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May 12th, 2015

Symple PC’s Gift to Reglue

Many of you may recall that two weeks ago I was lamenting our loss at Reglue of a valuable hardware donation source. The computers donated by this firm were a bit older, but we had little to do to make them ready. We just installed our KDE Mint respin and sent them out the door. The company had been generous with money donations as well. Depending upon the year’s profits, they either matched employee donations by 100% or else donated $1,000. Losing this asset was a kick in the stomach.

Symple workshop

You’d be excused for thinking this to be one of Ken’s Reglue kids. It’s actually Jason Spisak’s daughter helping her father in his workshop.

Rick, who supervises the company’s four man tech support team in Austin, emailed me and said I could get an appointment to see some big shot VP in charge of corporate giving if I wanted to plead my case. I set up the appointment for that Friday.

We were torpedoed before I walked through the door.

The CIO had already released a memo to all tech support chiefs, stating that all retiring hardware should be placed on pallets for pick up by a soon-to-be-named reclamation and recycling vendor. The real kick? They’re paying big money to have their stuff picked up and parted out for profit — all in the name of “responsible recycling.” Rick quietly shared with me that the CIO was miffed because we were repurposing their donated computers with GNU/Linux. Because we were removing Windows, he thought the donated hardware was being wasted.

Being aware of this before I walked into the meeting gave me the satisfaction of knowing they would to lie to me in order to get me out the door. That was fine. I wasn’t going to release my inner cry baby over it. Where the hammer meets the nail, this was my fault anyway. I should have known better than to rely upon a single source for donations. Besides, no one is obliged to donate. Donations are to be accepted with grace and gratitude, and not to be expected as an entitlement. I wrote a letter to the firm, thanking them for their generous support over the past few years and wished them well. I want back to work and hoped I’d find a way to make up for the loss.

It didn’t take long. A couple of days later, the following Monday as a matter-of-fact, the scales of fate shifted decidedly in our favor when my colleague, Christine Hall, forwarded an email she’d received from Jason Spisak, who once upon a time had cofounded the Linux distribution Lycoris and is currently the CEO of Symple PC, the Arizona based company selling $89 refurbished computers in new minitowers running the latest Ubuntu LTS.

Christine had written a few articles on the Symple PC earlier, and now Spisak was reaching out to her in an attempt to reach out to me. It seems that he’d read my column on the loss of a critical funding partner and wanted to fix the problem by donating $1,000 worth of Symple PCs. He was as perturbed as I over the insistence from our ex-benefactor that kids need to learn about computers in a Windows’ environment.

“That’s like someone saying their donation can only go to feed the school kids General Mills products for lunches instead of organic, locally grown, real food because its what the well-off donor grew up on and serves to their employees,” he wrote. “Especially now that Apple and Google are such a big part of education, even if it is not FOSS, Microsoft isn’t what kids will be using in the future at work.”

On the “About” page of the Symple website, Jason says things we’ve all thought collectively. What stands out to me, personally, is his core beliefs about computers, software and the future of the next generation:

“It is my sincere belief that we can inspire a new generation of programmers and designers to create open platforms that change the world for the better. We symply need to give them the tools, unencumbered by the legacy of ideas fostered during the first technological revolution. Symple is another step on that path, and it is only the beginning.”

“…and it is only the beginning.”

It’s those few words strung together that excites me. Be it Jason Spisak with Symple, The Free Software Foundation, small grass roots efforts like Reglue or a combination of all of these like efforts. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

Many of you will take a moment to appreciate me being the one to say those few words to you: It’s an exciting time to be alive indeed!

Symple PC

The Symple PC assembly line.

We stand on the precipice, on the verge of an age when technologies shake the bonds of proprietary limitations. We will finally share and combine our talents, our ideas and our genius under one goal: the betterment of mankind. This is how it starts. It’s Symple.

Jason Spisak is a man of his word. We received twelve computers from Symple this past Friday. Our opening volunteer was late getting Reglue ready for the day and the delivery was attempted 30 minutes before she opened the shop. Fortunately, I was able to contact the FedEx driver and convince him to return. I met that driver at Reglue a bit past 3 p.m. and took the delivery — small town living at its best.

So far, I have not unboxed those computers. Pete Salas, our 2013 Reglue “Volunteer of the Year” is meeting me early in the week to give me a hand. I am still recovering from cancer surgery and I’m a bit weak.

I emailed Jason to let him know the computers had arrived. I took the time to share with him some of the things we’ve done and some of the things we hope to do. Most importantly, I thanked him for making up for the hardware donations we’d lost.

He answered symply: “The honor is ours. Their actions cannot stand unchallenged or else no one will know it matters…and that’s just not cool.”

You can help FOSS Force grow our coverage by making a contribution during our May Pledge Drive. Get all of the details on our Indiegogo campaign page.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

9 comments to Symple PC’s Gift to Reglue

  • Mike

    > “…the CIO was miffed because we were repurposing their donated computers with GNU/Linux. Because we were removing Windows, he thought the donated hardware was being wasted.”

    Ken, you are far more polite than I. That CIO is an ignorant ass.

  • lpbbear

    In my experience people who act like the idiot CIO are often somehow financially connected to MSFT. Maybe they own shares, perhaps a relative works for Microsoft. Usually there’s some connection.
    Often they are completely clueless about computers and operating systems.
    I remember working on a computer in a client’s office years ago and overhearing the office manager talking up Microsoft stock to a prospective customer. At the time Microsoft stock was absolutely stagnant but according to this office manager it was the hottest thing since peanut butter and jelly. Of course the office manager was totally tech challenged. He couldn’t turn his computer on without help from the office staff.

  • I’m with Mike, you’re much more gracious than I on that score. Ignorant ass doesn’t even begin to describe the man.

    But then, you often DO get promoted to the scope and scale of your incompetence. Lose a good tax break and then spend money YOU CAN’T REALISTICALLY WRITE OFF to be “responsible”- yeah it’s a business expense, but it’s not the same impact, effect, etc. as the donation…and it’s just a write off for them. Dead loss.

    Riiight. Very responsible.

    Strikes me as some fool in the same class as the CTO of the VC we’d talked to at one point in time when we were still trying to get funding for the company I was the CTO for. We were doing security research for the Utility and Energy industries and the fool had the temerity to ask if we could “offshore” the stuff. Things that eventually I was going to need a DoE “Q” security clearance to finalize and devs were going to need to implement.

    Insane doesn’t begin to describe it. Guess it’s in the water down in Austin…

  • Wonder if someone will point the CIO of the non-donor organization to (1) this discussion and (2) send him a copy of the UserFriendly cartoon that made Ken famous without mentioning his name.

    Like the lady in the cartoon, Ken has been big enough to NOT mention the name of the people and/or the organization. In the main, we’re a class act.

  • @Uncle Ed We’re also a class act, meaning the FOSS community, because of folks like Jason Spisak and his team at Symple PC, who stepped up to the plate to do what they could to make this problem go away. I think the folks at Symple deserve a round of applause.

  • kb0hae

    My applause is given to Jason Spisak and his team at Symple PC! Not only are their PCs a great idea (for many reasons), but its great of them to help make up for loss because of an idiot CIO who can’t see past the end of his nose. Ultimately, the idiot CIO has only cost his own employer money.

    BTW, in my own small way I am a recycler too. My desktop PC, my laptop, and my tablet are all used or refurbished IBM/Lenovo products.

    Keep up the good work Ken, by now you should know that the FOSS community will never let you down!

  • Eddie G.

    Congratulations Ken! Just goes to show that good is rewarded, even when morons try to stand in the way of progress!!

  • CFWhitman

    It’s disappointing that someone who should be in a position to know better (a CIO) responds in such a prejudiced manner about the software choices of a non-profit organization putting computers in the hands of kids who would otherwise not have them.

    This man should be able to realize that any change in the way Reglue does things in this regard would make it so they can help fewer people. Of course it’s quite obvious as well that his new disposal policy is going to have less charitable benefit than what they were doing before.

  • Purple Library Guy

    Jolly good show, Mr. Spisak!