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(3) : Assortment: I keep hearing about cool people & events in Portland, Oregon. Punk rock mathematicians, Michael Schaub, and the Open Source Bridge conference, whose call for proposals closes in two weeks. (I should just decide whether to go to that, since I can't buy my WisCon plane tickets until I know whether I'm flying back to New York or westward to Oregon when WisCon ends.) And then in July Portland hosts the Community Leadership Summit just before OSCON. Brendan, Jade, maybe I should just show up and crash on your couch for two months. (Not really.)

I responded to Julia's questions, "Where do you find music? How has it changed over time? Do you have certain people to thank for helping you develop your musical palate?" in an excessively long series of comments on her blog, should you be interested.

A gripping quote for anyone who wants to lower mental barriers to growth:

The State is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.


(4) : Sweatshop-Free Linux Laptop Search, Part II: I got a few recommendations when I recently asked where to find ethically sourced laptops that come preinstalled with some flavor of Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, or Fedora). My notes are below; I ended up going with ZaReason.

I'm going to note here the research I've done so others can correct me or stand on my shoulders. To repeat, I was looking for laptops with the following characteristics:

I don't really care about a laptop's weight or looks.

So, I'm trying to make a reasonable effort to buy a sweatshop-free/fairtrade, green/sustainable, and Windows-free laptop. All those buzzwords together cause a bit of a problem if you live in the US and want to buy from a mainstream retailer. (And when you get down to the component level, it's probably impossible, but I had to try.)

Dell offers some Ubuntu laptops (the Vostro and Latitude), and they give at least lip service to greenness, but they're all assembled in China and at least one report says their plants don't treat the workers as I'd like them treated. ("Environmental Commitment Trumps Respect for Human Rights," notes the NLC report - backhanded praise of a sort. That same report indicts IBM/Lenovo, Microsoft, and HP.)

At least one comprehensive ethical-buying guide recommends IBM products, but I worry that it's out of date, since (as far as I can tell) IBM's PC hardware is no longer made directly by IBM, but by Lenovo in China. Lenovo Thinkpads are reliable and run Linux well. Collabora provided me an x200 when I worked there, and I loved it. But again - made in China, labor practices not so hot. And, as far as I can tell, all Lenovo laptops come preloaded with Windows.

Lenovo is or was partially owned by the Chinese government via Legend Holdings, until that stake got sold to the private China Oceanwide Holdings Group (my financial research fu is not strong). I'd be unhappy about supporting bad governments with my purchases, but it's not like any large companies have only benevolent stockholders, and who knows where the manufacturers are getting components! (This comes up in Sara Bongiorni's A Year without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy; to simplify, she decides not to look too hard at Chinese-made components.)

Other buying guides were incomplete. I rather wish the National Labor Committee had a stamp of approval. The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition depends mostly on voluntary self-reporting, which isn't terribly trustworthy, although the third-party audit data might be good if it weren't at least a year out of date. The Treehugger.com guides are obsolete, greenlaptop.com seems to be an SEO site without specific & up-to-date recommendations, and Laptop Magazine's green buying guide is eight months out of date and only looks at environmental friendliness, not human rights. And of course it's rare that any of those laptops come without Windows preinstalled.

Stuart said he's had good experiences with EmperorLinux, and they do indeed sell laptops with Linux preinstalled. But they're reselling the machines that Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Panasonic, and Sony manufacture. Dell and Lenovo are out as mentioned above, and I don't particularly want the Fujitsu tablets EmperorLinux has on offer. I started looking up Sony and Panasonic manufacturing locations (mostly Japan, I think?), but was discouraged to see that EmperorLinux offerings from Panasonic and Sony started at USD1750. I'm willing to pay extra for what I care about, but $1,750 was several hundred dollars more than I'd budgeted.

Then, thanks to a pointer from Leigh Honeywell, I looked up ZaReason, which seems to be the end of my search. ZaReason builds Linux laptops in Berkeley, tries to monitor its Chinese component factories/sources for fair labor practices/greenness, and is run by Cathy Malmrose ("The Un-Scary Screwdriver," GNOME Journal, November 2009). Their prices are reasonable, with laptops starting at USD599. And when I emailed them to ask where they assemble their products (Berkeley), Malmrose wrote me a long, clear, comprehensive, and thoughtful reply.

So I'll be placing an order for the Strata 2660 later this week. Thanks, Malmrose & Honeywell!


(6) : ZaReason Response: As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to ZaReason to ask them about their manufacturing practices and their CEO, Cathy Malmrose, wrote back. I asked her if she wouldn't mind me posting her response here, and she said "Go for it!"

Sumana,

Thanks for contacting us.

* Come without Windows pre-installed (I'm sick of paying the Windows tax)

Not only is Windows not installed, our hardware has *never* had it. Unfortunately, some vendors will make a "Linux-only" laptop by using older prepackaged Windows hardware, wiping it then doing an Ubuntu install. We get our components from the individual OEMs who manufacture the individual components (wifi, HD, motherboard, case, etc.) Since we don't have to build it to be compatible with both Windows & Other we have the freedom to select whichever parts are absolute best for a Linux-only system. No compromises needed.

* Most or all components ethically sourced

From what we can tell, yes, but I'm sure we could dig deeper. Generally we use MSI, ASUS, Shuttle, etc. They are the current standard suppliers. More below.

* Manufactured/assembled someplace with real labor standards.

In Berkeley!

We're governed by State Labor Law, Federal Law (EDD), and all sorts of other agencies. We even pay an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee. The money is funneled through the State of CA Board of Equalization to the recyclers like ACCRC who then follow best practices in recycling the hardware. (Although these regulations could stand a lot of improvement.)

Labor standards: Our pay is good but not great since we are still small. It's the going rate for a university town / Bay area. We try to compensate by giving our employees benefits that are meaningful to them personally -- home office work for research, flexible (very flexible) hours, etc. One of our dearest employees brings her infant with her and it adds a sweet element to the office. We are a small shop on Hopkins Street in Berkeley. We have 14 employees. We hire people who are good, kind, and highly motivated to build hardware specifically for free and open purposes.

We are growing quickly and hope to open a second shop soon.

* General laptop desiderata (sturdiness, battery life, thinner is better)
All of our components are the same as those used by Dell, HP, System 76 and other builders. The difference is:

1. We do not have to navigate around license agreements. Not only do we not use Windows, we also do not do deals with distros. Some distros approach hardware builders with a "Please pay us $x for every system you sell." When that happens the focus shifts from cool hardware to dollar and numbers sold. Not good. We do not have any strings attached other than to our office staff and our customers.

2. We are privately owned, no investors and the board members actually work in the shop. We put our laptops through a child-test, where we let a 7 yo (here he is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9609130@N03/2929692722/ ) and a 17 yo use the laptop for a week. They are generally able to find any weaknesses in the case.

3. We have battery life equivalent to those of other builders. The ARM is coming out soon which could and should shoot netbook battery length up to 12-14 hrs, but it is a low power processor.

4. Thinner is better? We agree! Our Hoverboard is about as thin as the MacAir. The Hoverboard is approx 1/3 the price.

An acquaintance pointed me to you. I'm glad you sell laptops preinstalled with Linux and tested here in the States! But where do you manufacture/assemble the laptops?
We do our assembly / partial manufacturing in the US, but the base components are made in China. There are a few component "manfacturers" that have shops in the US but nearly all actual manufacturing is done in China. We have seen the factories in Shenzhen where they are made and we agree that there are many, many bad labor practices, but the OEMs we have chosen are fully compliant when we view them. (That's not to say they are compliant when we leave!)
Can I get assurances that the people who made the laptop were paid fairly, and that the assembly process is reasonably environmentally friendly?

Your message became a topic of conversation with a few of the builders when it came in. Several said, "I'll reply to that one!" saying that they would gladly reassure anyone that they have a lot of fun and are not only treated fairly, but fully respected.

I used to live in Berkeley myself so it would please me to get to purchase a computer from you. Please let me know -- I looked on your site but couldn't quite find any mention of the location where ZaReason computers are assembled.

Wow, that is an oversight. Thank you for mentioning it! We recently did a website redesign, went live approx 12 days ago. The part listing our actual location did not make it into the redesign... I'll chalk this up as yet another helpful comments from the community. We also need to have a section on the site, possibly in Our Story / About that addresses the questions you asked.

We are in a sweet little shop at 1647 Hopkins St, Berkeley, up the street from Monterey Market and across the street from Goioa Pizza and Hopkins Bakery.

Thanks for asking,

--Cathy Malmrose, CEO ZaReason, Inc.
www.zareason.com

I really appreciate her candidness; it's refreshing to hear a CEO talk openly about what needs improving. And of course this kind of personal response is something I was never going to get from Lenovo, Dell, or HP.



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