Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fix My Computer? Part 2

Thanks to those of you who gave distro suggestions! Most came in while talking to people personally, but in the end...

Check out these specs. For me, it triggers a bit of nostalgia.

To explain to my friends that this computer was "a little old", I went to dinner with them wearing my flash drive necklace, a modest 16GB. My necklace is a tool that comes in handy so often. (Get one here if you want.)

Everyone at the table, except me, was French. They all have the ability to laugh easily so I say, "So, my necklace has more than 62 times more memory than your desktop computer.” Lots of "Ohlala"s ensued, much laughter.

They are wonderful people and wow, that dinner was delish. Thank you!

The thing I didn't mention – the coolest part – is that even though this computer is so old it will still function well with a solid Linux OS.

This is flipping amazing.

Of course it would need a 512 MB memory stick which might be hard to find, then I would need to open the case. But TSA took my screwdriver. Again. They take my screwdriver only 50% of the time, good enough odds for me so continue bringing them with me.

For the last few days I have waited for my friend to find the right size screwdriver. This has given me time to think about what I am about to do. I am sure there are spiders inside the tower and I am planning to invade their home.

It is fun to do upgrades, but only if I have the time. Like many other Linux geeks, it is often only briefly appealing to wrestle with an ancient machine built for XP.

But I hate e-waste with a passion. I am based in Berkeley, California where the joke is, “If there's a gum wrapper on the sidewalk, someone will try to recycle it.” But. Time.

Windows Computer CC-SA 
Then it occurs to me – if I fix this guy's machine I will forever be responsible for tech support for it. Shivers go up my arms. 

Spiders don't bother me but the thought of tech support on a poorly built machine. Horror.

And that is why we built a company that does all the R&D and support for new Linux-only machines.

So now I am taking one last look at this tower with a floppy drive (a freaking floppy drive!) before my friend moves it to a spot even deeper in the corner. The spiders will quickly move back in, I am sure, and make stylish French webs that look artistic. That is good enough recycling for me.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fix My Computer? Part 1

This is a conversation I have at least once at nearly every conference:

Me: “That's a classic laptop. It's great that you've kept it in great shape…. reducing e-waste.”

Person using old laptop: (quizzical look) “Don't you sell new computers?”

Me: “Ew. No. Well, not really. I build computers. Then there's an exchange [transaction] so my company can build more.”

Person: “Oh, ok, cool.” (continued discussion of laptop specs)

CC-SA ZaReason
I often ask, especially when giving presentations, “How many of you have built your own computer?” When those hands go up, it is a faith-in-humanity moment. Warranty laws make it so hard to take full ownership of your computer.

I love opening a machine. But only when I have the time. If your life isn't too cram-packed, then you have probably looked under the hood of your machine too.

It is this mindset that made me go into overdrive last week when a friend asked me to “make my computer connect to the Internet.”

Since I had not touched the insides of any electronics in over two weeks, I ran upstairs to his office to check it out. I literally ran, but not fast since this is a 400 old stone house in a remote village in France. The house is in good shape but it has a few bizarre twists between downstairs and upstairs.

After 60 seconds: Well, dear friend… it is running XP… This is what I did not say.

CC-SA ZaReason
CC-SA ZaReason
Instead I said “Sure!” and I began courting which distro will be best for this monster tower that has spider webs on every cable in the back.

So far I've looked at:

Mint? It'd give my friend that feeling of familiarity because the UI is vaguely similar to his old OS. I'd have to upgrade memory, but that's a given. I want this to cost as close to $0 as possible.

PuppyLinux? Maybe, but that's just because I remember Larry Cafiero talking about PuppyLinux and I couldn't hear a word he said because I was caught up in “Aw, how cute!” each time Larry said the word “Puppy.” Stereotypically blond reaction, but at least I'm owning it.

Lubuntu? Suggested by a cool French dude. It might be the right one.

Other suggestions?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Giving back to... who?

Short version: If you want ZaReason to buy pizza for your LUG, sign up below. Thanks!

Update: The first group was chosen at random (promise!) on 27 Aug and will be Partimus, a non-profit in the Bay Area of California.

Back to the post:

Ever since we first saw that ZaReason would continue to grow despite my (founder Cathy Malmrose) stunning lack of business acumen, we saw that a computer company that uses the free and open tools of the community should somehow find a way to give back to the community.

I have been brainstorming for how to give back to the community in that very personal yet nearly anonymous way they give to us. While our end goal is to donate to big non-profits, we have been craving a more personal approach.

Linux User Group of Davis, CA Pub Dom
A Linux User's Group meeting might be the ideal small size group meeting to support. But, personally I've had a hard time making it to LUG meetings except when they ask me to speak and then of course I go. If I'm not speaking, a few hours before the meeting I find a good excuse not to go because, like lots of good programmers, laziness is a precious part of my worldview. Even our company's business plan lists "organic growth" as our marketing strategy (because that's how the volunteer work of F/LOSS grows too)*.

Thankfully, none of us need to feel guilty about this particular type of laziness. Philipp Lenssen, explained Why Good Programmers Are Lazy and Dumb clearly enough that even non-programmers, the world at large, could see why and how we work the way we do.

So, I asked around: "What would make you want to attend a LUG?"

The almost unanimous answer? Feed me.

It turns out the basic human need to eat dinner is the missing piece. The thinking is: "I would overcome my natural tendency to stay in my cave at night in front of my many beautiful screens only if it satisfied a basic human need -- food."

Good programmers are lazy... : If your LUG uses MeetUp or other tool, you'll know approximately how many people will be showing up. Whoever runs the meeting will have one of our personal cells you can call if the meeting is cancelled or if more people show up or whatever. We'll order  some pizza to be delivered whenever you want. I don't care if you only have only three people in your meeting. Good things don't always need big numbers.

One Bitcoin worth of pizza, way to go Nejc Kodric!
Good programmers act dumb... : If I wanted this to be "smart" I would do some sort of contest or have you fill out a form or something. It would look intricate and professional. I might even list this in our marketing plan as an "outreach initiative". Um, no thank you. Instead, let's keep it simple: enter your LUG by commenting below and we'll pick a LUG at random for that month's winner. Sound good?

If you like this idea, thank Laszlow, the guy who spent $2,000,000+ on pizza and brought the concept of warm pizza to mind every time someone talks about Bitcoin or cryptocurrency or mining or how much I love people who can create new concepts. Nearly anything makes me think of Bitcoin.
I'm not poking fun (my son has a $5,000 yo-yo) just in awe of how far cryptocurrency has come since it's infancy.

* While we still have mostly organic marketing, we have an amazing marketing person on board now, Vy. If you have any questions, comments or helpful insights on how we can help ZaReason become more well-known, please let her know at

Want pizza? Comment below!

Update: We're having a beastly time getting the word out to LUG leaders. If you know of someone who might know of someone who runs a LUG or similar group, please let them know. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How long should a laptop last?

I've been waiting to see the day we could get an email like the one below:


Hi lovely people,

I bought a LightLap off you back in 2007 [the year ZaReason opened] and it's lasted me 7 years and still going strong. 

However, I'm now getting into some video editing and need something faster... Would also be interested in you opinions regarding what aspects/upgrades would be in the most beneficial for video/audio and professional image editing. <clip>

Cheers Jesse the Wind Wanderer
Username: storyjesse

P.S. I'm a professional storyteller/actor/entertainer and I make my own publicity materials using gimp and inkscape. Now I'm getting into making my own video's and thus far have been using kdenlive, which is the only open source video suite I could get working reliably. 

P.P.S. Feel free to use the 7 year lifespan of my laptop to promote yourselves. The only thing that failed on my laptop was the HDD which I replaced with a SSD and this gave it a new burst of life. I think I also upgraded the memory. That's all though, the rest of the system has been rock solid and I recommend you to all my friends when they are thinking about buying a new computer. <clip>


This email made do an involuntary "Yippee!" I hadn't realized how much I had been hoping to receive this type of feedback. 

The Linux community probably has more old-use machines than any other community. At several conferences, I've seen a few laptops that could be in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Two in particular were ancient. Talking to both of these laptops' owners I found they were dedicated to minimizing e-waste. They were also competitively testing how long each laptop could last. 

CC SA, Cathy Malmrose
Every time I see one of these old machines, my reason is, "Wow! So cool that you've kept it in good shape... reduce e-waste... love seeing people who know how to tweak a system to last longer."

Personally, I love a fast, new, shiny machine, but grow attached to each one. Currently, I am using a machine from five years ago, an R&D model. I love it. I use only one laptop at a time and made sure the others were either gutted or other
wise reused. 

If you can benefit from the increased speed and space of a new laptop, then by all means, go for it. As long as you donate your old laptop to someone who can use it through non-profits like or any other, there's no reason not to upgrade - life is short and a fast computer feels oh, so good. Just resist the urge to let the retired laptop sit, especially if you know you won't have an active user for it later. 

I have access to some of the hottest, newest machines. Yet, my five year-old beat-up machine has circled the globe many times over and will continue to be my trusty workhorse for as long as possible. 

I was so glad that Jesse took the time to let us know that his laptop had had a good life. My laptop is having a pretty awesome life too. If you have a ZaReason laptop too, you're in good company. 

Better look of my laptop