Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Father's Day, Wandafar, Ubuntu Linux

Last week I was deciding what to do for my Dad for Father's Day. I was looking at sending down some high quality beer(where he lives is in a "dry" county). The shipping was so expensive, though, that the idea came into my head that I could just go take something down to him myself, and pay him a visit over the weekend. And so I did. On Friday I stopped at the Walnut Street Tea Company and got him a variety of loose teas. Then I drove down to Glasgow, KY in about 6 hours and surprised my Dad with myself and the tea.

In case you didn't know, my Dad runs a one-man farming and wildlife preservation operation. He calls the place where he lives Wandafar. He's planted about 2500 trees in a huge field on the property to lend a hand to the banks of a creek running through. His focus in his agricultural production is to provide all the food he needs for himself, using as little unnaturally-provided resources as possible. That is to say, he wants to be completely self-sufficient. I admire his work and to visit him and see what he's doing is truly an impressive experience, one that you won't have almost anywhere else these days.

I'm slowly migrating my system over to Ubuntu Linux 6.06 presently. Linux is a major alternative to Windows, and is completely free and open. It is not owned by a particular company, and anyone can use and modify it, but some companies like Red Hat have built their own proprietary version of Linux that you can buy in most electronics stores these days. Even then, though, the Linux core remains open. Ubuntu is a version or "distribution"(aka distro) of Linux that is said to be the most userfriendly these days. It is a free and open source distribution, as are the many programs it is packaged with. I seem to like it well enough, once I got past the initial learning curve and difficulties with certain aspects of it.

Linux for years was designed primarily with the most tech savvy in mind, since the masses were assumed to be locked into Windows. So most Linux distributions are unfit for general use. Only in the past couple years with the rise of the free and open source Mozilla Foundation's Firefox as an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer(boooo!) has there been a push to make Linux suitable for anyone to use. In my opinion Ubuntu is still not ready for anyone to use, but with some improvement it could be.

Why is it important for programs to be free and open source? Because it allows for a community to be created around a piece of software in which anyone can improve it and fit it to the community's needs. It also promotes an adherence to universal standards in software, which means you can use, for instance, any web browser that adheres to these standards to view web pages. Thus web pages can be created with just these standards in mind, and not two different standards, as is done now, between Microsoft, and everything else.

Friday, June 09, 2006

US Shoes

Everyday I wear a very old pair of Giorgio Brutini boat shoes(docksides, loafers, etc.). They've held up very well(maybe 10 years?), so I recommend this brand if you're looking for some nice shoes. The downside to this company's shoes is that they are made in China(or at least mine are). In fact, most shoes and clothes that people buy were made across seas. I think every piece of clothing I'm wearing at this moment was made overseas, and almost every article of clothing that I own.

So, I read this interesting piece on a person's quest to find US-made shoes. Actually, the shoes featured there aren't made in the US either anymore.

But the important point is that US companies are exploiting workers in many 3rd-world countries around the world in order to give us clothes at cheap prices and keep their profits maximized. These thoughts were prompted somewhat from a Bible study I had yesterday on Micah Chapter 2, which talks about the exploitation of the poor, and which I think applies to most people reading this post, including me.

Now they're generally not directly exploiting the workers, as they don't own any of the factories(like that absolves them). What they do is find business people in places like South Korea who own these factories in countries like China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, and Thailand, where all our clothes are made. These factory owners are the ones who work their employees for a standard 60 hours per week and mostly pay them minimum wage, which is so low in these 3rd world countries that working 60 hours at these wages doesn't even raise the workers above the poverty line of the country where the factories are located. They often live in barracks on the factory grounds and are not allowed to leave without permission, essentially making them slaves.

An exception is Cambodia, which I heard on an episode of This American Life is a leader among 3rd world nations in labor practices, but has a hard time competing with surrounding countries because they can't make the lowest bids for contracts since they pay decent wages.

So, I thought it would be nice to find shoe companies that do actually commit to making their shoes in the US. I found a cool website called US Stuff that has a shoes section that lists companies that have manufacturing operations in the US. Sometimes you can find companies with excellent prices, like Okabashi, which makes sandals. A popular company that makes casual/athletic shoes mostly in the US is New Balance.

I'm considering buying a pair of sandals from Chaco. And maybe if my Giorgio Brutinis ever fall apart I'll buy a new pair of boat shoes from B.A. Mason Shoes :-)