Photo of Daniel Silverstone

Daniel Silverstone

Interviewed: April 2006


IRC Nickname: Kinnison
Location: England, mostly Cambridgeshire currently. Hopefully Manchester soon enough
Age: 26
Profession: Software Engineer

Ubuntu Stuff

In what way are you involved in Ubuntu?

Currently I'm a generic dogsbody on bugs and also I look after the gnome-power-manager stuff when I have time. Previously I worked on Launchpad, on the Soyuz system (Since January, Ubuntu has been running on the Launchpad, on Soyuz)

How much time do you spend working on Ubuntu?

Currently, almost my entire working day is spent on Ubuntu and small amounts are spent on Soyuz.

Are you being paid to work on Ubuntu?

Yes, currently Canonical are paying me to work on Ubuntu. When Dapper releases I will be back working on the new and cool features in Soyuz

How and when did you get involved in Ubuntu?

When I was first approached about working at Canonical I started to do some work on a project called CSCVS in my own time, for Canonical's benefit. Eventually I was hired to work on Launchpad and I started at Canonical in October of 2004. Then once Ubuntu was running on Launchpad, the infrastructure I helped to design and implement, I was allowed to help with Dapper.

What have you been working on for Dapper?

I have been looking after gnome-power-manager but mostly doing random bugfixes and being a general odd-jobber. I joined too late in the cycle to have any particular feature-goal so I'm mostly helping where I can.

What are your plans for Edgy?

I'll be back on the Launchpad team working on various features for Launchpad to make the developers of Ubuntu have an even better time of it. We have Personal Package Archives in the pipeline -- those will allow people to have their own small apt-get/synaptic compatible archives served by, and built by, Launchpad. And we have many and various other things to work on, including the much vaunted derivative distributions support. Life will be exciting for distro developers in the dapper+1 cycle. With a shortened development cycle the extra tools we can provide for them will be all the more important.

What feature would you like to see/improve in Ubuntu?

I spend a lot of my time with my laptop either at conferences or sat in my comfy chair in the lounge doing my personal hacking. As such I'd love to see more reliable laptop support. I also have a personal list of peeves both in Ubuntu per-se and in the apps included in Ubuntu. None of them are big and I'll get around to fixing them eventually. Ultimately I guess that more reliable interoperation in heterogenous networks and the much-vaunted ease-of-use, which are directions Ubuntu is pulling in anyway, are my major desires for future Ubuntu versions.

Do you contribute to FLOSS in any other ways?

I run a small hosting ISP which donates services to FLOSS projects (for example we host and and I contribute to various Lua projects as well as writing my own small things behind the scenes. Anyone who has used the GNU Common C++ Libraries has used code of mine almost certainly. Also I wrote the extensions to the toshiba_acpi kernel module used to provide the hotkeys on toshiba laptops to the acpi subsystem. I wrote the original readahead code used back in the days of Ubuntu 5.04 and I have numerous fingers in other pies including some small contributions to the Bazaar-NG version control system. I contribute to a web browser project called NetSurf originally born on RISC OS but which has since grown a GTK+ port. I also write software of my own. As you can see, I'm a bit of a drive-by hacker, but I aim to scratch important itches for both myself and others.

Which window manager/desktop environment do you use and what do you like about it?

I use the GNOME desktop as comes with Ubuntu. I make very few changes to the default configuration because it is pretty good. In my time I have tried KDE, Afterstep, fvwm, flwm, the ROX Desktop, enlightenment, and many many others. I use the default GNOME configuration because it's the one I gave to my father and I try to ensure I keep my knowledge relevant for helping with any issues he has. Ultimately it doesn't get in my way and thus doesn't irritate me into replacing it, which is the highest accolade I feel I can give to a desktop environment.

What programs do you use daily?

As you'll see below in my screenshot, I have a large number of desktops on the go all the time. This is mostly because I don't believe in overlapping windows which I work in (dialog boxes are fine, as are message boxes -- just not work windows) and as such I tend to put stuff next to each other rather than overlapping. I am a very spatial person and I associate things by their proximity to other things, but alongside that I am a creature of habit and that spills over into how I organise my life. The day starts by opening Evolution on the top-left desktop. While it synchronises my mail I switch one desktop to the right and open four gnome-terminals. In one goes TinyFugue attached to a talker (think IRC only different) where a lot of my friends hang out. In another goes irssi-text connected to the myriad IRC networks I take part in. In another goes an ssh session to my server at home, and in the fourth goes an ssh session to my server in Telehouse.

Then I open a web browser on the next desktop to the right and set it to be full screen. I use firefox because I find it offers the best combination of speed and features with the best of the user-interfaces of any web browser I've used so far. (Yes, even though I work on a different web browser project, firefox remains my browser of choice, as you can see in the screenshot below, I don't keep much in the way of distractions on the screen).

Then the general work starts for the day. In terminals, vim may be invoked to edit small things, emacs may end up somewhere for more long-term or large programming work. Many people look confusedly at me for using both vim and emacs, indeed in a previous job I used to use both on the same desktop, sat next to each other. I say "use the best tool for the job" and for me, vim and emacs fulfil different roles in my day-to-day work.

If I'm simply reading code I downloaded or perhaps a patch from a colleague or friend, I may fire up gedit and look at things in a larger font. Mostly this is being lazy because it's what nautilus associates with the filetype so a double-click gets it up and running.

What computers do you have and what are they called?

In terms of architectures my partner and I don't have a particularly large selection, but in summary... Our house router is called, rather unimaginatively, `router` and is a Netgear DG834G. The main server we have is called 'ennui' and the primary link to my past. My first computer was called `henry` which mutated to `henri` as time progressed and I learned more french. When I moved to university someone else had a computer called the same and so `henri` mutated into `ennui`. As my computer collection grew I decided that a consistent naming scheme was the right plan and so given 'ennui' as a starting point we named our computers with words associated with tiredness, boredom etc. Currently actively used names in the house are ennui, trite, acedia, banal, petitemort, stupor, fatigue and narcolepsy. Banal runs breezy and mythtv and with a UK DVB-T card is essentially our DVR attached to our TV; petitemort, acedia and trite are desktops (i386, arm and amd64 respectively) and stupor, fatigue and narcolepsy are laptops. Other names which have been in use in the past include tedium, langour, hobo, lethargy, sunbathers, bask, malaise -- as you can see, a not small collection but not as large as some people's.

What does your desktop look like?

I took a screenshot of the top-left six of my desktops (the ones where I spend the majority of my time) and turned them into a single image for you:

desktop Magnify

What does your computer area look like?

I am a firm believer in the adage that a tidy desk is the sign of a sick mind:

Computer Area Magnify

What do you drink while working on your computer?

Mostly coffee, tea (What a colleague of mine would call squaddie-tea), green tea, squash, fruit juices, and diet cola. Sometimes Irn Bru (hi Jonathan)

Personal Stuff

Where were you born/grew up?

Much to the amusement of others, I was born in a small town called Nuneaton. I grew up in Birmingham and attended university in London before starting work in Cambridge.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

I have two brothers and a sister. I was the middle male and my sister is the oldest of us all.

What memories do you have of growing up?

I have plenty of direct memories and plenty of stories about when I was younger, most of which are probably of little interest to others. Perhaps I should start with a story that my father told me once. When I was about three years old, I would sit on his chair in the study where he had his computer and I would try and do what he did and write words. I learned the connection between the uppercase letters and lowercase letters at a keyboard. One day I had filled up the screen with 'cat' 'dog' 'pig' 'hen' and 'owl' -- the immortal words which have never left me and which haunt me to this day. I asked my father how to make the words go away so I could write more. My father being somewhat distracted by a manuscript he was proofreading for my mother simply said "press shift-home" and told me to go away. A few minutes later he wandered in to find that even at age three I was well on my way to being able to chord keys enough to use emacs. I have scattered memories of typing in programs from a book with my father dictating them to me while I typed, and I have memories of writing my own software around the age of five. Other than that, I imagine my growing up was fairly mundane and was filled with the usual snowball fights, cycling around in the hills nearby, learning to swim etc.

One memory burns brightly in my mind and that was the day that I sat with fractint and as I watched it draw these amazing patterns I vowed to learn how to do that. This was the beginning of my love affair with algorithms and data representation. An affair which burns strongly even now.

Married, partner or up for adoption?

I live with my partner Rob who I have lived with for nearly six years now. We intend to register our civil partnership some time next year.

Do you have any children or pets?

We have a cat called Elizabeth. She is a grey tabby with brown hints on her chest and tummy.

Where do you recommend anyone visiting your country sees?

I live in a country with such a chequered history that there is lots to see. For people who love old buildings, there are some fantastic castles and churches which are well worth a visit. Ely Cathedral is a magnificent structure, as is the tower of London. Take a look at for ideas I guess.

Favourite place to go on holiday?

I have a soft spot for the Loir et Cher region of France. However I don't tend to take too many holidays and most of my foreign travel has been as part of my work for Canonical.

What are you passionate about?

The term 'passion' is such an evocative one. It speaks of emotional highs (and lows) which are truly extreme and powerful. I'm not at all sure that in my 26 years of life thus far have I found any particular thing which continues to evoke such a response. I am a creature of habit; as such my life is almost entirely based around stability; stability of the physical, the mental and the emotional. However if I were to use the term 'passion' where I would normally say "feel strongly" then I could say I am passionate about my relationship with my partner, I am passionate about food and I am passionate about making and maintaining friendships and perhaps more specifically I am passionate about my friends. I'm the sort of guy who would get up at 3am and drive a hundred miles just to give someone a hug if they really needed it so you could say, perhaps encompassing all of that, that I am indeed passionate about happiness.

What does success mean to you?

I have a mug somewhere which says on it "Success means never having to wear a suit" which is one aspect of my personal aspirations for success. However to me, success also means, quite simply, being happy. There is no monetary value I ascribe to success, no specific goal I have which could be called my life's achievement. Success means that when I'm done for the day, I can get a hug from someone I love. Success means that even in the mundane you can find joy and that simple joy itself never becomes mundane.

Who do you most admire?

This is an exceedingly difficult question to answer. I admire many people for many different reasons. I can mention a few of the famous ones such as Martin Luther King and Oscar Wilde and, perhaps confusing for some, Robbie Williams. But I think perhaps the more important people who deserve admiration are those who do not get the admiration of many because of how famous they are.

I admire a very close friend of mine called Lesley for having the guts to get out of the day-to-day grind of a "normal" job and strike out on her own. I admire my brother Ramjam for doing the same. I could go on for paragraphs about people who have qualities I aspire to. But mostly I think that everyone is admirable in some way or other. Even those who are outwardly the most evil people you can think of must have some admirable quality somewhere within them, but perhaps the most admirable are those who take the time to look, to learn, and to find that spark of good in everyone.

What do you do in your spare time?

I write software, read books, watch films and tv programs -- the usual really. I am very interested in food, both preparing it and eating it, and I therefore enjoy trying to reproduce food from other cultures. Until I was forced to stop for medical reasons, I was an avid fencer and qualified as a coach in the foil discipline. I am an avid amateur photographer; up until recently I did my own black and white developing and did all my serious photography on film. These days I have a digital SLR camera which I use to acheive the same goals. Form, light and texture fascinate me. Other than that, I run a small ISP (as mentioned earlier) in my "spare time" so I guess I don't really have much time to simply relax.

What books have you read recently?

My style of reading means that I get through books quickly, but often re-read them three or four times before pronouncing them as 'read' -- as such, here is the list of books I have read in 2006 (so about fifteen weeks of reading) in no particular order. David Brin's "Kil'n People", Greg Bear's "Anvil of Stars", "Forge of God" and "Blood Music", Greg Egan's "Diaspora", "Schild's Ladder" and "Quarantine", Kevin J. Anderson's "Hidden Empire", Terry Pratchett's "A hat full of sky", Iain M. Banks' "The Algebraist", Sue Townsend's "Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction", Stephen Baxter's "Raft", Robert Rodi's "Kept Boy", Sue Nelson and Richard Hollingham's "How to clone the perfect blonde" and Peter F. Hamilton's "Pandora's Star". I am currently re-reading Peter F. Hamilton's "Mindstar Rising". As you can see, so far this year has been quite sci-fi heavy, but over the summer I shall re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy as is my tradtion.

What films have you seen recently?

Recently I have seen "Brokeback Mountain", "Lucky Number Slevin", "Good Night and Good Luck", "Sky High", "V for Vendetta" and a few others which I acquired on DVD. Most recently I saw "Ice Age 2" which was fantastic. I've not laughed that hard in a cinema for quite some time.

What music do you like?

Well it's easier to say what I don't like. I don't like tuneless rap or music which doesn't progress in the least bit interestingly. Also in any given genre which I profess to like, there will be examples of it where I do not like it (and conversely I'm sure there'll be examples of rap which I like).

There are 115 artists in my Albums directory, which indicates there are at least 115 artists which I like enough to buy a CD from. These represent around 190 CDs I own and have bothered to rip into ogg/vorbis format. With a small amount of perl to pick some random numbers, Albums 23, 53, 77 and 136 are `Cab Calloway/The Classic Tracks`, `Fatboy Slim/You've Come a Long Way, Baby`, `Jean Michel Jarre/Zoolook` and `Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here`

What are your favourite gadgets?

I'm not a big gadget freak; instead I believe in having devices for purposes. I, however, used to be like gadgets a lot, and in my time have owned things like Agenda VR3s (Linux based pda a bit like a palm pilot) and L'Espion digital cameras. These days the only serious item I have which others might consider a gadget is my Canon EOS350d which to be frank isn't a gadget, it's a tool for allowing me to enjoy photography even more.

Favourite quote?

It's extremely hard to pick a single quote as my favourite. I place longer pieces on my website when I find things which truly touch me. However just for you, here's a quote I'm rather fond of: "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Favourite food?

Probably thai style curry; most likely a yellow thai style curry with sweet potato and fish.

Favourite comic?

Printed comic? Not sure. Web comic? Dilbert.

Recommend a non Ubuntu website (brief description)?

It's exceedingly hard to suggest anything other than Google UK which is, to be frank, the most commonly visited site in my browser history. However I do often use Wikipedia and :-)

This interview is also available in Danish, German and French