From time to time, when I'm looking for some help on how to do something on my GNU/Linux desktop or server, I'll come across an article or conversation in a language other than English. If that language happens to be French or Spanish, that's fine for me. If it's in Portuguese or Italian, I can stumble through it. And, for other languages, occasionally, I'll give one of those online AI translators a go in the hopes of gleaning something useful.
But for folks who are comfortable only in English, I suspect that many potentially useful (and sometimes very entertaining) sources are unknown and ignored. And what are the options for people who aren't comfortable in English, when so much that is written about open source (and many other topics) is in English?
Last year, while researching open source music players, I had the good fortune to stumble on El Atareao – Linux para legos, a well-written, gorgeously illustrated Castilian Spanish blog that focuses on GNU/Linux and open source topics. El Atareao contains tutorials, discussions about applications, and podcasts. Its author, Lorenzo Carbonell, writes beautifully clear and entertaining text and generously shares his accumulating wisdom in a very practical form. He also develops open source applications, including LPlayer, which is how I found his blog.
I had a discussion with Lorenzo about what it takes to create a great non-English, open source-oriented blog. Here is our conversation, translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.
Q: Lorenzo, I've been a fan of your blog since May 2018. I like everything about it—very interesting articles, solid content, beautiful images, great design overall. What motivated you to start this fine project? And what motivates you today?
A: I got to know GNU/Linux at university about 25 years ago; it attracted my attention, and I used it for several months. For whatever reason—maybe I wasn't sufficiently prepared, maybe the distribution, Slackware, was too much for me—I decided to abandon it when I started working. However, it stuck in my memory.
About 10 years ago, I was tired of bringing office work home, and I decided to come up with a solution. At that moment, some recollection of that GNU/Linux operating system came back to me, and I thought using a different operating system might be the solution. The incompatibility between the two would make it hard to bring work home, I thought.
I chose Ubuntu as my platform, and this distribution has stayed with me until today, a distribution that showed me my mistake: With Ubuntu, or really any other distro, I can still do office work at home!
Yes, in the beginning, I had some difficulties. And these difficulties were what led to the birth of Atareao.es, because that was where I posted the lessons I learned from this incredible operating system.
Using an open source operating system, which provides the opportunity to get into the guts of the system and adapt its functions to my needs, stole my heart. Implementing applications like LPlayer, Touchpad-Indicator, or My Weather Indicator and seeing other people finding them useful filled me with satisfaction. Not only the satisfaction of implementing applications and bringing them to the attention of other users through Atareao.es, but also the satisfaction of being able (or at least trying) to show the potential of this operating system. The potential of this operating system is that it allows you to do almost anything you can imagine, for the simple reason that the code is there and available so that you can study it and adapt it to your needs.
What motivates me? To have an operating system with so much potential; that is the great unknown. This is what motivates me: having successes to shout to the four winds to let everyone know. And once everyone knows, each one can decide. This is one of the reasons for free applications that can make life simpler or at least help the newly arrived.
Q: Please explain the name "El Atareao"… is it local slang? I understand "el atareado" (the busy person).
A: "El Atareao" was something that arose from work 10 years ago. At that time, I was always busy with work. A close friend mentioned that phrase to me, and it branded itself in my mind. Now it's "el atareao" that will support the company. And to honor and respect this, I used the name for this site.
So with respect to "atareao" in place of "atareado," effectively it's local slang.
Q: So when you aren't "atareao," what do you do? Are you a software developer? Do you work in open source by day?
A: Currently, I'm working as a developer and in part as a system administrator. And I must say that this came about thanks to Atareao.es. Before, I was working in something completely and totally different, but software development has been my passion. And so, relatively recently, a visionary (or a crazy person) rescued me from my old job and brought me to this incredible world of development, where you can convert anything you can imagine to reality. I say "visionary" because he knew how to see what I could not, and "crazy" because he has to be really bold to make that bet. Today I'm like a kid in a candy store.
Q: Your articles provide a solid amount of useful detail. For example, this article about Rsync. How do you decide on a topic? How do you determine your readers' level of ability so you can write in a way they can understand?
A: Normally, the articles arise from my need to solve a problem or a situation that I'm facing or that someone has contacted me to ask for help. Though the latter is less common because interactivity in the world 2.0 is not always what I, and I suppose others, would like.
The objective of any article is to be sufficiently detailed so that any person reading it can reproduce it and can succeed at putting the material to work. It's very frustrating to read an article about some technology that is apparently really simple and not be able to make it work—because the person who wrote the article did not try it out, or because it's vaguely documented, or because it's explained in a technically excessive manner.
My objective is to try to acquaint as many people as possible to the greatest extent possible with this operating system. How can I tell you about something if you can't make it work because I didn't explain it sufficiently or with enough detail? When someone writes to me and tells me they were unable to follow something or that it wasn't well explained or that there is some error, it makes me very uneasy and motivates me to write better, to strengthen myself, to study more, to learn.
With respect to the readers' level of ability, this is probably my biggest worry. I know that the majority who read Atareao.es are beginners or "legos" (in the sense of not being professionals), and I try to orient myself to these people. Nevertheless, some of the readers are professionals and are quite challenging to satisfy. In whatever way, I always try for the most straightforward and simple result. Or, at least to be sufficiently clear, so that I can understand it without problems.
Q: Do you have other hobbies apart from this blog?
A: Currently, the blog, the podcast, and developing applications absorb nearly all of my free time. An article or a podcast takes a couple of hours. Creating an application never ends and sucks up all my available time.
But one hobby that I am dedicated to is running; this is something I do every day or nearly so. And so, as I mention in the "Who am I?" section of the blog, if one day you visit Silla, the town in Valencia where I live, early in the morning, you can find me on my running circuits. When we travel, which is the other hobby that I have and share with my wife, my running shoes and my laptop always come with me. You can always find me traveling or running or sitting in a coffee shop writing an article.
Q: As someone who is not a native speaker of (Castilian) Spanish, I nevertheless enjoy your use of the language; I feel that how one expresses oneself is as important as what is written. Can you elaborate on this?
A: It seems to me very important that an article, whether it's technical or not, should have the best possible wording. And not only to be correct, syntactically and semantically, but to be able to tell a story, a story that engages.
For this reason, whenever I can, I try to write the technical article within an experience, a situation, or a circumstance that has happened to me. From my perspective, writing about real, daily successes that frame a technical article works better for readers and makes them feel much more involved.
Q: There are a lot of people who prefer information in their mother tongue. As someone who writes in Spanish, what do you think about this issue? Do you have any idea of the level of demand for information about open source software in Spanish?
A: I think that Spanish speakers, and especially those born in Spain, prefer (Castilian) Spanish as their working language. In Spain, they don't teach us English; rather, they teach us how to pass the English course, which is a real shame. I would enjoy speaking, writing, and expressing myself in English as well as you, but there isn't a means, despite the fact that every day, I consume more video and audio in English, and every day I push myself more with it. I need English more and more; I need to develop myself better in this language.
With respect to the demand for open source software in Spanish, as far as I understand, it's very low, too low for my liking. In general, open source software is the unknown. Few know Linux, and few understand that it's what is behind open source software. A significant number come at first for the simple fact that it's free. This is a great advantage because it's a way to first approach open source. Nevertheless, it's necessary to go deeper, to take a radical turn, because to the Spanish speaker, or at least to the Spaniard, when something is free or very cheap, it seems that it is of low quality. And "free" software is not synonymous with "no cost"; it must be defined based on its high quality.
Q: Where is El Atareao going in the future? More podcasts? YouTube channels? Adding other authors? Syndicated content?
A: Where is Atareao.es going? I know where I'd like it to go. I'd like to dedicate myself to it full time. I'd like to live on [income from] the site, although I know that's really difficult. One approach that I'm exploring is to convert it to a membership site, although providing the content for free. This is something that I need to keep working on.
As a part of this, I'm trying to participate in related events and give talks at conferences. I started down this road last year at Ubucon Europe 2018, I continued this year, and next year I'd like to deepen this involvement. "De-virtualization" is important, putting faces to names, seeing that open source software isn't something far away, distant, or cold; quite the contrary.
In the short term, I'd like to work on my YouTube channel while working on talks and attending conferences. I'm planning to start a series on YouTube, although I don't have it completed, and only my wife and now you (all) know about it.
Thanks very much, Lorenzo, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, and best wishes for the continued success of El Atareao.