The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Connecting with the Do'ers...Here's Your Shot.

It's not every automobile driver that strives to be a Car Salesman.

It's not every Accountant that wants to re-invent the calculator.

It's not every Linux User that is called to become an Advocate.

It took me far too long to weave that into my daily action-set. But learn it I did, and along the way, I've learned other things as well. I've learned about the difference between sitting behind a keyboard and talking about doing things and going out and doing them. I've learned that there are many people who will harshly criticize your actions and projects without offering any ideas for improvement.

I've also learned that many of those who exhibit this behavior are absolute dead weight to what we try to do and should be discounted along with the headlines of the latest Tabloid. It leaves me to wonder if that particular behavior isn't exhibited in the rest of their lives.

It also reminds me to examine the behaviors in mine.

Such are the things I've learned. Hard lessons some.

But along with those things on the negative side of the ledger, there have been some extremely positive learning opportunities. I've learned that a relative few true friends and supporters are worth thousands of times more than a huge number of casual readers. I've learned that there are many that have passions for GNU Linux that burn as brightly as mine.

Some burn brighter, hotter and have burned longer. I've made a conscious decision that it is those people that I will seek out. It is those people that my efforts will seek and either join or support.

It's the only way I am going to survive in doing what we do.

The problem lies not only in finding them but in tying us together...those that strive to make a difference in the proliferation of the Linux Desktop.

Pompous? Self-absorbed? Self-Important?

Only to those who have yet to discover the gift of Service or Calling. Or maybe those who haven't looked past the words to the person presenting them.

I've talked about Christian Einfeldt here before. But that was me talking about Christian Einfeldt. I've recently entered into some deep and illuminating conversations with Christian...either by email or phone and I believe that Christian has much to offer us. He has much to teach us too...those who are not fettered by ego and selfishness. I am going to give Christian space here to talk to us about something he has been involved with for over 4 years now and he will go into detail that many have not been aware. If you have any interest in spreading Linux and Open Source Software, I urge you to take a few minutes and give Christian some of your time. He may just have a way for those who really care to get involved.

I mean in a meaningful a way that gets things done.

Helios has asked me to write about the intersection of the Digital Tipping Point library and documentary and how the DTP connects with the public middle school that our local Linux Users Group (SF-LUG) is supporting with Free Open Source Software (FOSS).

Both projects stem from the kindness of one man, Holden Aust, who built my first GNU-Linux computer for me back in late 2000. To understand why Holden's help meant so much to me, it's important to get some context.

I was (and still am) a one-man shop, and so I had (and still have) a small budget. It was my experience that the Windows guy from whom I had purchased my Windows 98 computer was nice, but would charge me for every single small thing that went wrong with my Microsoft machine. I was really astonished at the expense of running that machine. It was a black hole for money. Every little thing required at least a one hour fee of $75.00, and that was an inexpensive rate compared to what I could find in downtown San Francisco.

And yet I was (and still am) utterly dependent on my computer(s) for serving my clients. I had no choice but to pay what was needed to keep my business running. I dreaded computer downtime, because it meant that I could not meet my clients' deadlines, and so I was really dependent on my Windows' repair guy.

In the summer of 2000, I was reading lots of news about waves of viruses that would be coming up. Holden and I knew each other from discussing politics in the elevator during the 2000 election cycle, so I knew that he was a computer sys admin for a law firm in that building, and asked him what was the best anti-virus software.

He said "Linux".

After many conversations with Holden about the ups and downs of using Linux for my office, I decided that my fear of viruses was greater than my anxiety about an unknown operating system called Linux, and so I ordered a bunch of computer parts on the Internet which Holden proceeded to build into the first of several machines that he would build for me.

Linux fixed it. I have never had to worry about viruses again. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to have a computer that would not be crippled by viruses.

I learned that Holden is such a generous guy that it would be much more important to him that I repay his generosity by paying it forward, rather than paying him back with some favor. And so I decided that I needed to do what I could to help others feel the sense of calm and control that I have come to associate with using GNU-Linux.

It seemed to me that the primary problem facing the GNU-Linux community was the lack of media attention given to this minor miracle that is the world of Linux. So I started giving out Linux CDs and talking to people on planes, trains, and buses about Linux.

Pardon the interjection but the next few lines are immensely important for all of us to understand and get comfortable with. The emphasis on these lines is mine. - h

But I quickly came to see that I was making no headway. For most people, a computer is just an appliance, like a toaster. They just want to turn it on, and have it work, with a minimum of inconvenience to them. Most people won't learn to do much more than turn the computer on and use a few applications. They want to get on with their life, and that does not include sitting in front of a computer. And they have the misapprehension that Microsoft Windows is the easiest way to get stuff done. Many of their friends and colleagues use it, so they will follow the path of least resistance.

I thought that I needed to stop talking with strangers on planes, trains, and buses. It just wasn't working. People don't trust strangers. In the US, people trust TV. If it is on TV, it is real. Or at least is socially real. It's accepted. It's mainstream. So I decided that I needed to stop saying the same thing over and over again to people on planes, trains, and buses, and I needed to get backing from famous people.

Famous people. Like in movies. I thought I needed to make a movie.

Actually, the idea to make a movie is attributable to my girlfriend, DTP co-producer Dorothee Weiler. In July 2003, we were visited by a mutual friend. The three of us went for a walk along the beach that leads to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I was ranting about Free Open Source Software, as I always do, and my friend told us about his recent movie-making experience. Dorothee said the two of us should make a movie about Free Open Source Software. And so we decided, right then and there, to do just that.

The Digital Tipping Point is what resulted.

Christian says this as if he is describing putting together a leggo toy. DTP has the potential to do amazing things for the growth of GNU Linux- h

My friend, Paul Donahue, has subsequently moved to Germany to be with his new wife, whom he met while we were traveling from Basel to Stuttgart to film Eddie Bleasedale, who was a technical adviser to now UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (You can see Eddie's part of Eddie's DTP interview here.)

It rapidly became clear to me that a movie needed to be about something concrete. It needed to tell a story about people who go on a journey, who go through change, and it had to be people that matter.

From doing research for the movie, I came to believe that the people most likely to adopt Free Open Source Software (FOSS) are people whom Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen calls "overshot customers" -- meaning people who would rather buy just a small bag of popcorn when they go to the moves, not the full bucket. Schools in California are notoriously underfunded, and so I knew that school administrators would be likely to be willing to give FOSS a shot.

How lucky I was.

It turns out that a new public charter school had just started in my neighborhood, just one block from my house. I called the principal and offered to meet with her to tell her about how I could give her free computers. She was interested. We met, and she decided to give it a shot. But she asked me one question toward the end of the interview that she later told me was key.

She asked, "Do you hate Microsoft?"

I told her, truthfully, no. I told her that Microsoft is like the wind. It is everywhere. Its stock is in everyone's retirement portfolio. She later told me that she came to trust me because of that answer. She thought that I was guided by practicality, not unreasonable passion.

We discussed what she thought the kids needed. She wanted a full classroom just for computer use. I told her that we could get her a solution inexpensively, but it would take a wee bit of money to do something on that scale. Her school had been given a donation of cast-off Dell GX-110 machines from a rich private school in San Francisco. She didn't know what to do with them, because they were too slow for Microsoft Windows. I told her that we could use those machines for a thin-client lab.

But we would need help making the lab work. We looked around together, and I found a guy by the name of Steve Hargadon who put in a commercial bid to build a Linux lab very reasonably. I mean VERY reasonably. In fact, the price was so low that it surprised the principal.

That Linux lab ran for two years without a reboot.

And we place an additional 12 GNU-Linux machines in other teachers' classrooms.

The school was a huge success in terms of testing, and so its student body grew. After the third year, the lab had to be moved to another room so that a social studies teacher could use the Linux lab for his classroom. What happened to the Linux lab will be the subject of another blog entry here so hang tight...there is more to the story and it will post soon.
Thanks Christian. As you can see, Christian Einfeldt and I share many of the same beliefs and philosophies about the things we do and the ways they need to be done. This is an exciting time for has been exciting for a while, and as far as "The Year of Linux"? It's come and gone...that "year" was the year that Microsoft decided it needed to go in and make deals with some other Linux-based companies. The "Year" of Linux is here.

If we've been waiting for validation, Microsoft has already given it to us. Now we just need to go out and make this thing happen. We'll talk with Christian more in the next week about how we go about doing that...each and every one of us who cares to do so.

All-Righty Then


Christian said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the nice words, but I think you might have exaggerated what we are doing here in San Francisco. I mean, it's not like we are doing something REALLY big, like planning to move a whole town to GNU-Linux, fer instance:

or like giving away 16,000 Ubuntu boxes:

or installing 350 boxes with Ubuntu for schools:

But seriously, thanks for thinking of our local SF-LUG, Ken. Lots and lots of people have helped carry the ball on the work we are doing in San Francisco. If you want to see a really nice video of what is going on here in San Francisco, here is a video that Cnet did showing a great Ubuntu demo organized by Kari Gray and Karl Robillard and Kami Griffiths here in San Francisco's skid row:

I watch that video whenever I am feeling blue and small and helpless and alone. It reminds me that we are making strides.

Thanks for all you do, Ken!

Christian Einfeldt

Christian said...

oops, I see that two of the links that I posted to the comments were too long, so here are tinyurl links for them:

Here is the interview with Ken Starks and Larry Cafiero re moving the town of Felton to FOSS:

Here is the warm n fuzzy video re the Tenderloin Ubuntu event:


Bob said...

As usual, motivational, inspirational, and relevant all at the same time.

Keep it up guys.


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Blog of helios said...

HEY! Thanks Google...when you emailed me and told me how great blogger was, I checked it out and darned if you aren't almost right. Almost in - When are you going to allow your users of blogger to delete spam comments like the one above. Or is it perfectly acceptable for this type of blight to pop up on your products. Well congratulations've forced me into comment screening before I allow them to post.

Sorry if your comment doesn't appear immediately...or for a couple of hours. I can't let garbage like this on my site. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Bob said...

If your blog is important enough to attract spammers, you might be famous.

Anonymous said...

Christian, what you are doing is way bigger than you credit it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for another wonderful article. I am generally one to sit in the side lines and watch, listen, and contemplate, as I digest the information at hand.

I have watched your struggles to bring attention to those things that matter to us who are truly awestruck/humbled/passionate about GNU/Linux. I'm not talking about the OS itself, but of what it stands for, which, in my opinion, is for the betterment of all, and not the enrichment of a select few.

I will be following Christian's post with great interest. I have alway wanted to do something...anything to help but have always found myself at a loss to put the dreams and desires into actions.

Thanks again Ken and to Christian and all those that contribute as the two of you do, my sincerest gratitude.


Blog of helios said...

Carey, I am humbled by your comments. Sometimes when we get a chance to look up from our work, it's a bit disappointing to see that seemingly there is no one there to notice what is getting done. Not that it should be a motive or cause, it's simply human nature to want to make a difference when you put much into something. Thank you.

Often, it's simple things like offering to mail some disks out or writing a letter to someone with some "pull" about the things you see being done. Those "little" things mean much more than you may ever know.

thank you


Christian said...

Hi Carey,

If you are too busy to do really involved things such as committing to supporting a neighbor with a Linux box, there are always really important small things, such as just sharing your personal experiences with people that you meet.

Linux and Free Open Source Software are based on community, and that can include even just a chat with someone over beans and franks at a Fourth of July barbeque (if you happen to be in the US) or over wine on Bastille Day (if you happen to be in France).

It is even really helpful to just suggest that maybe people would want to consider using Firefox. That is probably the simplest, easiest, more pain-free way to test out Free Open Source Software.

See ya. Have fun!

Christian said...

Hi Tracyanne,

Thanks for your nice comment. My primary concern is that I want to makes sure that I am not seen as being to prominent in the video work that I do. All of the stuff that I do is tightly associated with a whole bunch of people here in the SF Bay Area.

For me, the most important aspect of what we are doing is that we are having fun while connecting with others. Modern life can be so lonely. You work and work and work and work and then you have some stuff at the end of your life, but maybe you didn't connect with people and build friendships and have meaningful relationships with people. Most of what I do is aimed at solving the loneliness that I feel is at the root of most of our societies' problems.

If people worked less, and spent more time giving to others, they would see that their life is richer. But people are afraid of not having enough money at retirement, and they are afraid of mounting debts, and so they compromise and don't do what they really WANT to do in life. Most of my work is aimed at encouraging people to give up a little bit of work time for more people time and more service time. But that is a difficult message to convey in a way that doesn't seem stuffy.

Also, it might end up that I have a lot of screen time on the Digital Tipping Point, simply because it is the cheapest and easiest thing to do is to film yourself and inject yourself into the plot of the movie. That way, you don't have to worry about scheduling people, which is a total killer. But the film and my work at the school is neither by me nor about me. In every case, it is an attempt to document what a large community is doing. There are lots and lots of people in the SF Bay Area who contribute to this work, and I want to demonstrate with the DTP film that it _is_ working and that people _are_ finding one another through the love they share in Free Open Source Software.

c u