4, SQL and any other thing that can help me to get a decent IT job in an English speaking country. I would like to work in an English speaking country both because of my passion of the English language and (above all) because of the sorry state of work in Italy.

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

When I was little my father took me to an exposition on the Gran Sasso National Laboratory. There were a few (Apple) computers with an interactive presentation and I could use the mouse for the first time in my life. I was really impressed with what computers could do.

I received an Amiga 500 Plus for my seventh birthday. I didn’t use it only for games but I also learnt how to use Workbench and some utilities. About 2-3 years later we bought a 386 with Windows 3.11 but I spent most of the time with DOS. A few years later I bought a Pentium 133 and then I felt almost like a pioneer when I ordered a 3DFX Voodoo 1 card, which would allow me to play games with 3D acceleration and bilinear filtering.

I have learnt so much messing with my computer, swapping graphic cards, hard disks, and I still remember my first (2x) CD reader. I had so much fun with Windows 95 and ME, which kept screwing up my dial-up connection without an apparent reason (of course a clean installation was the only solution).

I became the stereotypical neighbour you call every time you have problems with your computer. I taught myself all these things on computers but I didn’t have any reason to learn programming. Actually I thought of programming as a boring activity and I didn’t want to become an electronic engineer like my father (another reason why I didn’t choose Computer Science at the university), well, at least this is what I used to say … now my parents make fun of me reminding me of my own words.

In the third year at the university I was so frustrated with Windows XP on my HP laptop, which every two months (this happened 4 times in a row) decided to boot into a white screen showing only the mouse cursor. I had to use the restore disc which formatted the entire hard disk and installed a great deal of the rubbish together with XP.

I was so frustrated that I decided to look for an alternative on the Internet. I had a look at Linspire’s live CD and I couldn’t really tell the difference between Linux and XP (except for the frequent crashes of the latter). Then I installed Kubuntu on my laptop and never looked back. Eventually I would switch to Ubuntu on my next PC but I’ll save this story for the next question.

Thanks to my involvement in the forums and coming into contact with the philosophy of free software I decided to buy a few books from Amazon and start learning programming (in Bash at first, then in Python and GTK). I wanted to make Ubuntu at least as user-friendly as Windows in certain respects.

tseliot’s desktop

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

Impressed by my first (flawless) experience with Kubuntu Hoary on my laptop, I decided to buy a desktop computer and install Kubuntu on it. I bought a Compaq Presario which was not exactly a Linux-friendly computer.

It was affected by the double clock speed bug, DMA was disabled and hdparm didn’t work for me, the computer locked up every now and then and the graphic card (Nvidia Geforce 6200 PCI-Express) didn’t work properly with the “nv” driver at the time, therefore I also had to find a way to install the proprietary driver.

I joined the forums in May 2005 and started asking questions about the problems which prevented me from using Ubuntu. I had to learn a workaround for the double clock speed bug (by configuring GRUB), I had to learn how to recompile kernels (so as to enable DMA without hdparm and to get better support for my hardware) and to install the latest version of the Nvidia driver.

It took me so many days to find all the information I needed (the documentation was not as good as it is today) and to learn all these things (as a beginner) that I thought it was worth writing some guides about my achievements, which would hopefully save a great deal of time and effort for other users. This is how I started helping users on

I received a lot of feedback which allowed me to improve my guides so as to make them more suitable for beginners. My guides on the installation of the Nvidia driver became quite popular, however reading them was a bit time-consuming since they were very detailed (so as to make sure that anyone could use them). In the next section I’ll tell you more about the approach I adopted to solve this problem.

I provided support for my guides and tried to help as many users as possible, especially as regards the installation of the Nvidia driver. I also contributed to the UDSF. Then I was contacted by an administrator of the forum to join the staff. Becoming a moderator was really an honour for me. I was given more power to help the users of our forum.

Unfortunately I’m so busy with the university and with programming that I can’t contribute to the forum as often as I used to. I hope this will change when I graduate.

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

Yes, I’m proud to be an Ubuntu member. I became a member (in August 2006) because of my involvement in the forums. I wasn’t alone at the meeting of the Ubuntu Council since a few forum staffers came and supported me telling the council how helpful I had been. I am really thankful for this. This is one more reason to be proud to have joined the forum staff. 😉

Another way in which I contribute is through the programs I develop. As I said, my guides were a bit too time-consuming for users to follow, therefore I bought a book on shell programming (I had no previous programming experience at the time), studied a bit of Bash and wrote a little script to automate the process. I called it “Envy.”

It wasn’t as easy as I would have liked, so I started learning Python and (a few months later) GTK. The result is what you can see on my website. Currently I’m collaborating with Ubuntu’s developers to make Envy work better on Ubuntu so as to prevent it from causing any kind of problem in case of a dist-upgrade (without having to use “envy –uninstall-all”).

Other problems I tried to solve are the lack of an interface to RandR 1.2, so that users can set up multiple screens with little effort, and the lack of an easy way to backup all your mail, contacts and settings in Evolution. “URandR” and “Evolbck” are two attempts to solve these problems (they are still very young though).

I’m planning to contribute more in the future.

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

I use several versions of Ubuntu and Debian Sid for testing. I also have OpenSuse on my laptop but I always use Ubuntu Gutsy there.

I have no favourite application but, if I had one, maybe it would be Geany.

Here is the list of the applications I use every day:

Amule Amarok Cream Evolution
Deluge Firefox Geany gFTP
Gimp Glade3 Glipper K3b
Liferea Mplayer Openoffice Quanta
Rhythmbox Tomboy Totem VIM

My least favourite application? I’ll say Emacs so as to be flamed later. 😛 Seriously, I have nothing against Emacs, I just don’t use it.

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

The best moments:

  • when I joined the staff of and when I became an Ubuntu member.
  • when users provided me with constructive criticism and/or thanked me after I helped them. I love being of help.

The worst moments:

  • when I had to do with aggressive users who insulted either me or the rest of the staff.
  • when there was some tension among the staff. We’re all humans (with our lives and personal problems) and all make mistakes (including me, of course).

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

I converted all the computers at home to Linux. My father uses PCLinux but will soon switch back to Ubuntu.

I also converted a friend of mine to Ubuntu.

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

I would like to see more choice on the market. I would like to see more companies that sell computers with Ubuntu (or any other GNU/Linux distribution) preinstalled as an alternative to Windows, especially in Italy.

I would also like Ubuntu to become increasingly more user-friendly and more supported by third party developers, so as to significantly reduce the amount of Windows’ casualties, err … users.

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

Don’t give up easily on Ubuntu. I didn’t, and now I know that I couldn’t be happier with any other operating system.

tseliot has a web page here, and a blog for the Envy project here. If you’d like to see a synopsis of his contributions to Ubuntu, check out his wiki and Launchpad pages. For more interviews with staff and community members, read Nine simple questions.


9 thoughts on “An interview with tseliot

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

  2. LaRoza

    Very interesting. As a self taught programmer and one trying to learn a new language, I find this interview most inspirational.

    Good luck in the future, Alberto Milone!

  3. Pingback: Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu n° 79 du 17 au 23 février 2008 « Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu

  4. Pingback: Nicoz » Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu n°79

  5. Ashish (ashmew2 @ UF)

    tseliot is a prized posession of the Ubuntu Forums. He’s helpful and he is acctually the first member of the staff i came in contact with a few years back. Thanks for Envy and everything else Alberto! 😀


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