Posts Tagged ‘NGO Interviews’

Qimo 4 kids – NGO Interview 5

November 18, 2009

After a short hiatus I’m back with the NGO interviews.  This time I spoke with Michael and Michelle Hall of Qimo 4 kids.

LC:  Can you tell me about your organisation?

MH: QuinnCo is a very small not for profit located in Central Florida.  In fact, it’s just the two of us, Michelle and I, operating out of our house and garage.  We take in second hand computers, fix them up if they aren’t working, then put Ubuntu or Qimo on them and give them out to kids and families in need.  We given out approx. 50 computers this year.

LC: What is the mission of your organisation?

MH: We believe that every child, regardless of physical, mental or financial abilities, deserves the same access to technology and education.  A child with a computer has a much better chance of success in school, and knowledge of computers is a requirement for almost any job these days. Our mission is to provide a computer for those children in our community who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one.

LC:  So what made you get involved in this?

MH : When our son Quinn was 4, he was already showing an interest in our computers.  I had an old tower that I wasn’t using, so I installed Ubuntu on it for him along with some OSS games, and he took to it like a fish to water, teaching himself how to do things I never showed him. Because of that, I bought another computer from a yard sale, set it up the same way, and gave it to his daycare facility.  About 3 months later, I had one of the kids from his class run up to me out of the blue and thank me for their computer.  Talking about it to Michelle that night, she convinced me that we should start up a charity to do this on a larger scale, and QuinnCo was born.

LC : Can you give us a few examples of what you have done? Have some pictures you can share? (Dholbach likes pictures )

MH: We recently held a community build day, where we had members of the Ubuntu Florida LoCo and several local LUGs come out to a local children’s home to help fix up our backlog of broken computers.  We had as many kids there as adults, learning how to fix up computers and installing Ubuntu and Qimo on them.  Pictures of the event can be found on our website:



LC: Perhaps you can explain to use the issues you’ve come up against?

MH : Our initial problem was two-fold.  First we needed an operating system that was easy for very young kids, most of whom would not be reading yet, to navigate and learn to use on their own.  There were educational distros like Edubuntu already available, but their interfaces required navigating menus, and being able to read.

Second, all of our donated computers at that point were Pentium 3’s or older, with less than 256 MB of memory.  We needed an operating system that would be responsive enough on this older hardware, so that the kids wouldn’t get impatient waiting on their games to load.

Xubuntu met the second half of our needs, it ran quite well on the hardware that we had.  But we still needed an easy to use interface.  Luckily, being open source meant
that I could change that.  So I took an Xubuntu LiveCD, and following instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki, created Qimo:

LC: What are the challenges you’ve faced within this project?

MH: Our biggest task has been managing inventory.  We get lots of computers in, most are missing parts of have bad parts.  We also get a lot of boxes of parts.  We need a good way of tracking what equipment we have.  However, most of those kinds of applications are implemented as web-based server solutions.  Well we’re not that big, we don’t have an internal server for these purposes, so to use them we would have to install and run a webserver on one of our laptops.  For organizations as small as ours, desktop solutions are easier to get setup and use.

LC:  What kind of solution did you come up with to make this all happen?

MH: Aside from donated computers, we use Ubuntu Server to host our websites http://www.quinncoincorporated and I use Ubuntu on my personal laptop, which is the one I used to make Qimo, and Michelle has it on her netbook.  We use them when giving presentations on QuinnCo and Qimo, but for the most part they are for personal use.

LC: Do you use any proprietary software now ?

MH: We were given a tablet PC, which is running Windows XP.  It is very useful for taking hand-written notes while away from home.  It was heavily used to track
things during our children’s home build day.  I don’t know of any good tablet note-taking applications for Linux, so I haven’t tried installing it on there.

LC: What would you like to see improved in Ubuntu resources like documentation?

MH: We desperately need some good new-user documentation we can give out with our donations.  I have been including the PDF version of the Ubuntu Pocket Guide, but an intro/tour type documentation would help us.

LC: So what is your experience of this good or bad , have you picked up any nice tips?

MH: Explaining to the people we’re donating computers too that they don’t have Windows on them. How to create a custom distro!

LC: What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?

MH: Just do it.  There is no barrier to entry, you probably have or know somebody who has an old computer that isn’t being used.  You probably also know a family, school or daycare that can’t afford to buy computers.  It takes literally an hour of your time, at most, and will have a life-long impact on those you donate too.

LC: How can interested readers help your organisation?

MH: If you’re in central Florida, send us an email and we’ll let you know when we are holding build events.  If you have Pentium 4 or newer computers, we will arrange to pick them up from you.

If you’re not in central Florida, visit and find one that is near you.  If there isn’t one near you, then get one started! Again, the barrier to entry is non-existant.

LC: Finally, any good or funny stories, best lessons that you would like to tell to the world.

MH: Don’t worry about starting small.  As soon as people hear about what you are doing, they will want to help.  We went from having 3 computers to having almost 30 in about 2 week’s time.  We put out a call for volunteers to help us fix them, and our last event had 75 people come out.  Start with a single
computer, and go from there.

Thank you for taking part, it’s been very interesting!


Belize Botanic Gardens – NGO Interview

November 11, 2009

I’m enjoying these interviews, and I hope folks are too.  There is some great feedback with these interviews and already we have had an organisation mail us asking for advice, suggestions and help to move to an Open Source environment. Which is in fact GREAT!  Other news is that people are trying to help with the issues raised to work out where they can help, and offer solutions.

This interview is with Brett Adams from the Belize Botanic Gardens.

Native Orchid House
Native Orchid House

Czajkowski, Brett can you tell me a little about the Botanic Garden?

Belize Botanic Gardens is an organization based just outside of San Ignacio, Belize. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. We are a 45-acre botanic garden with a small staff in a beautiful location.

Czajkowski, so how did you get involved in such a project? The area is very pretty.

I had a short computer programming career after finishing university in Texas.  After our company went out of business I was looking for something different to do. So I came to Belize to volunteer at the botanic gardens. After 8 years I am now the Foreman of the Gardens and am in charge of all the plant collections and gardens.for a month.

Czajkowski, so tell me about some of the work you’ve done there.

The land where the gardens now lie were purchased in 1993. At that time the land had been mostly bulldozered for a citrus plantation. Since then we have worked on improving our plant collections and displays to be as educational, attractive and useful to the greater botanical community as possible.  Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from Belize,  amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation.

Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from  Belize,  amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation. We work with the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin quite a lot. In the middle of the house is a small thatched building that I organized and built.

Czajkowski so how do Open Source fit into this very green and pretty picture?

I developed a software application for managing plant collections called Bauble.  Bauble is now used by a couple other gardens around the world to manage their plant collections. Bauble is open source. After reviewing the existing software I decided to create Bauble. The existing software for managing plant collections was proprietary and very expensive. So Bauble makes it easier for smaller gardens and especially those in poorer countries to manage their plant collections effectively. It is an application for managing what plants you have in the garden, where they are, where they came from, their status (living, dead, etc) among other things. It helps you maintain the data about your collections like wild collections info and relationships between botanic concepts like families and genera.

Czajkowski so what other software do you use?

Although the other 7 desktops in the office use Windows, I use Ubuntu everyday. We also have a an Ubuntu server which uses Samba for the Windows clients to authenticate against and for a file server. Of course the usual culprits, OpenOffice, Gimp, Inkscape, Emacs.

Czajkowski, do you think the other 7 machines will switch over at some point to Ubuntu?

We share an office with the adjacent duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge( and they mostly require Window for accounting and payroll. Old habits die hard and with all of my other work with the gardens I don’t have the time to switch over and train people. If there was a good open source alternative to Quickbooks then I think there would be parades in the street.

Czajkowski, so have you any other issues with switching over fully?

The accounting is the main issues and payroll requires MS-Access. Hardware compatibility is always an issue as well. Particulary with printers. n Belize we don’t have the selection of computer accessories that other larger and more industrialized countries might have. Its also expensive to ship packages and import duties are high. This means that we are often stuck with a small selection of hardware we might need, particularly printers.  What would help us would be to improve hardware compatibility with as many devices as possible. We also seem to have fewer computer technicians and particularly those that are well trained in using, configuring and administrating Linux.

We are a small organization with very few resources so everything we do has be considered against the cost and benefits.  This often means that we get sub par or non-existent
Linux support.  Having a good web based administration tool would be great, especially one that made Samba administration easy and automated.  And of course to make the documentation as accessible and extensive as possible. good source of centralized documentation from all the disparate sources across the Internet and cross references would be helpful.

Czajkowski is there an Ubuntu community for you, do you use IRC/Forums/Mailing lists for help?

I don’t know anyone else in Belize that uses Linux at all. I use all the available resources I can find to troubleshoot. One of the main reasons I use Ubuntu is that there seems to be more people using Ubuntu than most other distros so you can almost always find answers to your questions in the forums, mailing lists, IRC, etc. Its very rare for me to encounter a problem that someone else hasn’t already written about somewhere.

Czajkowski how can Ubuntu better match your needs?

Like I said before, hardware compatibility, Window interoperability, web based admin, extensive cross-referenced docs…With those things I think Ubuntu would sell itself and convincing others to mover over would be alot easier. Well, getting Samba setup just right always requires a couple aspirin and a stiff drink. And the video regressions in 9.04 were a pain in the neck. Those are specific issues. I’m not in university anymore, I don’t have time to tinker. I just want things to work.

The only thing left would really be to have the ability to expect any printer to work without hassle.We go through quite a few printers around here. Other than that I think its feasible. Especially if we had a technician besides me that could do the work. We accept volunteers. We also have a wish list.

Thanks to Brett for taking time out to tell me about his really cool project. If anyone knows of a LoCo near him please let us know!