Interview with Coffeecat

Coffeecat is someone I know from the Ubuntu Forums, where he sits with me on the Forum Council.  He has kindly taken some time out to answer the dreaded 9 simple questions…

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

I am male and old enough to have some grey hair and to be retired from an active profession. I live in the UK.

I was educated to post-degree level, but have little real formal training in IT. My other interests include reading, music (mostly classical), gardening and cooking.

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

My first contact with a computer was in the early 80s with a Sinclair Spectrum, after which I managed to inveigle myself onto an employer-sponsored 3-week course in basic computer programming and systems design, using a mainframe computer from the 70s. My first serious work desktop computer ran MS-DOS 3 and had a hard drive with the amazingly large capacity of 10 megabytes. Over the next many years I progressed through a number of PCs, at first with MS-DOS and then with a series of Windows versions from Windows 3 up to XP. In 2005 I heard about something called Linux. I tried it; I was impressed. My early experience was mostly with Fedora and whatever Suse called itself in those days. It was while using Suse 9.3 that I had an epiphany: I wasn’t dependent on Windows any more. It was a liberating moment.

I tried Ubuntu 5.04, used 5.10 and became primarily an Ubuntu user with 6.06, using every release since then. For about a year I strayed into Gentoo and used it as my primary OS. The experience taught me much but my heart was not in constant recompiling and my main OS has been Ubuntu since about 2008. In the past I’ve enjoyed trying out other distros, but I have always come back to Ubuntu.

3. When did you become involved in the forums (or the Ubuntu community)? What’s your role there?

I joined the forum the same month that Dapper/6.06 was released.  My role there is straightforward. I am an ordinary member who enjoys helping as much as I am able in the technical support categories. As my experience and expertise has grown so has my confidence that I can help others, and so has my posting record increased.

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

I am an Ubuntu member through the Ubuntu Forum Members team, admitted to membership on 7th June 2011. My main contribution to Ubuntu has been through activity on the forum, although I wish to widen my contributions into other areas, such as through community documentation.

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

Ubuntu is now the only distro I use routinely. I do have Windows and I also have a Mac Mini, both of which I use occasionally mainly for interest. Apart from the usual apps that most people use, Firefox, LibreOffice, Gedit, and so on, I use software for maintaining my audio and video collections. When the long winter evenings arrive I intend to learn how to use Raw Studio and/or UFRaw to complement my SLR camera, and perhaps learn how to use more of the capabilities of the GIMP. Another thing for the long winter evenings is genealogical research, for which I use gramps.

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

My worst moment with Ubuntu involved Breezy Badger, a removable hard drive caddy and two generous glasses of a rather splendid red wine. Don’t try this at home!

I had been using Linux for only a few months and still did not have much confidence modifying partitions and I knew next to nothing about configuring and repairing bootloaders. I wanted to try out different distros but didn’t know how to go about setting up a multi-boot, so I bought a set of hard drive caddies. The holder goes into a spare optical drive bay and is connected to the hard drive header on the motherboard, and you have a removable caddy for each hard drive. I had two, a Fedora/Windows dual-boot on one and Ubuntu Breezy by itself on the other. I was intending to replace Fedora with Suse on the dual-boot hard drive, but thought I would try to run fixmbr from the Windows install disc first. I knew that I didn’t have to. I just wanted to do it for the experience and convince myself that it would work, but I put the job off until after supper. Mistake!

This was when the wine came into play. Having finished my supper and drained my wine glass, I repaired upstairs, switched on the computer, booted up with the Windows XP install CD and ran fixmbr from the repair console. I rebooted but nothing much happened. Just a black screen with a blinking cursor. That’s when I noticed that I had put the Ubuntu hard drive caddy in the machine, not the Fedora/Windows one. I had installed the Windows mbr to a hard drive without Windows and lost the ability to boot into Ubuntu. I was much grieved.

I blame the wine!

But good came out of this. The incident forced me to learn how to configure legacy grub and I soon had Breezy Badger booting once more. Having learnt how to repair a broken bootloader I became more adventurous and learnt how to set up several partitions for a multi-boot.

Three years later grub 2 arrived…

My fondest memory occurred only a few months after the red wine incident. I had an old 1999 laptop which had been running Windows 98 and was well past its best. I installed Dapper Drake on it which, considering the sub-optimal amount of RAM in the machine, worked surprisingly well, albeit slowly. Frustratingly though, I could not connect to the internet. It had no wireless, no PCMCIA slot to put a wireless card in, nor an ethernet port, just a solitary USB1 port. In a fit of unthinking enthusiasm, I drove the 15 miles or so to my nearest Maplins, bought a USB to ethernet adapter, and drove back home. But when I unpacked the box a Windows driver CD dropped out. Being fairly new to Linux I had simply not considered the need for a driver and, of course, the device packaging stated quite clearly that only Windows was supported. I briefly considered driving the 30-mile round journey again to see if the shop would consider a refund, but first I plugged it into the old laptop to see what would happen, and – you’ve guessed it – it “just worked”. I find that less surprising now but I was very impressed then and the episode greatly encouraged me to continue my Linux adventure.

As far as the forum is concerned I have mostly positive memories. I like the friendly atmosphere and am constantly pleasantly surprised at how helpful and tolerant most members are.

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

Moderate. Most people I help with computer problems are resolutely wedded to Windows, but I have enabled the regular use of Ubuntu in a handful of households. At the moment I am guiding a young teenager through installing and configuring Ubuntu in wubi.

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

With Linux generally, I would like to see applications as good as or even better than their Windows or MacOS counterparts. And I would like to see viable software that doesn’t yet exist for Linux, voice-recognition and dictation for example. I have no ethical objection to proprietary software and would pay for such a program. Are you listening, Dragon/Nuance?

With Ubuntu, I would like to see it pre-reinstalled on tablet devices and easily available in high-street shops.

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

Be patient. It takes time to find your way around a different computing environment, but the rewards are great.

Originally Posted here on 2012-04-26

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