Despite knowing his remarkable work and reading about him — and reading things he’d written — in various tech media from time to time, Aaron Swartz and I have never met.
Nevertheless, what we share is a distant kinship — however remote — bound by both a deep and appreciative admiration on my part of Aaron’s accomplishments joined by advocating Aaron’s positions and philosophies on digital information’s use and availability.
As a FOSS advocate, you also share these same things with Aaron, to whatever degree you knew him, or didn’t know him.
So I’ll let the others who knew him personally take care of the rememberances and the eulogies; like his family, Lawrence Lessig here and here (especially the latter), as well as the folks at Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I’m happy to remember Aaron’s many accomplishments — a far wider scope of accomplishments than nearly all of us will ever achieve — and I’m inspired by the work he did during his short lifetime. My sincerest hope is that others remember Aaron and his accomplishments; and in remembering the man and his vast contributions for the general good of all they are inspired to the same degree, if not more.
However, this paragraph from the official statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz speaks volumes:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”
So to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts and to MIT, I so state: J’accuse.
UPDATE: There’s a petition on whitehouse.gov to remove U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. Sign it here. Now. Also, Democracy Now! has Lawrence Lessig on talking about Aaron Swartz here.
This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)
Those of you who know me know that I’m an old ThinkPad guy, in more ways than one. I myself am older than many of you reading this — well on my way to AARP membership status as I reach 55 this November — and the ThinkPads I use on a daily basis are themselves old, namely a T30 and an R40.
ThinkPads are painfully utilitarian, amazingly solid, and like the Model T Fords come in a wide variety of colors as long as you choose black. For these reasons, ThinkPads lend themselves to being the laptop of choice for many laptop users, mostly developers. To make them more attractive — for loss of a better word — many a ThinkPad is embellished with stickers on the cover, rivaling the best of the NASCAR field. Mine is no exception: My ThinkPad does its laps with EFF, SCALE 10X, Oregon State University Open Source Lab, Open Source for America, two Google Summer of Code, and No Starch Press stickers gracing the laptop cover.
So when ZaReason sent me an Alto 3880 to put through its paces, my first reaction was, “Wow. This is too nice to put stickers on.”
The Alto 3880’s cover is a very stylish silver and should be kept in its pristine form. A look around the laptop before opening it shows that ports are readily available on the sides — with monitor, ethernet and USB ports conveniently located on the left side instead of on the back. While many might find this a simple design, ThinkPad users would be thrilled to know that the oft-inconvenient ThinkPad reacharound to plug in USB cables or thumb drives is not necessary here. In giving it the once over before opening it, the Alto is light in one’s hands, but it still feels sturdy.
Opening the cover and pushing the on button reveals a screen with remarkable clarity contrasted on a black background and base. If you’re a regular ThinkPad user, the keyboard is different — flat keys at the same level — and takes getting used to. With heavy fingers like mine, the pounding I would normally offer the ThinkPad feels like I’m mercilessly pounding this keyboard and suggests some behavior modification. But ultimately the keyboard is tough enough to withstand it and after adjusting to the new keyboard — wider than the ThinkPad’s — it is easy to adapt to and to get accustomed to the additional real estate for your hands.
Performance wise, the Alto 3880 flies on the trio of distros I used on it, and without boring you with the minutiae, with one exception that turned out to be a software clash, the laptop performed without a hitch. With the 1366-by-768 resolution on a an remarkably clear 14-inch screen, the laptop would make a fine — no, make that an outstanding — replacement for my old ThinkPads.
I used three different distros on the Alto 3880, and each performed well, and each would make a fine choice for the person owning this laptop. The three contestants, for the sake of argument, are Linux Mint and Fedora — both which you can have preinstalled by ZaReason — and CrunchBang, which you can install on your own (until I convince ZaReason to make it a choice). However, as I understand it, if you request a different distro, ZaReason will install it. Or if you want no operating system, they’ll send it like that, too. Unlike other Linux hardware vendors, ZaReason offers a wide choice in this department.
But I digress. Here’s how the distros did:
Alto 3880 with Linux Mint: Originally, the laptop came to me with Linux Mint 12, which is the latest version of the distro with the GNOME 2.x-type desktop. The Alto 3880 did remarkably well with Linux Mint, which is growing on a lot of people (including me). Switching from MATE to GNOME to Cinnamon was a snap, and the performance was outstanding. In one instance on a busy morning where I forgot to plug in the laptop, I got just over four hours from the battery using multiple programs on Linux Mint.
Alto 3880 with Fedora 16: I’m waiting for the myth that Fedora is too “cutting edge” for the average user to go the way of the Studebaker and the hula hoop. It’s just that — a myth — and Fedora 16 runs circles around just about everything else on this machine. After installing Flash so one can — oh, I don’t know — participate in the wider Internet world, the distro and hardware handled everything I threw at it from a video and audio standpoint with aplomb.
Alto 3880 with CrunchBang Statler: The laptop has the horses, so to speak, to run the previous two desktop environments without breaking a sweat. So when faced with handling the Openbox window manager on CrunchBang, the distro soared. Also, the built-in camera worked flawlessly during a Google+ Hangout with the CrunchBang crew.
Alto 3880 strengths
Regardless of what distro is running on it, the Alto 3880 is remarkably versatile and handles a wide range of work without complaint. In fact, the only problem I had was helping my daughter solve what turned out to be a common GIMP and Banshee problem where the programs, both running simultaneously, weren’t playing nice with each other — clearly not a reflection on the hardware. The screen is very clear and handles high resolutions flawlessly, which is a benefit for those who want to do things like watch videos or do intricate graphics work (Note: My daughter Mimi will be writing her own review of this laptop as well). Across the distro board, the audio and video performance was outstanding, with the onboard speakers sounding good enough to forgo plugging in speakers in some cases (though the speakers sounded good, too, when used to watch DVDs). the laptop itself is lightweight but solid, and the design is top-notch — this is a beautiful laptop.
There is a lot to like on this laptop, but the one thing that took getting used to is the keyboard. Again, this might be just something for the personal preference folder, but the keyboard at first tends to feel a little light to the touch. Also, the mouse button, which is a single bar at the same level as the touchpad operating on a centered fulcrum (click the left side for the left mouse button, right side for the right) is hard to adjust to when coming from hardware where the buttons are raised. To be fair, it would be difficult to imagine that a ThinkPad-like keyboard would work, design wise, on a laptop like this.
A final look
I don’t have a rating system — stars, penguins, horseshoes, whatever — in place, but if I did I would rank the Alto 3880 very high; for the sake of argument, let’s say 4.5 penguins out of a perfect 5 penguins. Its combination of sleek design and high performance make this laptop one that would easily draw me away from the ranks of the ThinkPad users. The retail price for this machine is $599, which many of you might think is a little high compared to what you could get at Best Buy. But when you consider that when buying from a Linux hardware vendor, you’re not only getting a quality machine with a great OS, your purchase supports FOSS, for starters, by not putting another “sale” in Redmond’s tally. With its wide range of capabilities and performance, the Alto 3880 is a laptop I would be proud to own and, if Uncle Sam is generous with a tax return, would be glad to purchase.
Screen: 14-inch HD, 1366-by-768 Glossy LED Backlit Display
Processor: Pentium B940, 2 GHz, 2 core, 2 thread
Memory: 4GB DDR-3
Graphics card: Intel Integrated HD Graphics
Hard Drive: 250GB 5,400 RPM (NOTE: Tested with 400GB HD)
Optical Drive: Combo CD/DVD burner
Audio: Speakers above the keyboard for quality sound output
Wireless: 802.11 B/G/N WiFi included and Bluetooth
Reader: 3-in-1 card reader — SD/MMC/MS supported
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel webcam included
Ports: HDMI and VGA monitor ports; Gigabit Ethernet port; ensington lock port; Headphone and microphone jacks; three USB 2.0 ports
Operating System: Your choice from a variety of Linux distros, or no operating system
Battery: Six-cell battery, up to 5 hours
Weight: 4.5 pounds
Coming tomorrow: This . . . is . . . STRATA! A look at the ZaReason Strata 6880.
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)
First things first: I lied. In my last blog item, I said that I wasn’t going back to Linux World on Wednesday after a long, hard and profitable Tuesday. But with both San Francisco — the world’s greatest city — and Linux World being a two-edged bulb drawing this moth to its luminescence, I put aside home projects (remember the project having to do with rearranging the living room? Working on it . . .) and went back for another day.
Fortunately, I had my swag limiter on and didn’t end up with further arm injury. I know the stuff is free and I know that companies love to give the stuff away, but — hey — how many can insulators can you really use?
Let’s talk hardware: Something that I am woefully deficient in — both physically and mentally — is hardware. We don’t cover it enough at Open Source Reporter, and we plan to change that and increase our coverage. Without the hardware, the software isn’t worth much, now is it?
I spent the better part of the day getting schooled by some of the hardware manufacturers at the show; mostly by Fujitsu, which has a great selection and had very knowledgeable people working the show. Very patient people, too, because I think I should have won prizes — more T-shirts — for “dumbest questions of the show.”
Readers will be seeing more about hardware in OSR in the coming months — partially behind this effort, needless to say, is prodding hardware manufacturers to ideally open up their drivers to accommodate GNU/Linux or, at least, to get them to develop drivers if they don’t want to share the code — and we will devote a section to it in the print publication in January.
Creative Commons / Free Software Foundation / Electronic Frontier Foundation: You guys did a great job at the show, with CC providing the Fedora disks, FSF providing (as always) great information and some very cool stickers (thanks for the GNUs) and EFF having probably the best “join us” offer — a “SWAT-team” like cap in black with a stark EFF in white on the front. It’s great to work with and support these groups solely for the vital work they do; their swag is just icing on the cake.
They Might Be Giants: I got to see the San Francisco Giants game on Monday night against the Washington Nationals, hoping Barry would swing into history that evening. But it was not to be. However, I did see a great extra-inning game that the Giants uncharacteristically won. And Barry now holds the record anyway thanks to Tuesday’s swat, and the Giants are still numero uno in these parts, National League West standings be damned.
More to follow — with the exception of the Giants — on the pages of OSR and in this blog.
And as Helios likes to say: All-righty then.
(Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)