The Perfect Storm [was: Re: [conspire] comp. hardware available from C.E.]

Christian Einfeldt einfeldt at
Fri Oct 1 13:49:36 PDT 2004

On Thursday 30 September 2004 16:18, Rick wrote:
> Quoting bruce
> > if someone has some space, i have some ability and
> > occasional use of car to handle the donation but
> > Christain, i phoned him, eventually wants 2 make a
> > non-profit out of it. he's smarting from giving some
> > people some hardware w linux and they pirated windows
> > over it since they couldn't get help so now he wants
> > to start with people who know some/more linux/bsd or
> > whatever free software/s to avoid that.
> Necessary but not sufficient.  ;->
> An unpopular truth:  Almost all initiatives through which
> volunteer technologists, to date, have attempted to help
> non-profits have been total failures by any rational measure.  

I don't know about *all*, but my experience has been consistent with 
Rick's opinion here.  Josh Berkus, Holden Aust, and I worked to 
helpl a non-profit in Bay view hunters point in SF (economically 
depressed area) get new computers.  We did work our asses off.  And 
yes, they did install Windows on top of it.  I felt that I had 
totally wasted the time of two very knowledgeable guys who could 
have been making good use of their time to help the community.

Never again.

From now on, I have set my sights on helping orgs with a LINUX geek 
on staff ONLY.   And so I'm starting with this list.  I thought 
that rather than try to find newbies who knew a Linux wizard, I 
would try to find a Linux wizard who needed parts, or monitors, 
etc.  For WHATEVER reason that Linux wizard needed those parts.  

If the Linux wizard happens to know a group of newbies who need 
computers, great!  If not, that's fine, too.  I have decided that 
our movie (The Digital Tipping Point) is how I am going to try to 
get buy in from newbies.  Make them WANT Linux boxes.  Then let 
them go buy it.  At least in North America and Europe.  My 
experience with Latin America is that Rick's syllogism doesn't work 
there, because people have so little, they can see the value in 
something that works.  Unfortunately, the cost of shipping to Latin 
America exceeds the fair market value of the parts, and results in 
economic waste.  

So you Linux wizards have helped us unsophisticated users by writing 
great code.  Now maybe I can help some of you with parts, monitors, 
mice, keyboards, etc.  

It would be nice to have the help of a Linux wizard to help 
inventory the stuff, so that we know what we have.  I am thinking 
of setting up a gifting library.  We need a couple of folks with 
cars and somewhere, preferably in SF, to store the stuff.  

Let me tell you this story.  I interviewed Etienne Delacroix for our 
film, the Digital Tipping Point.  This guy is a genius.  He's a 
physicist and an artist.  He has students in the University in 
Uruguay where he teaches physics and art.  He puts them together in 
the same class, teaching them to create new hardware FROM BASIC 
PARTS.  In the same way that you Linux wizards rearrange code to 
form new stuff, this guy rearranges transistors, motherboards, etc, 
to form functional sculpture.  There are billions of robots on the 
planet, but as you know better than I, they don't look like the 
robot on Lost in Space.  Or Mr. Data in Star Trek.  So this guy is 
helping his students how to imagine new configurations for 
computers, robots, call 'em what you want, but they do stuff.

What I learned from meeting Etienne is that if you give stuff to 
creative people, they will create with it.  Think of it as 
Microsoft's perfect storm.  I'm not anti-MS per se, it's just that 
they have too much power, and have caused lots of problems because 
of that power.  Power corrupts, blah blah blah.  And obviously, 
open source is about pro-freedom, not anti-whatever.  Still, think 
of it as Microsoft's perfect storm.  Open Internet.  Open code. 
Open hardware.  

We in North America and Europe have reached the saturation point.  
There is SOOOOOOO many good components right now on their way to 
the dumpster, that the cost of even hardware is rapidly moving 
toward free, both free as in beer and free as in freedom.  Not to 
mention Moore's law and Metcalfe's law.  I'm talking about 
traditional old supply and demand.  The supply is enormous.  If we 
can just harness Metcalfe's law and get the information about where 
those parts ARE to the people who know where those parts should GO 
LOCALLY, we are talking about Microsoft's Perfect Storm.  

So I thought that I would start small with just some folks locally 
in SF, and see if I can do something kinda like the Free Geeks in 
Portland, except more like e-Bay.  Maybe something like this 
already exists.  The idea is that we could decrease inventory and 
the need for warehousing and physical space if we could get an 
e-Bay type of thing going FOR PARTS.  

The "buyers" would go to this site, we could call it "Free Bay" (as 
suggested by the Free Geek folks, see below) and would pay for 
shipping.  The "sellers" would be paid by a PayPal type of thing 
for shipping, together with maybe a small handling fee (or maybe 
not) and would then take the funds to get the parts to the 
"buyers."  Think of it as a source forge for parts.

I just called FREE GEEKs, who are located at the link below, and 
spoke with Laurel.  She said that this had been tried a couple of 
years ago, and didn't work for some reason.

Laurel said that it was a software problem.  Now there is Mr. 
Project, info here.  Maybe Mr. Project solves that software problem.

Also, I know some open source database wizards, and maybe they have 
a solution using PostgreSQL or MySQL.  All it would take is a 
website and a group to keep the website running.  At least 
initially.  "Buyers" and "sellers" would just log on, and fill out 
a simple database form as to what they have to give away.  

Maybe for larger things like monitors, there would have to be an 
actual physical address and inventory in each major city.  I see 
that the Free Geeks charge $10.00 for taking a monitor.  

I welcome any thoughts!

Christian Einfeldt

> They fail for lack of buy-in (the metaphorical variety) by the
> non-profits' management, and those managers using a value system
> that differs from that of the volunteers.
> Technological volunteers, including the volunteer portions of the
> Linux and BSD communities, tend to apply the value system of a
> "gift culture". That is, things (including information) are
> valued at what you can use them for.  The more your work,
> information, contributions of gear, etc. helps accomplish, the
> more valuable it is deemed to have been.
> However, most of the world (including managers at non-profits),
> most of the time, values pretty much everything at acquisition
> cost.  The more costly and difficult something was to come by,
> the more valuable it is assumed (at least initially) to be.
> When one of the former crowd gives one of the latter crowd
> something at what the latter sees as zero cost, guess what
> happens?
> That valuation problem leads directly to the buy-in problem,
> thereafter: Your gang of computer nerds has worked its asses off
> assisting a school, a charity, a foundation, etc. turning
> scrounged machines into Linux systems, configured to within an
> inch of their lives.  You plug them in. (You've done your best to
> make everything easy for the people who are the object of your
> generosity.)  The non-profit's executive director smiles, and
> warmly shakes your hand.  You go home.
> The next morning the executive director shakes his head and
> wonders what all that was about.  Fortunately, all he had to do
> was smile and give a handshake, so it's obviously someone else's
> problem.  Six months later, someone else overwrites this thing
> that nobody seems to be in charge of with the non-profit's one
> and only CD of Win98SE.

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