People of openSUSE: Michael Meeks
GNOME and full time OpenOffice.org developer Michael Meeks was invited by ‘People of openSUSE’ to an interview, and here are his answers!
Just in case, if you will be in FOSDEM 2008 do not miss the opportunity to meet him there, and attend his talk in the openSUSE DevRoom.
- Nickname: None I’m aware of, you’ll have to ask my co-workers.
- Blog: http://www.gnome.org/~michael/
- Favorite season: My home office is in a converted loft-space, and it gets either too hot or too cold rather easily, so temperate parts of the year are good for productivity.
- Motto: Eschew Obfuscation, Deus Volens (perhaps) ?
Please introduce yourself!
Sure, I’m Michael Meeks, Christian, Hacker, Husband, Irritation. Happily married to a wonderful woman (Julia), and with so far 3 children: Hannah, Naomi & Miriam, with another on the way. Somehow I managed to arrive at 30 years old without getting any wiser on the way.
Tell us about the background to your computer use.
Pretty normal stuff I guess – some BBC basic: in fact my Mother got me started programming basic, on the computer my parents spent all their savings to buy. Type-in games were a great way to learn syntax, (sadly gone forever I suspect). Then assembly language, some Pascal, C on early PCs, a stint with edlin, x86 assembler and segmented memory writing a debugger. Then some games – hacking a 3D ray-casting pac-man game (in assembler) with no debugger was mostly good experience for heavy code reading to find bugs, followed by the humbling realisation that gcc produced better assembler than I did. After that some C game hacking, and then working at Quantel as a sponsored student on both real-time software (in Pascal for 68k, cross-compiled on Alpha/VMS, with a real vt220), and also some hardware work (which is more fun than software frankly).
I met Linux working in spare moments with a friend’s internet startup in London, but it was really lame for gaming. Anyhow, during my gap-year I became a Christian, and there was some serious private battle there, me & God – should I stick with this Windows thing (which was almost entirely stolen software) or should I switch to this lame & broken Linux thing, that would never be usable for games. Well, in the end I switched. As a consequence, I managed to get in early, hack with interesting people like Nat & Miguel and ride some of their wake into a fascinating career (albeit with few games).
When and why did you start using openSUSE/SUSE Linux?
Ah, that’s easy – before Novell bought SUSE some years ago, I switched to using it instead of RedHat – fly the flag and so on. Of course, initially there were some annoying differences: nothing right or wrong, just different. I think there’s been a lot more distribution convergence since then. Of course, with yast2, and increasingly the hot-plug / auto-configuration of desktop devices knowing exactly where configuration files live is much less of an issue than it used to be.
When did you join the openSUSE community and what made you do that?
I’m not sure there is a joining moment really. I see community as a web of individual relationships, a distributed experience of trust & respect in each other’s development abilities. As an aside, in my experience those who start from a place that sees ‘community’ as an end in itself end up down a rat-hole. The fun is in the hacking, the people, their relationships and of course their occasional conflicts. Hopefully our community is very easy to drift into & get involved, with no hard boundaries.
In what way do you participate in the openSUSE project?
Well, of course – with my heroic team we try to make OpenOffice run best on SUSE – with some success I hope, at least – it works far, far better than the stock Sun version, and has more functionality eg. a solver, file filters etc.
What especially motivates you to participate in the openSUSE project?
It’s a great product, there is a fun team around it, oh and of course the remuneration helps.
What do you think was your most important contribution to the openSUSE project/community or what is the contribution that you’re most proud of?
Pride is unfortunate, on the other hand, it’s a blessing to to have helped out with a few things here & there: bug fixing, polish etc. Of course performance interests me a great deal, it’s been fun hacking with our gcc, binutils and glibc guys to experiment with and add various optimisations at that level. Similarly, looking at I/O optimisation issues with Jan Kara is fascinating.
When do you usually spend time on the openSUSE project?
Mostly during office hours; occasionally in evenings while baby-sitting.
Three words to describe openSUSE? Or make up a proper slogan!
Green, mean and rocks on your machine. My lack of suitable sloganeering experience shows through though I fear.
What do you think is missing or underrated in the distribution or the project?
I really have no idea. Having said that I’d love to see some of the great educational package like ‘gcompris’ installed by default.
What do you think the future holds for the openSUSE project?
More developers, more fun, more polish, more users, more cutting edge software.
A person asks you why he/she should choose openSUSE instead of other distribution/OS. What would be your arguments to convince him/her to pick up openSUSE?
Oh, that is easy. I’d have the same argument for both personal & corporate types: if you use OpenSUSE, not only do you get some of the best engineering out there – I (and we) can also support you: there is nothing that can’t be fixed. Novell & SUSE invest heavily in open-source development, building out the market and our skill-base is exceptional across the board. That combined with the growing pool of talent in the community gives us an extraordinary ability to find and fix your problems in OpenSUSE, often before you even see them.
Which members of the openSUSE community have you met in person?
I’m blessed with having gone to FOSDEM an unfeasible number of times, and of course Nuremberg & Prague on many occasions – so, probably too many to list without tedium. I’d like to call out Ricardo Cruz though – the chap behind yast2-gtk: a man who has brought light and change to a number of swamps (others being OO.o’s layout). Perhaps you should interview him ?
How many icons are currently on your desktop?
$ ls ~/Desktop | wc -l 42
while a good number, that’s prolly rather too many, my laziness in removing them is not balanced with my taking of screenshots for filing bugs.
What is the application you can’t live without? And why?
That would be the kernel on my cardiac pace-maker ? without it my heart would stop, with it I can tweak an ioctl to bump up the pulse to 160 bpm. Beyond that, I’m rather a fan of Evolution – I still happily remember the day when I was forced (by corporate fiat at Ximian) to switch away from pine.
Which application or feature should be invented as soon as possible?
A secure way for applications to recieve broadcast packets in reply to them being sent out. ie. I’d like to be able to browse my local area network without completely disabling the firewall.
Which is your preferred text editor? And why?
emacs, why ? I guess mostly it’s familiarity, it does what I want. Also – I can split the screen 6 ways and see every piece of code I’m touching easily, without ever using the mouse. Having said that, I have no quarrel with anyone who uses another sharp tool, like eg. ‘vi’ – my beef comes with people who, while excellent programmers, avoid a step-improvement in their productivity by writing code in the moral equivalent of ‘notepad’ (you know who you are).
Which famous person would you want to join the openSUSE community?
Alan Cox, of course, that’s a little difficult clearly with his corporate affiliation, but he’s a super chap, and the more influential people we can get from outside, with new, different and compelling ideas, the more we can change and improve our culture & software.
Which computer related skills would you like to have?
Really, I’m just interested in software, so – I would like to know more about more things: at the moment, I’m wishing I knew more about the X server, and AJAX techniques for example. Of course, learning is only a matter of time to read code and brain-space to store it in – so perhaps the ability to make more of both would be good.
The Internet crashes for a whole week. How would you feel, what would you do?
I’d feel pretty good, I could get on with some fun hacking without getting any mail – and even better than that, no-one could be sending me any, so there would be no back-log; in fact it sounds wonderful – perhaps I should invest in a ship anchor sharpening scheme.
Which is your favorite movie scene?
Probably the Shawshank Redemption, when the govenor looks down the immense tunnel through the concrete, carved out a bit at a time with a tiny rock-hammer. Working on OpenOffice yields many opportunities to empathise with Andy Dufraisne.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars, but only for the hair-cuts, I’m convinced Princess Lea got her hair-styling inspiration from my friend Jacob Berkman’s headphones.
What is your favorite food and drink?
Ham, egg & chips, with baked alaska for pudding I guess – something nice and bland. I was regularly caught out when in Bangalore (meeting with our desktop hackers) to find green chillies in egg sandwiches of an evening, on the roof with the setting sun turning the sky all manner of interesting colors – not a fan of hotness.
Favorite game or console (in your childhood and nowadays)?
As a child, we had a BBC Micro, and about the best games were Exile and Elite, either would do as a favorite. Both were rather humbling in terms of my pitifiul programming abilities at the time.
Which city would you like to visit?
Pyongyang, definitely – I’d love to help my leftist friends to lift the lid on the evil neo-liberal propaganda that suggests they’re mostly hungry and oppressed. Meeting the Great Leader (who from his childhood was “extraordinarily clever and wise”) might be interesting too. It seems there are rather few Worker’s Paradises left to experience these days.
What is your preferred way to spend your vacation?
My parents were teachers, and so we used to really go for active vacations – climbing up hills in Wales and so on, and used to look down on all those townies that would go and lie on a beach somewhere. Now, with a family, and plenty of work to do – my main ambition is to sleep, and spend time with my wife. A similar thing happened with hobbies: camping, canoing, rock climbing, singing, playing the violin all of it got swallowed somewhere; sad really.
Someone gives you $1.000.000. What would you do with the money?
There is a joke in my family, from a rather shocking incident overheard at school where a father told his son (who had just been given some cash) he would “double it for him on the slots”. So clearly with $1 million: first, double it on the slot machines. Beyond that, it’d be lovely to be able to help some poorer people with the money. Then, I guess I’d invest it and live off the income – hacking for fun, on openSUSE for example.
If traveling through time was possible, when would we be most likely to meet you?
Palestine, around AD 30, listening at the feet of a certain carpenter I admire.
There’s a thunderstorm outside. Do you turn off your computer?
No, should I ? when I was in an R&D team designing bits of hardware for real-time video editing & test at Quantel as a student, we had to send things off for EMC testing, complete with massive power spikes and so on, now I leave everything on all the time.
Have your ever missed an appointment because you forgot about it while sitting at your computer?
Yes. There is this wonderful ‘defer’ appointment thing I do as a reflex when I get an alarm popup – inevitably, meaning I miss the first part of meetings.
Show us a picture of something, you have always wanted to share!
Sadly, I haven’t always wanted to share a picture of something.
You couldn’t live without…
God, my wife, my children, oxygen to the brain, that sort of thing.
Which question was the hardest to answer?
Picture to share, I guess.
What other question would you like to answer? And what would you answer?
Q: Why do people read this stuff ? ;-) A: I hope that’s printable :-)