Empowering People with Free/Libre Software

DATE:  August 18, 2016     CATEGORIES:  Artisan Grants, Blog

Artisan’s Grant recipient Devin Ulibarri of Free Computer Labs explains how he became a free/libre software evangelist. Free Computer Labs teaches students how to build their own computer by refurbishing old computers and installing free software. They will be offering a teaser demonstration at the Artisan’s Asylum Friday, August 26th from 5:30 to 7:30. You can register for the full class starting in September at Eventbrite.

Free Computer Labs

Devin (right) with Julian Daich.

by Devin Ulibarri

Three years ago, I was doing all my work on a MacBook Pro. I am a professional musician and I was using it to document some music testing. One day, I found that I could not use my computer for what I needed it to do anymore. My computer basically said, “Upgrade, or I will not do what you want.” I thought it was ridiculous that my computer was telling me to do anything. It should be doing what I tell it to do, not the other way around.

I was broke. The upgrades to the operating system would have cost between $50-100 at that time, but I didn’t have that then. Even if I did, I did not want to spend it on an upgrade. That is when I discovered “free software.”

“Free software” is software that puts its users in control by giving them the same freedoms as its developers enjoy. This gives the power back to the people. Plus, you can download much of it for free from the Internet. I decided at that point that my next upgrade would be from Mac OS to GNU/Linux, a free software operating system.

I loved it.

I love it because it puts me in total control of my computing–an increasingly important part of our everyday lives. I learn so much about computers just by using it. I also can share it with others.

Free Computer Labs class

Julian Daich teaches a student about free/libre software

I decided to start Free Computer Labs with my friend, Julian Daich, in order to have a way to share this software with others, as well to give them the knowledge they need to really take advantage of free software’s best aspects–freedom, power, and community.

We use old computers in our classes (that students then get to take home). We receive many hardware donations and we need a place to store them.The Artisan’s Grant has helped us with what we needed the most–space.

Donated hardware

Devin shows off some of the donated hardware they use in class

Many of our hardware donations come in working perfectly fine upon delivery, so it is not too much work. The only thing “wrong” with many of them is that they are old and the latest version of Windows will not work on them anymore. However, an up-to-date version of GNU/Linux will work on these older computers just fine. And for those still needing more power, we can show you how to exchange parts to maximize performance.

We do receive some computers that are not fully functional. For those units, we experiment to see if trading out parts will bring it back to life. Usually trading out a hard drive or a fan will work. These units become a great lesson, too. Free Computer Lab teachers work together with students so that they can accurately diagnose problems with their computers and help them gain the knowledge on how to fix them.

We’ve had many success stories. A recent student did not have a computer at all before she participated in Free Computer Labs classes. Now she has her own computer loaded with powerful software tools. With her computer, she is now doing her banking online, accessing her email, doing research, and archiving her personal photos. She uses her computer almost everyday.

Student B

A student with the computer she built with FCL

We want to share our knowledge at Artisan’s Asylum with our “Make Your Own Computer” class to help empower others with technology and introduce many new folks to the wonderful world of free software. Please come join us!

Did I mention that all participants who complete the course get to bring the computer they build home?

As well as being a free software advocate, Devin is a musician and educator. His latest project is Music Blocks, a free/libre software that teaches children music and programming. Along with Julian Daich, he will teach Make Your Own Computer this September. They will offer a teaser class and demonstration on Friday, August 26th from 5:30-7:30 PM. The teaser class is free for members and friends, and by suggest donations of $10 to the public. Donations can be made by check or cash at the front desk or on our website.