On September 26th & 27th 2015 members of the Durham Free Software Skill-Share project demostrated their work at a stall at Darlington’s Festival of Thrift. The event which is now in its second year celebrates sustainable living, re-use and recycling.
Set in the re-purposed buildings of what was once the world’s largest wool factory, there was no end of variety of stalls, exhibits and talks. Our neighbours were the Fix-It Cafe, who had an impressive variety of tools and skilled volunteers mending all kinds of old and broken stuff.
Our stall featured four working laptop computers, aged between 5 and 11 years; a slide-show explaining the advantages of Free Software; a selection of leaflets and stickers (including some from our friends Open Rights Group and Transition Durham); some informative posters and a banner.
We spoke to lots of people who were curious about how they might be able to re-use an abandoned computer in their own home or improve the functioning of a sluggish windows machine. There were hands-on demonstrations of the systems on display as well as guided Linux installations with people who’d brought their own computers along. Here are a few statistics from the weekend:
Club Flyers issued: 210 Information Leaflets issued: 140 (of all types) Successful Installs: 7 Unsuccessful Installs: 2
So, what about those two unsuccessful installs then? One of them was a very old machine with just 64MB of RAM available; we felt that although it was technically possible to get Linux running on it, the experience of using it would not be what this particular user was looking for, so it would have been wrong for us to waste his time and recommended instead that he look for a slightly better laptop with at least 512MB and a P4 or newer processor (such as can be obtained for nothing) then try again; the other was a laptop with a graphics chip that is not well supported in Linux, and although we would probably have been able to get it working with enough time, this would have required a working internet connection to do the necessary research.
Unfortunately, poor internet (wi-fi) provision was a major setback to our weekend, although we had been assured in advance that it would be available. At one point we had a smartphone providing a portable hotspot, connected through a USB dongle to a machine that had supported wireless card of its own, in order to download the broadcom firmware and get that machine on-line when the owner got it home.
One outstanding success was with a machine that our new friend Peter brought along. It had an old windows installation on it that we were happy to cure for him, but the first problem was that the power socket was broken – not something we had come prepared for! Fortunately our neighbours the Fix-It Cafe had the right skills and tools to hand, so they were able to, well, fix it, before handing it over for us to install Linux Mint on.
Another masterpiece was Barry’s display board, which included a projection screen, fruit boxes, a cork board and professionally printed posters – all laid out using scribus, of course.
If you know anyone who’s planning an event you think we should attend, please let us know using these contact details.