Interview: Dann Washko, The Linux Link Tech Show
After being a guest on The Linux Link Tech Show back in December I asked Dann Washko if I he would be interested in allowing me to conduct an email interview with him for MontanaLinux.org. He kindly agreed. If you aren't familiar with The Linux Link Tech Show... pull your head out of the sand and check out their wikipedia page.
ML: Please tell us a little bit about yourself: a) Family? b) Education? c) Employment? d) Hobbies? e) How did you get into Linux?
Dann: I grew up in the good old Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Center Valley, to be precise, which is just over the hill South of Allentown, PA and about 50 miles North of Philadelphia, PA. I graduated high school in 1990 and attended the Pennsylvania State University where I earned a BA in Psychology. Unlike a lot of my friends I graduated in the 4 year time-frame. I worked as a counselor for children and their families for a few years. I met my wife during my time in the mental health field. No, she was not a client, she was a colleague. When it came time to consider Graduate School we figured that it would be better for me to move on to a career that interested me a lot more than Psychology: Computers. Back in the mid-late 90's there was not yet a great focus on higher education in Network Administration, and most people I met in the field had slid into their positions because they had a computer at home and/or were willing to take on some extra, technical responsibilities. I was told the best thing to do was get some computers, network them together and start earning certifications.
I did that and took a part time job at a Staples “superstore” that had opened up down the street from our house. They were experimenting with tech bench services - basic troubleshooting, upgrades and installations and what not. This was before the deluge of spyware and viruses really hit the market. It was stocking shelves there that I caught my first glimpse of Linux. The Penguin caught my eye, but the thought of an OS that was not Microsoft or Apple is what really piqued my interest. I picked up a copy of Red Hat 4 or 5 and I've been hooked since.
At first I fell into the trap of trying to get X running on my system, which at the time was sporting an Nvidia card that was just on the cusp of being supported. It was not until a few months later when I picked up a copy of SuSE that the card actually worked to its full potential and I had a very snazzy graphical display.
After I played around with Red Hat and SuSE for a bit I was really determined to get further under the hood and learn how all this worked. That is when I moved to Slackware as everyone kept saying if you want to learn Linux, Slackware was the way to go. That was Slackware 6 I believe and I've been running Slackware on my server ever since. My workstations, on the other hand have changed distros a few times, but I always come back to Slackware in the end. Right now I am running Slackware-current, and it is great!
I did the system/network admin thing for several years, then got hired as a software engineer doing primarily PHP development when my wife's job transferred her to Hampton Roads, Virginia. Now I get to work all day long in Linux, which is a real bonus!
Aside from computers I love to play video games, I have been a Nintendo fanboy for many years. I also spend way too much money on comic books and love to run trails.
ML: What if any audio/video podcasts do you listen to/watch on a semi-regular basis?
Dann: I listen to pretty much all the Linux/FOSS/BSD podcasts including LottaLinuxLinks, Linux Basement, Linux Cranks, The Bad Apples, Fedora Reloaded, Productive Linux, Linux Outlaws, Linux Craxy, the JAK Attack, BSD Talk, The Techie Geek, Hacker Public Radio; there are just so many out there. For a pretty up to date list see http://www.thelinuxlink.net/.
About The Linux Link Tech Show
ML: Where did the name TLLTS come from and how long have you been doing it?
Dann: When DSL first hit my area I signed up and my ISP gave me a static IP address and was really cool about me running services. Something unheard of these days. Anyway, I set up a web server and registered the domain thelinuxlink.net with the intent to produce a paper magazine/newsletter about Linux. Well that never got off the ground but the server became the home of our local LUG (Lehigh Valley Linux Users Group) which I co-founded with Linc Fessenden. Linc is a great guy, always enthusiastic about technology and passionate about Linux. He has not only been a great friend but a true asset in my Linux pursuits.
Linc had a long time desire to do a technology style radio show and he approached me with the idea. We had just played around with streaming audio using Icecast from which I was able to stream the Clash from my house to his and history was made. Linc really wanted to make this a reality so we figured we would try a live show, record it while we streamed and make it available as a download from our website. This was before podcasting. The only other Linux Show at the time was The Linux Show. About the same time that we started LUGRadio debuted.
We did some research and cobbled together a basic system using our laptops, workstations and my server to stream out from. We used Dynebolic to pull our audio sources together and settled on the name, The Linux Link Tech Show based on the domain.
We opened up the first show to anyone from our LUG who wanted to join. Lucky for us Allan Metzler showed up with a mixer. We were going to use little stick mics that came with our sound cards but that was not going to cut it. He ran out to Radio Shack for us and brought back two mics. Without out his help I'm not sure we would be were we are today. So it was the three of us putting out this show and at the time I'm not sure we had many live listeners but our downloads were growing. We set up some forums and then an IRC server. We had to move our files to hosted services because we were sucking up all of Linc's bandwidth (he was hosting the files from his house).
Pat Davila, another LUG member, threw in his support by doing our show notes. The live thing was going well and we thought to expand on this by allowing call-ins or doing interviews. We experimented with different technologies and then Skype came along. Pat started arranging guests for us and then showed up one day to participate in an interview. Well it was a no-brainer that he should continue on air with us because he already did a tremendous job in the background.
While Skype was good, we were not satisfied that it was closed technology and at times a pain to work with. Thus, Pat was instrumental in getting us an Asterisk box, and that is what we have been using to this day.
ML: Who have been some of your most interesting guests? (List of past guests)
Dann: We have had so many great guests along the way. In fact, I am often quite surprised that some well known people come on our show and have actually listened to or do listen to us on a regular basis. Probably the biggest guest for me was Patrick Volderding, the creator and maintainer of Slackware; that was an awesome show. Other notable include Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Jeremy Allison, Bruce Perens, Dean Haglund (of Lone Gunman fame), Bil Herd (former Commodore engineer) and more recently Scott Sigler. As you can see, not all our guests are strictly Linux related, but most are. There have been so many wonderful people who have taken the time to share with us and the community.
ML: Who have you not been able to get as a guest yet that you would really like to?
Dann: Well of course we would love to get Linus Torvalds on. He's tough to get though. Pamela Jones from Groklaw would be an awesome guest. We have even thought about trying to get Steve Wozniak. Hell, I would even love if Steve Ballmer would come on the show, but that will never happen.
ML: Have you ever done pre-recorded guest interviews and if not, why not?
Dann: Yes, we have pre-recorded guests when we absolutely had to due to time zone differences. Most people we have interviewed in Europe had to be pre-recorded. There have been some other exceptions along the way. We prefer to do live though as that is the type of show we are. This way those listening live can participate through the IRC.
ML: What are some suggestions for improvement that have you gotten from listeners that you have implemented?
Dann: By and far the most common suggestion is for us to improve our audio quality. This has been the biggest stickler since the beginning. We operate on a shoe string budget with hardware cobbled together from various sources. On top of that we do little post production because we want to keep the podcast version as close to the original live broadcast as possible. That means all the mistakes are in there.
Over the years we have made some significant improvements to the audio quality but I believe, without some significant cash investment in equipment we have hit the limits of what we can do. Since we are call in remotely with SIP or AIX clients and our guests can attach the same way or from their home phone or cell phone, it is very difficult to control the audio levels of everyone let alone the quality of each call. We toyed with the idea of trying to record every person on a separate channel, but that is just way too much work and equipment.
Another suggestion that stands out the most is to clean up the language. We can get very ribald at times and in the past the show was a lot more blue. I believe it was the first Jono Bacon interview we did about two years ago when the topical content and language got really out of hand. Since then we have been a bit more on the easy listening side.
ML: What (positive) suggestions have you gotten that you have not implemented and why?
Dann: Video. We have always had requests for video and we did toy around with different things. We had a webcam going at one time that would take snap shots and upload them to a custom interface I wrote that would display the last 5 shots and a link to an album with all the shots for the show. We also allowed listeners to upload images during the show. We were using an iCam connected to my Powerbook running either Crux or Gentoo at the time, I forget. It was a bit pain and the iCam kept crapping out.
We also went down the Stickam route for a bit when we all got netbooks and webcams. We were all remote at the time anyway and that lasted for about two months before the novelty wore off. I mean who wants to see people just sitting at their computers jabber-jawing away?
ML: What hardware/software do you use for the show?
Dann: We have two Icecast servers running. One on my main server which is an old Compaq I scammed from a previous job before they tossed it. The other is running off a virtual host we used to use to host our files. I mentioned we used Dynebolic. That is running live off a PIII 400 MGHZ system. My main workstation is an Athlon 2100 running Slackware which I use to connect to the conference room on our Asterisk server, another Intel PIV running Slackware. Finally, I use my System76 Serval laptop to add in any additional audio.
The other hosts connect using their own systems with softphones via SIP or their Grandstream phones connected directly to the Asterisk server. Sometimes they may use their cellphones to connect.
ML: How much bandwidth does a typical live show use with the hosts, guests, streaming, and IRC channel?
Dann: That's a good question; I never bothered to nail down the statistics. I will say though, at times we do get some interference when the IRC is heavy and someone is hitting the interwebs in my apartment. My wife or kids may be trying to watch Youtube videos or playing a flash game. I will say, though, that their activities have rarely impacted the show. To reduce some of the bandwidth we do have at least two streaming mirrors our listeners pull the stream from. I have to give a plug to BinRev, as they have been allowing us to use their server since the beginning. In addition to BinRev some of our listeners have provided us with streaming mirrors and download mirrors.
ML: How much does it cost you to produce TLLTS per episode and/or per year?
Dann: This is another thing we never took into account. Aside from the time we put into it and a few hosting costs, it is not that much. I will ball park it around $500 to 700 a year not including our ISP costs.
ML: What if any donations have you gotten to help with production costs?
Dann: Usually any donations that come in get applied to the ISP and server bills or we funnel back into things like buying swag for conventions.
ML: TLLTS seems to be very hobbyist oriented. Have you ever considered going commercial?
Dann: No, we have not considered going commercial. We did get some sponsorship in the past, but we don't want to be beholden to any company or a bottom line. TLLTS is meant to be fun for us, a good time. It is not about turning a profit.
ML: Do you think there is a market for a commercial Linux oriented podcast? By commercial, I mean one that generates a revenue stream large enough to pay for the hosting services, production costs, as well as provide the maker with a modest income.
Dann: I don't think there is much of a market for commercial podcasts in general. Certainly not ones that charge a subscription fee. I guess the TWIT network is successful in some way with their Visa and other commercials. But again, we do not want to worry about any entity that would be provided us with money dictating what we can and cannot say. Nor do we want to become dependent on a revenue stream.
ML: Have you ever had any periods of difficulty with any of your co-hosts and if so, how did you resolve them?
Dann: Back when we used to all do the show from my house we would take a problematic host out back and beat the tar out of him. Now it is not that easy to do this. Just some threats of surprise visits from the Hoagie Guy. No really, we've never had any serious difficulties between one another. That does not mean we have not disagreed on things, but we are all pretty good friends and work out any differences like gentlemen, with guns or swords.
ML: How long do you think you will continue to do TLLTS?
Dann: We will continue doing TLLTS until they come take us away or it no longer is fun for us. We like to think of ourselves as the cockroaches of the webradio/podcast community. Shows may come and go but we will live on to infect.
ML: What Linux distributions do you prefer and why?
Dann: Hands down Slackware is and will probably always be my favorite distribution. That was the distro that taught me the most and the one I got serious with first. In addition to Slackware I have tend towards the Debian based system and use Ubuntu on a regular basis. I was never a fan of RPM based distros but the recent versions of Mandriva impressed me, as does Fedora. But Slackware and the Debian derivatives always call me back.
ML: What software packages for Linux impress you the most?
Dann: The Gimp, Inkscape, Scribus and Blender knock my socks off visually and always impress me. What catches my fancy though is all those little applications in the background like tee, uniq, sed, sort, cut and all that which allow you to do some pretty impressive tasks very quickly. Much quicker than manipulating text and stuff graphically. You always hear people complaining about having to use the command line under Linux and "how scary that is." But you do not have to and it is not that scary. And if you took the time to learn it, oh man the worlds of power that open up to you.
ML: Do you think there will ever be "The Year of the Linux Desktop" and do you want there to ever be one?
Dann: Every year is the year of the Linux desktop in my house. That's all we use: Linux. The wife, the kids, myself, all Linux all the time. Do I think we will ever see a year of massive Linux adoptions? I don't know. I think we are seeing it now; or have been the past few years. I don't think it is going to happen all at once, but each year it is building more and more. It's like a world wide tide slowly, but surely building and it will not be stopped.
ML: I really enjoy your show and thank you for your time for this interview. Any closing comments you'd like to make?
Dann: Thank you for this opportunity. I, and I suspect I speak for my co-hosts also, am just very thankful that we can do this show about the software and technology we love and give back to the community in some way. Being able to hang out virtually and in person with the big wigs in the FOSS community is a blast. But even more, to be a part of a world wide community of people enthusiastic about FOSS and technology who get together on a regular basis and just hang out is a blast. We've met so many people and built so many friendships, it has been great. We talk with people from all over the world both new to Linux and old hats, it is awesome, and that is what makes doing the show so worth while.