Friday, January 9, 2009

Interview with GeneralAntilles, the Maemo Community Council Chair

Mobile Tablets! is pleased to present this Q&A session with GeneralAntilles, the first Maemo Community Council Chair. GeneralAntilles is one of the most infamous characters in the internet tablet scene - largely for his dry and matter-of-fact demeanor. He might rub some people the wrong way, but there is no denying his love for this platform as well as the effort and energy that he volunteers into all aspects of these devices. Considering his very busy schedule, especially over the holiday season, I feel fortunate that he agreed to do this interview.

1. As I understand it, you are in your early 20's. Can you tell us what you are currently doing outside of the Maemo world (i.e. are you working, getting educated, a combination of the two, or something else)?

Currently I'm a Junior studying Computer Science at Florida State University. I don't work during the semester, so I usually work at a local new & used bookstore over breaks to scrape together enough cash to get me through each semester.

2. As with many of the members of the Internet Tablet community, you appear to be quite knowledgeable in the areas of Linux, computer hardware, etc. Is this self-taught, or do you have formal education in any of these areas?

Self-taught inasmuch as I didn't receive my knowledge from formal education, but that's not to say that there weren't a lot of very helpful people along the way. ;) My background is in Macintosh, but the 770 was my first real foray into Linux, and Maemo is where I've picked up all of my Linux knowledge to date.

3. Congratulations on becoming the first Maemo Community Council Chair! Since the Council's inception, we have likely had many new members join who may not know what this Council is all about. Can you tell us what the mandate of the Council is?

Well, the Council's basic goals are to facilitate communication between the community and Nokia (and vice versa) to make sure Nokia understands the community's motivations and issues, and that the community understands Nokia's; to act as leaders for the community to help provide direction to and the Maemo Community; and to just plain get stuff done.

4. Do you or your fellow Council members have an area of expertise that you handle independently, or do all Council members deal with each issue?

We each have our own areas of experience and expertise, but we don't really have predefined areas of responsibility, and most of us don't really have a particular "role" we fill. Arguably, there's really only one person who would fit into a specific description, and that's Tim Samoff, since he might be called the graphics person. He's been handling most of the Council's end of the redesign, and was involved in selecting the new logo before the Council was formed. The rest of us, well, Andrew Flegg and I are sort of the "community" people, while Simon Pickering and Eduardo Lima are more the "developers", but there's overlap between everybody.

5. Can you give us an idea how much of your time you spend on Maemo related activities each day (e.g. participating in the forums, mailing lists, Bugsquad, Council activities, etc)?

It varies a lot depending on my non-Maemo-related workload, but Maemo-related activities usually occupy a high percentage of my time. Probably somewhere in the range of 1-5 hours a day on average—depending on what I happen to be working on. Maybe a little more if you factor in idling on IRC. :D Usually I at least check the latest bugzilla, wiki and mailing list activity in the morning and evening.

6. What is the exact mechanism that community members can pass issues up to the Council for discussion with Nokia? And what is the method that Nokia's comments make their way back to the community?

If there's something specific, the maemo-community list is the best place to raise it. Collectively the Council pays attention to almost all of the data exchanged day-to-day in the Maemo Community, so if an issue pops up somewhere you can be almost certain one of us will see it and address it if need be. If Nokia has input on an issue, the best place to voice it is right in the discussion (just as they do now).

7. Do you make any distinction between *users* and *community members* when it comes to whether people are heard or not (e.g. related to an individual's Karma)?

Well, I certainly weight a respected community member's opinion more heavily when forming an opinion on an issue than someone with whom I have no prior experience. This isn't dependent on a silly metric like karma, of course, but on my knowledge of the person and previous dealings with them. As far as considering as issue, though, for me, it really has less to do with the person raising the issue than whether or not the issue is a valid one and would benefit from the Council's help.

8. Can you give us an example of a community issue that has gone through the process of being voiced to Nokia/Maemo via the Council, and back again to the community? Something that gives the community members a sense that this process is working?

The first issue we pushed just after the election dealt with the repository setup for SSU (multiple repositories with inconsistent contents), it has since been addressed and fixed, but I'm not really certain how much of that had to do with Council input. ;) More recently we've been working with Nokia (Quim, in particular) to help push a community backport of Fremantle, which hasn't yet had time to show results, really.

But, of course, the Council's responsibilities encompass more than just dealings with Nokia. Tim and Andrew are pushing the updated style and layout, Andrew and Simon are working on patching the Application Manager, Eduardo and myself pushed Canola into the Bugzilla, and we all helped push and collect translations for the new categories list.

9. You've recently started to play around with the OMAP 3530 based Beagleboard. Based upon this, and what we know of the Maemo5 device (RX-51) - would you say you are excited at the prospect of having those performance numbers in a tablet?

Hell yes! :D Anybody who's followed any of those "N900" speculation threads should know exactly how excited I am about the OMAP3. It really, truly is light years ahead of current generation hardware. Huge performance improvements in everything from web browsing, to video decoding and OpenGL. I'm about as excited about the next tablet as one can get about small consumer electronics. I think it's going to become quite apparent why publishing an official backport of Fremantle for OMAP2 isn't really feasible for Nokia once people get the new hardware in their hands.

10. Speaking of the RX-51 - there is alot of discussion going on about Fremantle over at Internet Tablet Talk. One of the sticking points with 770 and N8X0 users is the confirmed lack of an official Nokia Fremantle distribution for those wonderful devices. Quim and yourself have been prodding the community to rise to the challenge and make Fremantle happen on these devices since the platforms are moving towards more open source components. Can you give us a rundown on where exactly you see the community helping out? For instance, which components should be targetted?

Carsten Munk, and John Bloom were already hard at work with Mer well before the call went out officially, and have, amazingly, stepped things even more since. There are a lot of disparate efforts ongoing in different areas that fall under community efforts for a backport, coordinating these efforts will help a lot. Replacing Nokia's "differentiation" products (closed-source applets, connectivity, themes) with free, and open-source replacements is an important area to work on, and will have benefits not just for a community backport, but all users of Maemo and any derivatives.

11. I am going to venture into a slightly personal area. I think it will be enlightening for users to hear what you have to say about this topic. I know some users on Internet Tablet Talk do not have a positive impression of you, which is based upon how you have replied to posts in the forums. I think the saying is that "you do not suffer fools well". What is your strategy for separating the forum trolls from those who are angry due to legitimate problems they are having? What about the naive newbies that sometimes ask questions about advanced issues, only to have you tell them to stick with the default software? Do you paint them all with the same brush, or do they trigger different styles of response from you?

It's hard to really get a useful impression of somebody from a few forum posts, and I think some of that negative perception stems from people making judgements on just a few forum posts. I'd ask anyone making a judgement about someone else to avoid making their final judgement with so little information.

Tone is everything when you're evaluating whether somebody is actually an honest newbie or just a troll. If you come in ranting and raving about how much the device, the software, the documentation, and (especially) the community sucks, then don't expect a positive response from people. On the other hand, if somebody says, "Hey, I'm having trouble with this, I looked at the documentation, I searched around a bit, but I don't really understand what I need to do to make this work. Can you help?" I'm more than happy to help, unfortunately people often start out with, "Everything and everybody here is stupid, this thing sucks, and I demand that you help me!" which, personally, makes me much less inclined towards helping. ;)

As for the newbies who ask about stuff that's really beyond their skill level, it all depends. I'm more than happy to help people learn new things and explore areas beyond their current skill level, but I have to make a judgement call based on their posts as to whether they're likely to be willing and able to do it. The reality is is that some things simply aren't intended for general consumption. Booting from a flash card isn't a simple procedure, and you do a disservice to people by directing everybody who shows the smallest interest into trying it. You'll save people a lot of time and frustration if you recommend what's appropriate.

12. If you don't mind my saying, you looked a little stiff in your previous avatar. It did not go unnoticed on Internet Tablet Talk when you changed your avatar to something that was friendlier looking. Was this a conscious decision to make yourself look more approachable? Or was it just a picture change, without any hidden meaning?

Hehe. That's actually the picture I took for use in the Council presentation at the Summit. I thought it was a better picture than the old one so I went ahead and made the change. Nothing more to it. That said, it is interesting to see people's reactions change based solely on an avatar. ;)

13. What are your top 3 tablet applications (other than anything installed by default), and why?

In no particular order: Maemo Mapper, FBReader and Canola. Maemo Mapper and Canola for those long road trips, and FBReader because reading ebooks on these things is one of the best things ever.

14. Anything you want to say to the Internet Tablet Community?

I'd like to say how awesome it's been seeing this community grow over the past 3 years. :D I wont pick any particular names to thank (you know who you are), but there are a ton of great people involved here and it's always a fantastic experience working with them. I'm greatly impressed by how far we've come so far and very excited to see exactly how far we'll go in the future.

I do want to single out the Nokians among us who go above and beyond the call of duty and put so much of their time into this community. I know you're frequently in a tough place stuck between the community and Nokia, and I know you don't get the recognition and thanks you deserve for putting yourself in that position, so I'd like to make sure you know how much we appreciate you being here and thank you for it. :)

'Post'-Mortem by EIPI

First of all, thank you GeneralAntilles for participating in this interview.

I went out on a limb at the start of this process by asking GeneralAntilles to indulge me as I wanted to tread a bit in the area of the public's perception of him. As we all know, he has come off arrogant in forum posts, and there are certainly those who make their negative opinions of him known. I wanted to get a feel for how he deals with this issue. I've never had any contact with him prior to this interview, so I did not know what to expect. He was pretty cool about it. He even offered this quip which he used to describe himself: "I yam what I yam, and that's all I yam.". For those of you that missed the reference, that was a Popeye line.

The conclusion that I have drawn from dealing with the General is that he is all about how you carry yourself. In a text based community such as ours - implied tone is everything. We should all keep that in mind in our dealings with everyone, and hopefully it will lead to a more vibrant community.


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