22 Mar 2012

Carla Schroder: Whoever controls technology controls society

I have interviewed different people for my blog already. They were Russians, Americans and even Bolivians. They live in different parts of the world. They are men and women. Some of them are high-profile figures on Linux horizon, some are just people who popularise Linux in their blogs.
My guest today is a woman who continues to popularise Linux for 17 years now. But she is not only a Linux writer. Much more... Please meet: Carla Schroder.

DarkDuck: Hello Carla. You are a Linux journalist, writer, user and fan. Have I missed anything in this list? How would you introduce yourself?

Carla Shroder: Hi Dmitry! You can add to the list system and network administrator, programmer, beginning electronics nerd (soldering and everything!), farmer, rancher, carpenter, photographer, musician, audio recorder and producer, moviemaker, and lover of the great outdoors. I say all this not to brag, but to encourage people to follow their dreams and pursue their heart's interests. Anyone can learn to do anything, and you're never too old to learn something new.

DD: How and when were you first acquainted with Linux?

CS: My first PC was an Apple LC II back around 1993. Then I got hold of a Windows 3.1/ DOS 5 PC. I spent most of my time in DOS because Windows was barely functional. I learned about Linux from a local computer magazine, Computerbits, and installed my first Red Hat around 1995. From 3.5” diskettes!

Apple was very different then, they actually encouraged users to get under the hood and learn about the system, and you could get detailed manuals. They didn't evolve into shiny, unfriendly closed boxes until later.

I liked Linux right away even though it was pretty rough in those days. I liked the openness, the user control, the community and being able to talk to developers, and the freedom.

DD: You publish your articles on so many different web resources. What is your main place of work?

CS: Freelancing is what I do, so I don't really have a main job. My last salaried job was for Internet.com as managing editor of Linux Today and Linux Planet. That was pretty nice, because Linux Today and Linux Planet are both old Linux publications that go back to 1998 or so, with full archives and loyal readers.

Then Internet.com was acquired by another company, which has pretty much killed it off. Linux Planet is shadow of what it used to be. Linux Today is run by some good people, but there Is no more original content or engagement with the community. It's sad, and it's a good reminder why I don't like working for other people.

DD: Links to my blog posts sometimes appear on Linux Today, as well as on LXer. And I should admit that LinuxToday is more picky. Is that a policy you introduced?

CS: Linux Today is a bit of a sad story. Once upon a time it had multiple editors and a huge story feed. They were posting stories every few minutes, both aggregated and original content. When I was hired to run it, I was the sole person working on it. It got great traffic - it has a very loyal readership and attracts many new readers - but the company that owns it had no idea how to sell it. So they did dumb things like the Microsoft Get the Facts campaign, which alienated readers by the trainload. It wasn't so much that it was Microsoft ads, though that is a dumb choice for a Linux site, but that particular campaign was all about attacking Linux, and it wasn't particularly factual. The website is also creaking along on a antique CMS that is inefficient and hard to use. So the limiting factor is editor bandwidth - there is only so much one person can do. Of course, I looked for the best stories, but sadly I had to drop a whole lot of good ones because of lack of time and resources.

DD: Do you write for off-line press too?

CS: Just my books.

DD: You write books – they are available on Amazon, for example. How many of them have you written? What are they about?

CS: Buy early! Buy often! Three books: Linux Cookbook was my first. Its age is showing and it really needs a second edition. It's a system administration/advanced user book that covers a lot of basic Linux skills like user management, simple mail and Web servers, disk management, system rescue, package management, kernel building, and other cool stuff.

Linux Networking Cookbook spells out fundamental networking tasks like iptables firewalls, network and system monitoring, VPNs, remote administration with SSH, automating network provisioning, and other fun things.

Book of Audacity is all about high-end audio recording, editing, and distribution using the excellent Audacity audio recorder and editor.

DD: Your books are now available in several languages. Are you proud that you’re so famous all over the world?

CS: Writers write to be read, so yes, it feels good when people like my work and benefit from it.

DD: Do you feel yourself responsible for something written in your books, if it is incorrect?

CS: Oh, absolutely. All books have errata pages online, so anytime someone finds an error I make sure it gets posted. Though I confess I've slacked a lot with the Linux Cookbook and Linux Networking Cookbook because O'Reilly has had several site overhauls and they kept losing the errata pages, so I gave up.

DD: What is more difficult – to write a book, or an article for the online press?

CS: Definitely a book, because books get written in my spare time. Publishers pay advances, but not enough to live on, so it has to be a sideline. So I'm tired and cranky, and it's extra effort to proofread because once it's in print it's forever, and it's a lot of work to organize a book sanely and usefully. I'm always thinking how can I make this better for readers? It's almost impossible to over-explain. You never want to skip steps when you're writing howtos, which makes organizing a book a bit of a challenge - if you repeat things so readers don't have to skip to different sections some will like it, and some will wish you had used that space to cover new things instead of repetition. Anyway, my readers seem pretty happy with my work, and are generous with sharing their own ideas and cool hacks.

DD: What are your favourite OS, desktop environment, applications?

CS: Any Linux :). I'm always testing different distros. Currently my main distro is Mint 12. Arch is super-nice, Dream Studio is a first-class multimedia production distro, Debian is always an old favorite.

Audacity, Hydrogen, Digikam - Digikam is one of the crown jewels of Linux - Kate, Vim, JACK, rsync, OpenSSH, OpenVPN, and LibreOffice is coming along nicely. They've made tremendous progress in a year, and are finally fulfilling the original promise of OpenOffice. Inkscape, Krita, Gimp, Hugin, K3b, Blender, Openshot... there are literally thousands of excellent Linux/FOSS applications, and I am very thankful for all of them.

DD: Qt-based KDE-native applications are a big part of your list. Does it mean that KDE is your favourite?

CS: It does! I loved KDE3, and I'm getting used to KDE4. KDE4 is doing some genuine pioneering work with the semantic desktop, and I like the widgets. It's rather like Fluxbox prettied up.

DD: You are a woman. And you are a Linux fan. Do you take part in any Linux women communities?

CS: I do! I am the co-coordinator of Linuxchix, which is open to everyone who wants a friendly, supporting Linux community to hang out in. I used to participate in some others, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Anyway, I figure a good way to attract more women into Linux is to be as visible as I can. Diversity is everything. A lack of diversity leads to a failure of imagination. I want to see Linux and FOSS populated by people all over the world, women, men, children, old people, people of all races and cultures. The more the better! It's not just software - whoever controls technology controls society.

DD: What do you think about the companies, who do business in the Linux world, whether paid distributions (Red Hat, Mandriva, Zorin), paid support (Canonical) or just disk with Linux distributions?

CS: We need them all. The more participation in Linux and FOSS the better.

DD: What are your hobbies and activities besides the computers, Open Source community and Linux?

CS: Farming, photography, and music. I have a little farm and I want to grow enough produce this year to sell at the local farmer's market. I'm very much into heirloom seeds and plants, because as usual big corporate interests are not on our side at all, so we need to democratize our food supply. This is one of the top five issues of our time, and it needs more attention.

DD: Is it like FOSS in the plant world? ;-)

CS: It is! I don't know if big companies encourage indifference and destructive behavior because the decision-makers are so insulated from responsibility and consequences, or if they become big because they are run by people who don't care what kind of damage they do as long they get what they want. At any rate I'm a big believe in de-centralization and not giving up control of life's essentials.

DD: Do you travel a lot? Where have you been? What is in your plans?

CS: Not as much as I want to. My dream is to travel the world and meet all of my online friends in person.

DD: Do you read the blog Linux notes from DarkDuck? What do you think about it contents? Any ideas about improvements and changes?

CS: I do read DarkDuck! You cover a lot of ground, and unlike some grumpy people I like that you post non-English articles. I may not be able to read them, but other people can, and that is important for spreading news about Linux and FOSS.

DD: Thanks for coming, Carla! I hope to stay in touch with you. Wish you all the best in your future books and articles!

CS: Thanks Dmitry, and thanks for the interview!


  1. Very interesting article. Thanks.

    1. You are welcome. It was a pleasure to get such a guest!

  2. Thnak you for the great article. Carla rulez!

  3. Nice article, I am a fan of Linux cook book. Thank you for introducing other facets of her personalities, Thank you

  4. I've read Carla's work for many years, and always enjoyed her perspective on things even when we disagreed. Ah, those heady days of yore, copyright famefests and fun.

    As she says, I, too, was very happy with KDE3. Today my primary system boots into Trinity, the fork of KDE3. Carla's experience has convinced me to try KDE4 again.

    It's good to see the people behind the handles. Thanks for the interview, DarkDuck.

  5. It is overreaching to state that control of technology gives control of a society. Belief is the key to the control of a population and in many parts of the world, today, beliefs which eschew technology are ascendant and controlling, though technology can help to undermine such regimes.