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They say you never balloon your aboriginal computer. For some of us, it was a Commodore 64 or an Apple IIe. For others, it was a Pentium 233 alive Windows 95. Regardless of the hardware, the addicted memories of admiration and action are universal. For me, I’ll never balloon the night my ancestor brought home our aboriginal computer, a Tandy 1000. Nor will I balloon the analytical action I acquainted against the abstruse biscuit box that took up a ample allocation of the bedfellow bedroom. This happened at a time aback artlessly accepting a computer at home gave a school-age adolescent an advantage. I accept no agnosticism my adventures from that time absolutely afflicted my aisle in life.
In the decades that accept anesthetized aback the alpha of the claimed computer revolution, computers accept gone from actuality a attenuate and big-ticket affluence to a binding educational tool. Today, a adolescent afterwards admission to a computer (and the Internet) at home is at a disadvantage afore he or she anytime sets bottom in a classroom. The adverse absoluteness is that in an age breadth computer abilities are no best optional, far too abounding families don’t acquire the assets to accept a computer at home.
I afresh had the befalling to allocution with Ken Starks about his organization, Reglue (Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Acclimated for Education) and its efforts to arch this agenda divide.
BC: Acquaint me about your accretion accomplishments and how you got started with Linux—the binding “what was your aboriginal distro” question?
KS: My actual aboriginal computer was an Optiplex GX-1. It was a Pentium II with a accomplished 64MB of RAM, and it was an complete screamer—for its day anyway. By today’s standards, it catholic at the acceleration of smell. In 2001, I bought nine Dell Dimension 4300’s with which to body my business. My power-washing aggregation had offices in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. All of those ran the binding Microsoft Windows OS.
In the backward summer of 2002, my Tech Guy alleged me one morning and abreast me that we had a big problem. Our absolute arrangement had been adulterated by the klez virus—all three offices. By the end of the day, it was bright that the alone way to apple-pie this up was to reformat and re-install. I promised to accompany him the accession disks immediately, and he told me that I didn’t charge to anguish about it. He would booty affliction of it. We broke our offices for the week, and I paid my affiliation for their “vacation”. Aback I returned, all of my systems and my arrangement was aback up and alive Linux—Libranet Linux to be specific. I’ve never looked back. Alike afterwards I awash my business, I remained a full-time Linux user.
BC: How did Helios/Reglue get started?
KS: I am the architect and Executive Director of Reglue, which began activity as The Helios Activity in 2005. This activity started as “a advantageous break”. I was alive 38 anxiety in the air, burden abrasion a architecture for my power-washing aggregation aback the lift bootless and I fell, fracturing my aback at the neck. While aseptic and convalescing, my again 11-year-old babe Amanda asked me “How does a computer work?” I had her get one from the office, and we took it afar on my lap.
It was from there that The Helios Activity began. What started as a amusement by way of apathy angry into my life’s calling. I enlisted the admonition of two accompany in acquisition old machines and acclimation them. The assignment apparent acquired from a halo-device caster armchair to the dining allowance table to the barn at my abode and again to a donated ability in Lakeway, Texas, and now a abiding ability in Taylor, Texas.
The HeliOS Activity acquired into Reglue in the summer of 2012. Aback 2009, HeliOS had been alive beneath the awning of Software in the Accessible Interest. As an invite-only organization, HeliOS was animated to be included. It gave us the befalling to accord tax receipts to donors and gave HeliOS some acceptance that it ability not accept had otherwise. By 2012, HeliOS had outgrown its affiliation with SPI and had a absurd befalling to become its own 501(c)(3)—an befalling that HeliOS artlessly didn’t accept the money to pursue.
That’s aback acquaintance and adherent Don Davis stepped in to help. Don had an about identical activity called Reglue (Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Acclimated for Education) alive in and about San Marcos, Texas, but actuality a Doctoral Candidate, he begin little time to participate in the project. Don and his admiral arrive me and our admiral to a meeting. Don’s lath voted anniversary of the HeliOS associates in, and already that was done, anniversary one in Don’s alignment accommodated their positions. That larboard the HeliOS Activity operating in an already-established nonprofit organization.
However, the HeliOS Activity did not absolutely go away. It charcoal an alive activity beneath the Reglue umbrella. HeliOS is the educational arm of Reglue, amenable for all classes and computer education.
BC: What were the factors arch to the accommodation to use Linux? Which distros accept been acclimated and which one is actuality acclimated now?
KS: In 2005, we approved to alpha with Windows because that was what anybody used. This accomplishment was short-lived, however, because the best Microsoft could do was to action us Windows XP SP1 licenses for $50 each. For the aboriginal few years, we were not a nonprofit, and the accomplished affair was actuality adjourned out of my pocket. Alike accomplishing alone ten computers a year would broke us. It was bright Microsoft wasn’t anxious about allowance us. That’s aback we absitively to become a 100% Linux shop.
We started out with Mepis and acclimated it for a few years. We had abrupt flirtations with Connectiva and Mandrake (and as an aside, I still accept that Connectiva was the best Linux distro accessible at the time). Aback they accumulated with Mandrake to become Mandriva, I didn’t like the affiliated acrimonious to “upgrade to a fuller Mandriva experience”. In 2009, we confused abounding time to Ubuntu.
Appropriate now, we are application a aggregate of three Linux distros: ZorinOS 6.4 Educational adaptation 6.4 LTS (Based on Ubuntu), an educational respin of Linux Mint 13 (Maya) with the Cinnamon desktop and OpenSUSE LiFe-Education edition. We had been alive with prodigy extraordinaire Ikey Doherty of SolusOS fame, but aback the admonition promised from the association for the 2.0 absolution backed out, he had to airing away. SolusOS was to be our distro aback Ikey accomplished with our respin.
We will abide application Zorin and Mint, but if either one of those one-man-driven distros disappear, we consistently accept OpenSUSE to abatement aback on. Besides, OpenSUSE’s Studio on-line apparatus is accessible abundant for our non-tech volunteers. If an ISO needs assertive tools, it can be done on the fly with Studio.
The OpenSUSE arrangement is acclimated for earlier kids and machines with 4 gigs of RAM or added and the PAE kernel, while ZorinOS and Mint are aloof for adolescent kids and machines with 1–3 gigs of RAM.
BC: What are the challenges of application Linux? I would brainstorm that the capricious levels of accouterments abutment by the Linux atom and/or availability of drivers charge present some challenges aback aggravating to accumulate alive PCs from such a advanced array of hardware.
KS: The challenges of accouterments aren’t alike aces of acknowledgment anymore. Somewhere about the 2.7 atom release, wireless went from “Wireless sucks in Linux” to “Holy crap, wireless works in Linux”. Of course, we still accept a cardinal of the Broadcom drivers and Texas Instrument chunks that still charge a adamantine affiliation to download the wireless accessory firmware, but for the best part, we accept few problems anymore.
The bigger claiming we face is befitting parents or ancestors from alarming abroad the Linux arrangement and putting Windows on it because they see commodity altered and they freak. They can’t comedy Apple of Warcraft out of the box, so they spiral up the kid’s computer by installing a absurd adaptation of Windows. Again they alarm and accuse a anniversary afterwards that they accept a virus. We now accept the ancestor or guardian sign, adage that if addition operating arrangement is introduced, we will not abutment that computer any longer. We accomplish abiding they accept that. It happens alone in maybe 8% percent of the cases, but a baby alignment like ours cannot absorb time re-traveling our accomplish to fix addition else’s mistake.
Besides, the kids booty to Linux appropriate away. We rarely accept issues now, and best of those are bootless hardware, which we replace. We’re seeing added and added academy districts application Chromebooks and Google on-line accoutrement now. Google Docs has acquired absorption in the schools, and that has lessened the asphyxiate point Microsoft had with Office. The kids aloof about-face in their work, and it is apprehend or printed from Google Drive. As a taxpayer, I’m alone adequate it. It bothers me that the schools we pay taxes to abutment absorb money on software aback they accept no absolute charge to do so. Up until lately, they had an excuse, but now with Google actuality such a factor, schools are alpha to booty advantage of it and save money at the aforementioned time.
BC: What is Reglue’s position apropos non-OSS (binary blob) drivers and software? Is the focus on ethics or on the best accessible user experience? Are those mutually exclusive?
KS: At first, I was a determined Stallman-ista. I could recite to you pertinent genitalia of the GPL affiliate and verse, but as it is with all aloof credo and dogma, it will atrophy abroad aback apparent to the absolute ablaze of pragmatism. We accredit to this cipher as our “naughty bits”. As abundant as I accede to the attempt of Richard Stallman’s Manifesto, it aloof doesn’t assignment in the absolute world. I can’t accord a kid a computer, again present him with a account of things he can’t do with it.
So in essence, afterwards these tools, we are giving these kids a multi-component, 40 batter typewriter. I alive and assignment in the absolute world, so I’ve appear to an understanding. I’ll use FOSS aback I can and augment it with binary/proprietary blobs aback I can’t.
BC: How are the recipients of Reglue PCs chosen? Are there any expectations/requirements placed aloft them?
KS: Now that we are acclaimed in a tri-county area, our referrals appear from Adolescent Welfare Offices, policemen, firemen, academy agents and added accessible workers as able-bodied as neighbors and friends. We absolutely don’t accept a cast that we use to authorize recipients—that hasn’t formed for us. A distinct mom with four kids ability attending like she’s active ample authoritative 4K a month, but with the amount of daycare and added expenses, she’s actually active at the abjection line.
These are the bodies we are aggravating to help. Every one of our candidates is advised on a case-by-case basis. Already a ancestors is selected, we accomplish an “initial visit” to the home to see if they qualify. Best of the time, though, aback we appearance up for an antecedent visit, we accept their computer in the commitment vehicle. Already we analysis things out, we install on the spot.
BC: How abounding PCs accept you placed in the community? Do you accommodate aftereffect support?
KS: To date, we’ve installed abutting to 1,600 computers.
Already a Reglue computer is installed, it is accurate for the child’s absolute academy attendance, alike through college. Unfortunately, abounding of the bodies we admonition move about a lot, so the recorded abode of any accustomed install has a 65% adventitious of actuality incorrect afterwards the aboriginal year. But yes, we accommodate abutment for as continued as it’s needed, up the point of replacing the absolute computer/laptop.
BC: What are Reglue’s bigger successes/achievements?
KS: We’ve had abounding animated moments, but one in accurate stands out. We were approached by a adolescent woman called Christina Collazo in the summer of 2009. She is the Director for Sí Se Puede Acquirements Center. One of her centers was amid in a ample Catholic Church on the east ancillary of Austin. She asked me if our alignment could set up a 25-station computer acquirements centermost in the Church. It was to be a centermost accessible to the association at large, as able-bodied as actuality acclimated by daycare kids and parents. She ample she would ask for the moon and achieve for what she could get. To her surprise, we were able to put that activity together.
Shortly afterwards that, we accustomed apprehension that an figure of Linux abutment was dying of academician cancer. Bruno Knaapen was a acclaimed provider of abutment and advance for those new to Linux. He was alone amenable for answering added than 40,000 inquiries on Scot’s Newsletter Forum. I anticipation it alone applicable to name our bigger acquirements centermost as The Bruno Knaapen Technology Acquirements Center. We had the advantage of accomplishing so afore he died. It fabricated him blessed at a time aback beatitude was in abbreviate accumulation for him.
Kids at The Bruno Knaapen Technology Acquirements Centermost
While we accept had our victories, I ahead architecture that centermost stands out the most. Aback then, we’ve set up four more, but annihilation as ample as the 2009 effort.
BC: What is the cachet of Activity Reglue now? And what are your affairs for the abutting bristles years?
KS: At the moment, we’re bamboozlement our accustomed business with accepting our boutique in bigger shape. I was off assignment for added than a year while I recovered from blight treatments. However, that didn’t apathetic bottomward the breeze of donated computers and equipment. Our volunteers were bringing in computers of all types and stacking them in the workshop. Aback I was able to go to work, I absolved into a accumulation of computers, monitors and added accouterments that we still don’t accept appropriately sorted, but we’re authoritative progress.
At this time, we accept two alive projects. One is The 12 Geeks of Christmas. We are allurement 12 bodies from anywhere in the US to acquisition a adolescent who’s ancestors cannot allow a computer. We will address a laptop or desktop to the advance to set it up in the child’s home, accord them some apprenticeship and accommodate abutment in the accident they ability charge it (note: this account was conducted in backward November 2013, amuse see the Assets breadth at the end for aftereffect on this project).
The additional affair we accept alive is a affiliation with the Taylor Texas Fire Department’s “Red Santa” effort. They will analyze ten kids in the breadth who charge a computer, and we will install one, alike on Christmas day if necessary. Of course, this isn’t aloof for those who bless Christmas. Anyone from any acceptance can participate. I’m not anxious about what banderole it’s done under, as continued as it’s done.
But speaking to the future, we achievement to get aback to the akin breadth we already were. Installing 200–300 computers a year is a huge undertaking. Now that I accept abundant of my bloom returning, there is no acumen we can’t do that. We’re additionally activity to attending added carefully to funding. The money we accept now won’t aftermost long, so we accept to plan for the future. The bigger botheration we’ve faced in accepting funds is the abridgement of grants acclimated for circadian expenses. Foundations appetite to accord you accessories or money for equipment, but we already accept equipment. What acceptable is accepting computers to accord if you can’t put ammunition in the agent to bear them? Hopefully, we’ll acquisition that antecedent in the advancing year.
BC: Afresh you wrote a blog column about how you’re alive with an Internet account provider to accompany accelerated Internet into the homes of Reglue recipients. Can you acquaint us added about the cachet of that effort?
KS: Accepting Internet access for our Reglue kids can be a challenge. Abounding of our kids mow lawns, babysit and do odd jobs about their adjacency to pay for their account Internet costs. But sometimes, that’s aloof not possible.
For the best disadvantaged families we serve, we’ve set abreast abundant money to admonition these bodies get connected. We alarm this our Prometheus Project. We’ve fabricated arrange with Time Warner to pay the antecedent fees and three months Internet account for these people. At this time, we accept abundant to admonition 20 families a year. That gives them 90 canicule to account for their Internet costs (see the Assets breadth at the end of this commodity for added admonition on this project).
BC: What admonition do you accept for bodies who are because starting an accomplishment like Reglue in their community?
KS: Brian, aboriginal off, you charge to accept a antecedent of activity funding. For four years I ran the accomplished affair out of my abode and out of my pocket. That was accomplished aback I was authoritative a six-figure income, but aback you carve that bottomward by 90%…well, you artlessly can’t do it.
You additionally charge to accept a antecedent of computers. We accept a amount of 11 small- to medium-sized businesses who accord accessories to us on a approved basis. But we wouldn’t accept abreast that abounding if we were not a nonprofit. If you ahead accomplishing this at annihilation added than 2–3 computers a month, you are activity to appetite to be able to accommodate donors a tax receipt. We wouldn’t accept the donors we accept today if we weren’t able to do that.
Second, assure yourself at all times. I beggarly that in a brace ways.
Liability allowance is a must-have. First, if anyone gets aching while volunteering or alive in your shop, you are amenable for any abrasion or accident suffered. Second, we never access a home afterwards a ancestor or guardian present. In fact, we ask the developed to abide in the allowance so we can appearance them how the computer is accumulated and how the operating arrangement works. What we are absolutely insuring is that the ancestor or guardian has band of afterimage on our bodies at all times. We alive in an odd world, and alike a adumbration that we acted with adverse behavior would ruin eight years of work. It ability complete aberrant but it’s absolutely an important action to advance at all times.
Reglue—How to Help: http://www.reglue.org/help.html
Blog of Helios (Ken’s blog): http://linuxlock.blogspot.com
The 12 Geeks of Christmas Follow-up: http://linuxlock.blogspot.com/2014/01/12-geeks-of-christmas-outreach-is.html
Prometheus Activity (Internet Service): http://linuxlock.blogspot.com/2013/09/prometheus-goes-digital.html
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