Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LLLovely -- Linux Laptop Loaners

From a sys admin at a library system in Washington state, USA (short synopsis, not exact words):

"We loan out laptops to patrons... they need to be sturdy enough to handle just about anything. It works well for students, families who can't afford a laptop full-time, professionals who need a laptop on an emergency basis or who are waiting for their next laptop to be released, lots of reasons."

Since libraries are usually brick and mortar safe havens of free speech and since free speech is part of the philosophical underpinnings of FOSS, the two go hand-in-hand nicely like chocolate and peanut butter. 

(photo by Robert Stein, GPL, Escalator in Seattle, Washington, US library)

Here's what the Linux Laptop Loaner program looks like:

ZaReason dedicates a certain number of machines to each library. A small rural library might have two or three. A city library would start with five and see how their circulation needs are from that point.

The laptop hardware and software is supported by ZaReason (in-country) but the check-in / check-out process is handled by library staff. The same safety measures that work to keep books in good condition work to keep the laptops circulating. If a laptop is returned in poor condition it is sent to repairs the same way a waterlogged book or ripped-page book is sent to be fixed. There is the added step of wiping and reformatting between loans, but the cost of that is covered by the loan fee.

I have always wanted to do a Linux Laptop Loaner program, not just for the fun of it, but because the message of "Hey, Linux is normal / easy to use / does everything I need" is such bliss. It's confirmation that all the volunteers from Stallman, Torvalds, Maddog, Raymond and others have created something of mass, worldwide value, especially on the consumer level.

To bat a few of objections out of the way:

*~*~Excuse 1:

Laptops are expensive, can't loan out a $1,000 laptop and expect to get it back. 

Backpacker loaned me a $30,000 vehicle and I gave it back in great shape. It cost me $35/day unlimited mileage. The $10,000 vehicle I rented most recently was $21/day ($16/day USD). If they can do it; we surely can for a price in-line with the laptop's current day market value, ie a few bucks.

*~*~Excuse 2:

People don't know how to use Linux. It will be a tech support nightmare.

What's the worst that can happen? They return it, ask for a refund on the remaining days of the rental? Not much of a risk. They sign a waiver that backing up data is their responsibility, but that's been industry standard since the beginning. Surprisingly tech support is one of the easier parts of this program.

Excuse 3:

Laptops are delicate.

Not if you build them right. Our favorite laptop testers are:

--> Military because they go places where you probably shouldn't go with a laptop (dusty places, wet places, icky places)

--> Toddlers because they poke things and stick peanut butter sandwiches in open slots.

--> Libraries because it opens up the laptop to *any* environment in that library's coverage area.

Yes, laptops are delicate and they are also dangerous. But have you ever been to a Tool Lending Library? If they can loan me a chainsaw, then I can surely loan them a laptop.

(photo by Chas Redmond, CC Tool Lending Library)

*~*~Excuse 4:

It costs money.

Well yes, that's my least favorite part of CEO-ing a GNU/Linux focused company. But hardware costs money. A lot actually. More than you want to know.

When I was in lllovely Rotarura, my daughter spotted their downtown public library. As soon as her eyes landed on their front door I knew our day's plans were changed. We spent the day at the library with her buried under a stack of books. Sighs, smiles, deep breaths, occasional laughs and surprisingly a few tears from me when she passed along a book about two pets who survived the New Orleans devastation. Libraries are a very important part of our civilisation in whatever form they take (virtual or real life).

I noticed that the library charged $1 per book, $2 per DVD (or similar). The library had found a way to commoditize their process so that they could sustain a larger number of books and a higher quality library. Hum.

I spent over an hour talking with a head librarian, asking about all aspects of how their library functioned & how libraries in NZ function. A Linux Laptop Loaner program has a much greater hope of succeeding here than any place else on earth, lots of reasons why, but back to how it works.

There are three different loan lengths:
1 day
1 week
1 month

Each is at a rate similar to what it would cost to rent / buy a laptop through a different program. Check out Sony on Willis St in Wellington if you have a chance. Look at their little sign on how much it is to rent a laptop. Doesn't seem like much until you notice that it's a 36, 48, or 60 month loan. For five years you could be paying for that laptop! Or three years minimum. That's a very long time. If I can go to the public library and get a laptop with the same functionality for a similar price, then there are fewer reasons to take a risk on a required monthly payment?

More details:

We would try Ubuntu at some libraries, Mint at others and test which ones are best received.

Each library needs to have a geek in-house. We don't plan on pushing GNU/Linux on anyone. That's not how FOSS works. It's free, not forced. So, if you know of any libraries that have FOSS-friendly people on staff, please let me know! Cathy@zareason.com

Let's get solid FOSS machines into the hands of the curious.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Protection and a Statement -- Za in NZ Reason #3

The NZ ZaReason is, in part, a statement. It's a statement that answers this question with a resounding boom:

“Why NZ? Why not go to a country where you can make a bigger profit?”

“Because it's not about profit.”


If the person doesn't get it at that point, it's a "tell" (a sign of a deeper, truer belief). They are the type of person who might sell out FLOSS without much of a fight.

NZ provides ZaReason with protection. ZaReason is primed for an investor. We have the infrastructure in place, all the contacts with OEMs, even our own runs of OEM level builds. It's time to grow.

But the typical investor will look at our move to set up the 2nd shop in NZ and think we have no business sense and therefore not invest = a dodged bullet. (See delightful anecdote below for insights into this profit motive.) 

The investor has to be able to understand that it's not about the numbers. Yes, NZ has 4.4million population, which is not that big. So what? Did Linus ask how many people would support his work before he tossed it out into the void? Any investor needs to be FLOSS-savvy. They need to understand the process, the essence of why we do what we do. They need to understand that it doesn't take an army of devs. It just takes a few brilliant people who are generous with their time. 

NZ weeds out the profit-only investors.


From an email I wrote to a friend, a well-loved kernel hacker, after a large conference:

"I was really surprised at the interactions I had at the conference. I didn't know how to handle their profit motive. It was capped off perfectly at the end of the event when I was in the elevator with some guy:

Guy: "Well, it's all about the bottomline."

Cathy: "Actually we have a few other things we're focusing on first, like the code, the people, the computers, that sort of thing."
Guy: "Well, as long as you make a profit."
Cathy: "Sure, of course, we have to to stay in business but the best way to do that is to put the people and their computers first."
Guy: "Sure, sure, and at the end of the day you look at the profit."

Cathy: "No, at the end of the day I look at my husband."

Guy: Stunned look, but fortunately the elevator was opening on my floor.

There were a half dozen conversations that were directed only at the profit motive. I have seen the Money God before, but in the context of FLOSS, the contribution of volunteers, the profit motive was just gross. 

It's good for me to know how to interface w/ this segment, but wow, it's not what I'm used to and it's not where I'd like to build my future. For now I'm just happy to be building cool gear. 


NZ is our protection, our insect repellent against guys like the one I met in the elevator. 

Please sound out if you have an opinion that might help ZaReason as we grow. 

(Also, please follow us @zareasonNZ if you're on Twitter.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Limit Freedom? Za NZ Reason #2

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." --Albert Camus

Why is ZaReason settling in NZ for our next location?

#2 Geographically imposed limits

I wanted Za's Linux hardware to be surrounded by people who are pissed off about limits to their freedom, hopefully people gutsy enough and awake enough to do something about it. Having a gov't that is, at least in part, pissed off about those limits helps too.

Background: I owe an apology to a few people on Twitter (follow @zareasonNZ for juicy details) when in a moment of complete self-absorption I said: 

NZ is so much better off w/o easy access to Netflix, etc. Seriously. It's a +1 for you that it's not available.

For someone who has had years of, "No" to some fairly basic resources, sees all the movies and shows years behind, has punchlines ruined and spoilers given, this is easily an offensive comment. It says a lot about Kiwi graciousness that no one flogged me for this comment.

It reminds me of the time I was helping a friend, Tony Dunnigan, an ultra marathon runner on a 3-day, 200 mile race. This one:

Healthy Obsession: Long Distance Running

Yes, that's three days of running, both night and day. Run all day; run through the night; keep running. He started Friday and I was his "crew" for Saturday morning. On Friday, the trail hadn't been properly prepared and he was running over wet land inappropriate for marathon running. He had been wet all night, a big no-no for marathon runners. He was running solo at that point. There aren't many ultra marathon runners in the world and he was running alone all night in the sharp, cold rain.

I met him en route Saturday morning. I was a complete IDIOT. I saw the bit of blood on his feet. I saw the water-soaked, raisin-esque body parts and said, "Isn't this rain great?"

The look on his face was utterly indescribable.

I assume that's a look similar to what Kiwis would wear when confronted by clueless Americans who have had cheap access to unlimited data, all the new releases and often pre-releases. I wouldn't blame you if you hated me.

I am sorry for my comment yesterday. Please accept my apologies.

Everyone hears apologies differently. Most of the people I love want to know why I made the mistake, one of the 5 Apology Languages: Accepting responsibility, explaining why.

Here's why I would make such an idiotic comment. Beyond the simple self-centered lack of realization of another's experience, there is a personal reason. It's only a personal reason. Extending the same reasoning to everyone in NZ is a bit silly.

My personal reason -- Willpower is limited. Ask Lifehacker. They know everything. When surrounded by distractions, it's harder to stay focused.

Right now I have a vision for a potential future for ZaReason that could be crazy wonderful. How on earth am I going to make it happen if I'm watching The Daily Show, Castle and seemingly unlimited movies on Netflix Watch Now (more than 300 in my Watch Now list when I left the US).

Cheap food, cheap entertainment, cheap and abundant everything. How's a girl supposed to build a world-renowned computer company with all that distraction?

My reasons for being pro-limitation were fully personal. Being pro-limitation for anyone but my own self is so... not me.

My views about free and open source software are deep, persistent and terribly philosophical, TMI for this blog post. Suffice it to say that the geographical isolation + awareness of the value of free access was a Can't Miss on my list of criteria for where to land ZaReason for the next location.

"There's a real purity in New Zealand that doesn't exist in the states. It's actually not an easy thing to find in our world anymore. It's a unique place because it is so far away from the rest of the world."  --Elijah Wood

People -- Za NZ Reason #1

I thought of putting the penguins as reason #1, but changed my mind.

Reason #1 is The People. Brilliant, creative, open-minded, strong people. Free and open source software thrives best when there are enough people nearby who can see the value of FOSS. There are many locations with a prevalence of brilliant people, but it is one of those Can't Miss factors.

NZ is one of the world's best secrets. Because people tend to be self-depricating here, no one expects to see such brilliant people here. I suspect that this intellectual divide will deepen as years progress. (You've heard about the earning wage gap? The intellectual gap is an even more fun one to look at, far more complex.)

If you want to see some of the people I'm referring to, look at the people I'm following on Twitter. http://twitter.com/zareasonNZ/following

Note: People often say there is a brain drain in NZ, that bright young university grads move to AU or US or other to earn more money and build their futures.

What goes unsaid is that people who are already bright enough to live anywhere they want -- knowledge workers -- often choose places like Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or some place out in the middle of the Most Beautiful Land on Earth.

ZaReason needs community to thrive. Devs and enthusiasts were our original supporters. Now it's far bigger, a wider tent.

The community was, is, and always will be excruciatingly important.

#1 -- The People

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why FOSS in New Zealand? Really?

Several people, including Nat Torkington, have asked me, "Why did you choose NZ for ZaReason's next location?" (ZaReason makes optimized-for-FOSS computers.)

Great question.

But you probably don't want to know the full answer.

The answer is complex, multi-layered, based on a stack of research that is not your typical business research (because ZaReason is not your typical company).

Background + anecdotal example:
The executive function center of the brain is where planning and scheduling take place. For me, it works annoyingly well. It sounds like a good thing until you find that you can't turn the stupid thing off. There are myriad negative ramifications, but sometimes executive function can come in handy.

For example, when my two oldest sons were in middle school I began searching for a high school that would be a great launching pad for them. Not a "good" school since they are not drones and whatever "good" entails I have no idea. Instead I listed out what my kids needed in particular. A few of the more bizarre factors:

1. No emphasis on tech. They had plenty of tech growing up. Give them an environment where it is de-emphasized = give them a chance to forge ahead un-aided.

2. No parking lot. Drugs & babies happen in high school parking lots.

3. Latin as a foreign language. Four years of intense Latin to help them understand more of the foundation of their world: legal terms, medical terms, basic understanding of any Latin-based language.

4. An overly tall principal because teenagers are primal creatures and the largest lion in the jungle commands respect by default.

Final total: >60 qualifying factors.

I searched for schools and when I found a contender, I asked my husband whose salary put food on the table, "Could you find a job in ____ (name of city)?" Since he was a handset programmer, the answer was always, "Yes."

There was a map in the living room that took up an entire wall. It had Post-Its on it. We could have thrown darts, but both my husband and I took a few months off work for this process. We looked at public, private, charter, magnet, even boarding schools. We looked in the US and beyond. A friend had moved her son to an international school in Shang'hai. Would that work? Another recommended a school in Dublin. No country was off-limits (well, a few war-torn ones were). The map was one big open possibility.

It turned out Berkeley High in Northern California fit the criterion best. No one will tell you it's a "good school" but it was the right school for our boys.

High school grads with younger brother
High school was an unequivocal success. Both boys turned out to be aware, compassionate, strong men. 

One morning I asked them, "Do you know who Brittany Spears is?" 

"How should I know?" /  "Uh..."

"Do you know who the Dali Lama is?"

"Of course." The conversation covered Buddhism, reincarnation, the Chinese government, child-rulers, and historical facts that they had absorbed.

This was what I wanted for my kids.
+1 for executive function. The time-consuming, seemingly insane process had worked.

When choosing where to settle the next ZaReason, the process began anew.  

So, now that you've seen the process, I will begin with the reasons.

Next post: 

1. Penguins. Duh.

Please sign up for @zareasonNZ if you're on Twitter.

And listen to our podcast on Why NZ? http://zareason.com/podcast/ for some of the other bits and pieces, the details.