Behind The Scenes: davecs

by Paul Arnote (parnote)

In the continuing series of highlighting those responsible behind the scenes to keep PCLinuxOS running and making PCLinuxOS what it is, this month we have a chat with Dave Spagnol, a.k.a. davecs, one of the Global Moderators in the PCLinuxOS forum. — Paul Arnote, PCLinuxOS Magazine Chief Editor


What is your name, chief occupation, age, geographical place of residence, and marital status?

Name: David Spagnol, Age 55, Live in Barking, Essex (Greater London), UK. Separated

When did you first get into computing (what type of computer, what OS, etc.)?

Like many of my generation, I cut my teeth on a Sinclair ZX81. I added a 48k memory expansion and an expanded graphics ROM, and a "real" keyboard. Couldn't leave anything alone even then. I progressed to the Sinclair Spectrum, with 48k, then with 128k, Microdrives etc. writing some stuff in Machine Code. Also the Tatung Einstein. My first PC-like experience was a Victor Vicki which was great fun. I got my first "proper" PC, a 486, when I was 40 I think. Running Windows 3.1

Of course I couldn't leave it alone, using all sorts of "Alternate" shells my favourite being "Wayfarer" which added a proper modern style Taskbar, and all sorts of ways of displaying folder contents. Being forced up to Win95 (and 98) was a step back compared to Wayfarer which refused to run under Win9x.

When did you make the move to Linux, what distro were you using, and what attracted you?

It was USB that made me investigate Linux. I had Win98SE, and did not want to upgrade to WinXP which I thought was designed to control the user rather than the other way around. I thought (wrongly) that USB would not work under Win98SE. I thought I could put in a USB board and use Linux. I was also cynical of Microsoft, because everyone I knew used MS, without questioning. Why spend hundreds for MS Office when you could get Lotus Office, in my opinion at the time a far superior product, for a tenner? Even in the previous Win3.1 days, Ami Pro was superior to Word or Wordperfect! Being a bit of a rebel I thought, why not go the whole way?

In the middle of all this, I got broadband for the first time. The guy who installed it used a USB connection (even though there was also Ethernet on both the cable modem and the computer), thus disproving what I thought about Win98SE and USB, but hey, my mind had been made up.

I initially downloaded Mandrake, v8.0 or 8.1 I think. I was very disappointed. I could not get the display out of 800x600 mode, and the default graphics make it look like a kid's toy. Later I tried Debian, 3.0r1 I think, 7 disks downloaded and it was slower in those days. That scared the bejasus out of me. I managed to get up an OS with no graphics, and no idea what to do with it. That was almost me and Linux finished!

Some time later, I relented and tried Mandrake 9.0. This time I got it off a Magazine Cover, and this time, I was able to get up a 1280x1024 display, though a very shaky unpleasant one. It was then that I discovered the true meaning of collaboration, and learned how to hack the XF86 initialisation file to make the display rock solid. I was on my way

Another problem was that the internet connection kept dropping, and I could only start it again by rebooting. I found a guy in Hong Kong who used Red Hat, but had the same problem with similar hardware. He sent me a file he had written to run in a loop, detect when the connection was dropped, and restart it. It didn't work on Mandrake, but I looked at it. It was a bash script, not much different in essence to a Windows Batch File, I had a little go at it, and got it working in Mandrake. I had learned my first lesson about the Linux Community.

Another one followed soon. I had a digital camera whose "movie clips" needed a commercial program to convert them into something that Windows or Linux could actually use. And it didn't work in Linux. Rather cheekily, I emailed the guys working on Transcode. I ended up with a long personal correspondence with Tilmann Bitterberg himself, which ended with him sending me a patch which was later incorporated into Transcode. And it wasn't like he was doing me a favour it was almost that I was helping him, just by giving him a new format to work on.

Whilst using Mandrake, I had discovered extra repositories through PLF (Penguin Liberation Front), including Texstar's. As a result I joined Texstar's web site PCLinuxOnLine. Shortly after I tried Gentoo. Although the installation is long and tedious, it's not actually all that difficult. And my computer was now flying.

It was a little after this that I thought I'd have a look at the latest Mandrake/iva again, 10.0 or 10.1 I think. Horror of horrors, no "Texstar" repository. I did a search which led me back to PCLinuxOnLine, and it was then that I found the reason, Tex had made his own distro. I sort of felt duty bound to try it, after all I had had a few exchanges with Tex on his forum, and used his Mandrake rpms in the past.

The most amazing thing was that PCLinuxOS was easier to install than Mandrake had been, but flew almost as quickly, and with fewer quirks than Gentoo. At first I just copied over some of the superior artwork from PCLinuxOS to Gentoo, but as time went on I kept thinking why spend all this time compiling? PCLinuxOS gives me what I want without the hassle. I'll always be grateful for Mandrake for giving me that first leg-up onto the Linux train, Tilmann and the guy from Hong Kong for showing me what community is all about, and Gentoo for making me look under the hood. But PCLinuxOS was the first time I thought to myself: Here is something I could give to others.

When did you make the switch to PCLinuxOS?

I think it was around the time of release 0.81. Whenever that was. As you can see, I remember release numbers more than years. History was my worst subject in school even though I think I understand the processes, for much the same reason.

What attracted you to PCLinuxOS?

As I said earlier, that it was something I could pass forward to others, not just take for myself.

With the 2010 version of PCLinuxOS just around the corner, what do you think will be the biggest challenge facing PCLinuxOS users?

For those who are stubbornly hanging on to KDE3, moving upwards (KDE4) or sideways. By making our default desktop Folder View (~/Desktop), we can minimise the unfamiliarity. I've found it's possible to make Dolphin more like Konqueror File Manager, let's make the default as painless as possible, and then discuss on the forum how to make best use of what's new.

What do you view to be your greatest challenge as a Global Moderator in the PCLinuxOS forum?

Finding the time to do it at present, my life is a little complicated! I spend most weekends with my girlfriend as she lives too far away to be with in the working week, you can imagine this restricts my time.

What do you view to be your greatest reward in your role as a Global Moderator?

The knowledge that you are helping keep the forums accessible for the users that need them most.

What do you view to be your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses?

I think when I first became a moderator, my strength was that I was the first non-American. We try to avoid political controversy on the forum, but in truth, what is "normal" in one place is "controversial" in another. Unfortunately to give examples would be to stoke up controversy in itself, which is not what I am here to do. We're mainly an English speaking forum, but that includes many nationalities, colours, religions etc. We're here to help people get their Linux computers up and running, and maybe we can do our bit for world peace just by being civil to each other, helping each other, and not flagging up the things that divide us. There are plenty of places to go to on the net for that, and I've got plenty to say — in the appropriate place!

My greatest weakness is that I can get lazy! Can't we all?

If you had to describe yourself and your personality in terms of art, which piece of art would best describe you?

I can be quite a philistine at times, I really haven't a clue.

Do you run other OS's, and if so, which ones, and what attracts you to them?

On my main computer I have a Windows2000 partition. I have used it once, to connect the serial port to my PVR to change the firmware. On my NC10, I shrunk the main partition to 39Gb and left WinXP there. I still don't know why I bothered. I haven't even bothered to correct the keyboard layout from American to British yet.

How much time (per week) do you devote to your duties as a Global Moderator of the PCLinuxOS forum?

I really don't keep count. Maybe not as many as I should, for reasons already stated.

When you are not working, either at your primary occupation or as a Global Moderator, what do you like to do to occupy your time (hobbies, activities, etc.)?

I like making friends on line and chatting. Watching Football (us British invented the game and we don't call it Soccer!!!). Socialising. Spending time with my girlfriend.

What "parting words of wisdom" would you like to leave us with?

If it takes a week to walk a fortnight, how many apples in a bunch of grapes?