We had a little chat with Capsia, who is known in the UBports community as the maintainer of the Ubuntu Touch Devices page.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Riccardo, and I'm an 18-year old high school student from Italy.
How did you find Ubuntu Touch and then start contributing?
My father, a teacher, expressed his concern about how smartphones are used today and about how young people especially are caught up in their web and develop an unhealthy dependency on them. When I was younger, I had heard about the Firefox OS project for mobile. Actually I didn’t have a phone at the time and I wasn’t looking to get one. But I found it very interesting that a non-profit foundation had made an operating system with the particular intention of ‘fixing’ the problematic parts of modern mobile platforms. Two big problems are the tracking of users (I mean getting inside every aspect of their personality and even their physical health) and the way they constantly try to attract attention because their data economy relies on very intensive use. When I eventually got around to having a phone, I chose the Android flavour, but from the start it didn’t feel good. I decided to switch to Firefox OS or something similar. When I looked, Firefox OS had already been abandoned, so I searched for alternatives and that was when I found Ubuntu Touch.
As a kid, I noticed how obsessed people were with their phone apps. I was different. I was much more interested in the hardware and what made the phone a phone. It was clear from the start that I was looking for something more than just amusement.
Ubuntu Touch was popular, at least compared with the other alternatives. Importantly it was stable, not just an experiment. So, I bought a Nexus 5 and flashed it with Ubuntu Touch. After a while, I created my first phone tweaks. I was looking for a way to avoid buying multimedia accessories for my PC, so I tweaked my phone so that I could use its microphone and camera as an extension of desktop hardware. That was a great experience in using my skills to make the phone do something it wasn’t designed to do. It gave me control over it, rather than it having control over me.
Apart from the phone side, I have a strong desire to learn new languages and different technologies. Pushing at the boundaries of technology is something I regularly do. I have a Raspberry Pi 3, which I have used to host a server to handle regular tasks for me.
So tell us, are your fellow students spending all their time on TikTok or are they following Greta Thunberg?
Actually I find Thunberg’s ideas very interesting, but I think climate change is part of a wider problem, a kind of disconnect from other people, which makes us feel so distant from them, that even if we hurt them we don’t care. It isn’t true that humans are separated in that way. When we create something, we should look for the best outcome for everyone, not just our own benefit. Communities that make and share software for free are very near to that idea. People contribute without asking for something in exchange. Just being here and helping makes us happy. That’s the spirit of open source which I admire and something I would like to see in all aspects of life.
How did you get involved with the UBports project?
I found that helping others and collaborating with them in a shared project is fun, but it also brings a special sense of purpose and meaning. We share some ideals as well as the obvious practical objectives.
I am naturally curious and always want to learn. Working on new projects has made me acquire new skills. I feel that my main reason for being is to constantly learn more about things. Thanks to other UBports community members like Dalton, Kaizen, and Lehkeda, who have kindly invested their skills in me, I’m becoming a better UI designer and developer. But to be honest, I have gained a lot more than just the technical side.
What other work are you doing for Ubuntu Touch?
I’m currently working on many different projects within Ubuntu Touch. As part of a schoolwork mentorship with Dalton I redesigned the lock screen. This is how I've first contributed to the operating system itself, not the website or external projects. Dalton helped me to learn Qt that I needed to write the redesign I've made previously. The experience consisted in three weeks of online coding sessions where I was building parts of the devices website, the new redesigned docs, the new Unity Greeter, improvements for the Greeter rotation and a simple way to handle the notch in Ubuntu Touch. I'd like to thank Dalton for the awesome experience that helped me grow my skills and experience in coding a lot.
The redesigned lock screen was merged a few days ago along with some other work I did on the UI. It has already reached the Release Candidate channel. I’ve shared many designs on the forum for different UI details in Lomiri. One of the obvious ones is the ICE (In Case of Emergency ) screen, which I hope I’ll have more time to work on. I have also contributed to some workarounds for the range of different notches out there. Porting interests me and I have been helping with the Raspberry Pi build. I began it, got WiFi working on the Raspberry Pi 3, but never got much further. Eventually, I’d like to enable audio and video hardware acceleration, but I don’t know how to do that just yet.
Last year, you joined with Kaizen to start working on the redesign of the UBports website. What made you decide to help with this effort?
When Kaizen published his work on the forum, I saw ways in which it could be improved so I took some time to comment on the original and received a lot of positive feedback from that. Then I saw the post about the complete website redesign, and I asked Kaizen if I could help with some ideas. Later, we found a common purpose in changing the layout and content but in a way that was all about serving and building the UBports community. That meant thinking a lot about why the community exists and how people relate to it.
The main transformation took quite a long time, and it was nice to see the end result and how much people liked it; my best hope is that it will be helpful, especially when potential users are choosing a device. The feature state table, which was my main contribution, is an excellent showcase for what our community has achieved. I want us to continue to empower users of Ubuntu Touch. That is what it's all about. I also felt that helping out in this way was the next step in my journey with this community and with open source in general. I see open source as being about contributing to something out of conviction, cooperatively with others. It was good to see things from the point of view of a contributor.
How can porters and other community members contribute to the device pages?
The device pages aim to provide a lot of data for both newcomers and developers, in a digestible form. To start contributing to the page for a device, you don’t need to be a porter or have any skills at all. If you find something wrong or see that data is missing, you can file a pull request at the devices repo. If you have no idea what that even means, not a problem. You can contact me on the forum, on Telegram (@capsia), or by raising a GitLab issue. We still need to fill in data for devices that weren’t properly documented during the big February update, by adding the new feature table. If you know what works and what doesn’t on these devices, please write and let me know so we can add the data to the relevant pages.
What are some of your interests outside of Ubuntu Touch?
I have many interests outside of Ubuntu Touch, not all of them about open source. I like to share my knowledge and learn from others at conferences and events, but most of all, I like to read books and let my mind travel.