Interview with Penelope Stowe

Penelope Stowe

Isabell Long: Firstly, please tell us a little about yourself.

Penelope Stowe: I’ve been an Ubuntu user on and off for almost 3 years now (my “other distro” is, admittedly, MacOS). Until recently, I was working in publishing, but I’ve quit my job and am now exploring possibilities for what I’ll do next. I figure it’s a good time to be adventurous and push past things I’d planned, and look at new possibilities.

I tend to be interested in everything, and, while I don’t believe in knowledge for knowledge’s sake, I do believe that anything you learn can be useful and often is.

IL: What inspired you to get involved in the Ubuntu community?

PS: The short and immediate answer is that a friend badgered me about it enough over about 6 months before I got actively involved. The longer answer is that I finally got to the point where I stopped being too shy to get involved, which had to do a lot with having friends who were involved and were enthusiastic about getting me involved. I’d been using Ubuntu long enough beforehand that it wasn’t a huge jump to getting involved, just a personal hurdle.

As for why I started using Ubuntu, I’ve always had friends who were Linux geeks, and I finally got around to giving it a try in 2007, and everyone told me Ubuntu was the way to go. I’ll admit I’m not a full-time user and I’m not sure I’ll ever be. However, I’ve always been interested in free culture, so using free software is a natural progression from that. I’m much more a philosophical user than I am a “this just works” person, especially as I increasingly need accessibility tools, many of which don’t “just work” yet in any Linux distribution.

Also, working on Ubuntu is something I can do when I’m physically unable to do much else. I have a physical disability, and sometimes am limited to things I can do lying down, but as long as I have my laptop I can still be doing things for Ubuntu.

Finally, I love the Ubuntu community. It’s one of the friendliest communities I know of any type, and I do think the community is the strongest part of the operating system.

IL: What are your roles within the Ubuntu community?

PS: My current big project is trying to revive the Ubuntu Accessibility Team. It’s been going on quietly as a support only team using the mailing list and forums for a few years, but I’m hoping to get it to a point where it’s updating documentation for what’s available, and where there’s some organisation addressing what the team would like to see in future Ubuntu releases as well as some coordination with upstream. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm from people for this, so I’m hoping it all comes together. Accessibility is such a difficult thing because it is so varied. What I need is completely different from what someone with a visual impairment needs. Even people with other mobility problems may have different needs than I have. There’s also a huge emphasis on discussions to focus on development, and I’d like to branch that out some – because we really need to update documentation and awareness. Ubuntu could open itself up to a large group of new users if accessibility could be improved, or even if people knew what already existed.

I am also one of the team that runs the Ubuntu User Days for new users. We started Ubuntu User Days to provide a day of more basic “how to” for setting-up and using Ubuntu, and the first one was a great success. The next one is June 5th. I’m hoping it goes as well as the first. We’ve got so many ideas for what we want to have happen. It’s nice to see it all come together.

Finally, I’m active in Ubuntu Women where I have been helping to get the mentoring program running again, and have been doing anything else they ask me to do. I was a little less active towards the end of the Lucid cycle. However, I’ll be getting more involved again as I have more time.

IL: You’ve done quite a lot in the short time you have been involved in Ubuntu. Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to try?

PS: A better question is if there’s anything I haven’t done that I don’t want to try. I definitely want to get involved with documentation. I think it’s really important, plus it’s somewhere that I can put skills I already have to use. I’d also like to learn how to bug triage and help out the bug squad. Also, one of the things I’m going to do – when not working – is try to learn to program. I took a couple of programming courses in college, and so will probably try to refresh my memory of those languages and pick up Python. I’m sure there are other things I either haven’t thought of, or am not remembering that I want to do, but generally it comes down to: if I hear about it, it’s probably on my long list of things to learn or do eventually when I have time/energy/resources.

IL: What other things are you interested in outside of OSS and Ubuntu?

PS: I’m a pretty solid book geek (mostly fantasy, but I do branch out). My main client at the job I just left was a science fiction and fantasy publisher, so it was a wonderful way to feed my book addiction. I’m also very interested in disability studies and disability rights, and I’m quite interested in how much of the disability rights and studies movements these days happens online as well as offline.

My non-techblog is wheeledtraveler.blogspot.com, although it’s seen less use recently as I’ve traveled less and not been spending time blogging. Since I theoretically have more time now, that should change.

[Discuss Penelope Stowe’s Interview on the Forum]

Originally posted by Isabell Long in Full Circle Magazine Issue #37 on May 28, 2010

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