An interview with p_quarles

If we could keep track somehow, it would be interesting to see how many people who made their way to Linux had their start with the Commodore 64. p_quarles is another forum moderator who traces the roots of his computing family tree back to the lowly C64 — which makes the breadbox a rather frequent mention even just in this interview series. A Ph.D. candidate with a literature background, p_quarles has a lot of interests aside from computing, and has written one of the most graceful and eloquent interviews I’ve yet posted. …

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

I’m a 30-year-old single, atheist male, living in the U.S. I’m unemployed right now. In the past, I’ve done a bunch of different things, including teaching university English literature courses, teaching writing to primary school children, some help desk kind of stuff, and a few other even less interesting things. I have an M.A. in English literature, and am at the “must maintain inertia” phase of completing a Ph.D. This last degree is rather uncertain at this point, but I’ve spent enough time on it to warrant its mention.

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

I must have been about 7 or 8 when my dad purchased a Commodore 64. This was the first computer I used, and I had a lot of fun with it. That was among the first home gaming machines, and I played my share of games for the three or four years I used it. I also learned some BASIC programming, and made a few stupid little text games.

Prior to last year, my experience of *nix was limited to two things: using Lynx on a dial-up internet access point (provided by my local library), and using Telnet/SSH to connect to Pine e-mail clients throughout my college years (my B.A. was earned at the University of Washington, where Pine was developed). In March of last year, I was forced to purchase a newer computer, and my search for software to make it usable led me to various sites featuring a lot of open source software, e.g. SourceForge and Betanews/Fileforum.

This exposed me to some reviews of Ubuntu, and I found these reviews pretty intriguing. After booting a live CD and playing around a few times, I decided to start dual-booting. I had always been pretty frustrated with much of Windows’ attitudes toward shaping the user experience, and was really happy to find such a powerful and usable alternative. The openness of the platform was also extremely appealing to me, as one of my main frustrations was the lock-in and built-in obsolescence of each Windows release.

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

I joined just over a year ago, after lurking for a few weeks. I believe that I signed up to suggest a solution to a problem that I had encountered. It wasn’t the best solution, in retrospect. In any case, I didn’t really have any support questions, but I found that reading the questions in the support areas was a great way of becoming more aware of the range of possibilities that existed in Linux. I picked up a lot of tricks from more experienced users, and passed them along to others when I could. Eventually, I apparently helped enough other people to get noticed as a “helpful” forum member, and was invited to join the staff. I was delighted to get this invitation — this forum has been central to my *nix education, and is easily among the very best message boards on the internet.

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

No, and I do not plan on becoming one.

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

I use Ubuntu and Debian. The only other distros I use regularly are specialty live distros like Clonezilla and GParted Live. I’ve been considering giving Slackware a good shake at some point in the near future.

My normal desktop environment consists of Fluxbox and a bunch of KDE applications. My favorite application is VI/Vim. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t live in Vim or anything, but I do use it whenever I need an editor. It’s just such an elegant application: no frills, no surprises — it just does what you tell it to, and does it quickly.

Least favorite application (of those that I actually use) is Macromedia Flash. It feels like something that was kind of slapped together with a few nails and some duct tape.

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

Since I’ve been here, my favorite moment was seeing everyone pitch in to defeat the joker who was telling new users to delete their filesystems. So often, the anonymity of the Internet makes it really easy to be a brat. It was nice seeing people band together to make it more difficult, at least for that one person.

Worst memory is of some spammer who posted a bunch of gross-out/pornographic inline images.

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

Some. I helped one former co-worker dual-boot it on his Dell laptop, but have since lost touch with him, so never found out how his experiment ended up. More recently, I rescued a very old laptop (PII, 64 MBs of RAM) for a family member. It runs Debian Etch with Fluxbox at about the same speed with which it used to run Windows 98 (i.e., slowly), but is now much more stable. And the wireless works a lot better now.

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

I think that there are a lot of people who would be happier using GNU/Linux, but don’t for various reasons: They haven’t heard of it, they think it’s all command-line stuff, or just have an ignorant disdain for anything free-as-in-beer, etc. I have no interest in converting everyone to Linux, but I would like it to reach enough visibility so that those who would benefit from using it do.

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

The fact that you had a bad experience with the latest version of Ubuntu doesn’t mean it’s “not ready for the desktop”/”not user-friendly”/”only for hackers and geeks”/”not what end-users want.” By extension, the fact that you had a good experience with the latest release does not mean that everyone should use it, that it works effortlessly with everyone’s hardware, or that people who prefer or need to use Windows are technically inept, suckers, or evildoers.

p_quarles has a forum profile page here, if you want to see exactly what he’s up to. For more interviews with community members and staff, please read Nine simple questions.


8 thoughts on “An interview with p_quarles

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

  2. KevDog

    Dang, I can always count on Dr. Small beating me to the comment box. Ok, I admit it, I’m just plain slow on commenting on these interviews.

    PhD in English Lit I presume?? I would find that quite ironic since literature and computers were like oil and water in my college paper. One grouped loathed the computer only to write their papers, the other group loved computers, but were masters of procrastination when they had to write something up (beyond programing in Pascal if you can believe that!).

    Pascal — what ever happened to that crappy language. Swallowed by C?

  3. Pingback: Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu numéro 91 du 11 au 17 mai 2008 « Lettre Hebdomadaire Ubuntu

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