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Re: [vox] Lugod and public schools
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Re: [vox] Lugod and public schools

Quoting Peter Jay Salzman (p@dirac.org):

> are you saying they have windows 2000 on the computer we donated to the
> highschool?

Unfortunately, that sort of outcome is what's happened to just about
every effort I've heard of by well-meaning members of the open-source
community to "help the schools".  Here's a post I sent elsewhere on the

Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 19:04:20 -0800
To: SMAUG@svlug.org
Subject: Re: [SMAUG] Linux in Schools & Volunteer work for SysAdmins

begin Karsten Wade quotation:
> One of the issues with doing IT for non-profits is that they usually do
> not have the staff resources or expertise to handle complex solutions left
> for them to manage.  Therefore, there is a natural reluctance to increase
> the technology beyond the level of the staff to handle.  This brings two
> solutions to mind:
> o Proper documentation and lists of resources (vendor, volunteer,
> professional, mailing list) to help in dealing with various situations.
> o Regular rotation of volunteer visits to groups to help maintain systems
> once installed.  "Roaming Marauding SysAdmins".
> I like these also because I am not so hot at doing *nix installs and
> configurations, but I am good at writing doxen, defining processes,
> managing helpdesk type stuff (interfacing with users), and stuff like
> that.  Makes me feel more useful. :)

I'm snipping the CalTEG guy from distribution because I don't want to 
seem as if I'm beating up on them.  Discussions like this, on-line,
are easily misinterpreted, especially when it involves people who
don't know one another.

LUGs are always proposing to help non-profit groups (or schools) and
volunteer projects with their computing problems.  And the record is
quite miserable -- even when all parties swear up and down that it was a
big success (in order to make everyone feel good).

The groups/projects want cheap techological solutions.  The Linux 
folks want to help.  What can go wrong?  Just about everything.

1.  Sorry to say that, but, as in many areas, people often value 
things according to cost.  We would _like_ other ways of assigning
worth, such as according to usage value.  Specifically, we see what
we imagine our work will result in, and hope our work's beneficiary
envisions the same benefits.  But the "customer" may not understand -- 
or he may regard as presumed worthless anything he gets for free.

On a typical project painstakingly assembled by Linux volunteers for
a non-profit, it turns out there's no real "buy-in" by the non-profit:
Any alleged commitment to fund, maintain, or simply leave running
what you worked so long and hard on turns out to be illusory.  You 
get a smile and hearty handshake, you leave, and then the non-profit
does whatever its internal dynamics dictate.  Almost always, that
includes throwing away your work.  There's no malice; it just happens.

2.  Few Linux folks are good at doing requirements analysis, costing, 
and project management.  Even fewer are good at analysing business
process and writing documentation businesses will actually _use_.

3.  Executive staff at non-profit groups / volunteer projects are no 
more drool-proof than those in business:  They tend to stick to what
they know, what seems safe, and what is agressively advertised and 
has a large and visible aftermarket.  Guess what?  MS-Exchange Server
has a stranglehold on executive mindshare.  You'll have to yell at them 
for years about Exim or Postfix, before they even recognise them.

I see so many corporate morons buying into Oracle at obscene prices
when PostgreSQL (not to mention DB2) would more than suffice that I
tend to think enlighten will come only by giving them Oracle good and
hard, and letting Papa Darwin sort it out.

This isn't specifically Linux, but I remember NetDay (project launched
1995), which sucked massive numbers of volunteers all over the USA into
a March 1996 weekend effort to "wire the nation's K-12 classrooms for
Internet access" (http://www.netday.org/about.htm).  I was a WAN/LAN
consultant at the time, and was tempted to show up with my tools.  Quite
a lot of my peers did.  And the volunteers generally went away excited
and with a sense of accomplishment, although many of my more seasoned
peers had grave doubts about what was actually accomplished.

I quietly followed up:  It seems that all of the work done on the first
NetDay, at the sites I checked, got yanked out some months later,
discarded, and recabled on a fee basis -- which of course means it cost
more than if NetDay had never happened.

They're still at it (http://www.netday.org/about_anniversary.htm).
They're incorporated and tax-exempt.  They claim to be still doing
stuff.  Lots of vaguely worded atta-boy testimonials letters from
industry execs.  Do they now do more good than harm?  No idea.
They issue press releases, put NAQDAQ bureaucrats on their Board,
hand out awards, and win corporate grants.  They have "strategic
partnerships to provide selected Empowerment Zone communities with
facilitated access to technology resources."  They have a biweekly
e-newsletter for Educators.  You can cut them a cheque, and take a tax
write-off.  Und so weider.  Rah, rah.

Of all the people I've heard propose involvement of the Linux community
in volunteer non-profit causes, Karsten, you sound by far the best 
prepared.  The points you made about typical problems are very well
taken.  I hope something like that works -- and urge caution.

Ordinarily, I would advise strongly against, especially if anything 
of value (including signficant amounts of volunteer time) is at stake:
http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/essays/newlug.html , point 22.

Rick Moen                     Emacs is a decent operating system,
rick@linuxmafia.com           but it still lacks a good text editor.
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