One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘open source

Linux: How to Avoid Linus Tech Tips’ Mistakes

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Linux is receiving greater exposure in response to news about Windows 11 updates and possible concerns. Capitalizing on this, the Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel engaged in a 30-day Linux challenge. As someone with ten years of experience working with Linux across several different laptops, I watched with interest to see how they would perform. After all, Linux is getting more attention thanks to the media as an option for people and organizations looking to reuse older hardware. The results of Linus Tech Tips’ challenge were…well, let’s watch for ourselves:

How it All Started

Other tech-oriented YouTubers like Chris Titus and Techhut have chimed in with their takes. It’s easy to poke holes in Linus’ video (and at the end, he admits his mistakes), and there are those who either have outdated tech that cannot be upgraded to Windows 11 or wish to make the change to Linux. This is not a simple process but requires some thought and preparation. But unlike Linus Tech Tips, a simple Google search shouldn’t be your only option. Here’s a preliminary list of the first steps towards making the switch to Linux.

Getting Started With Linux

Before transitioning any machine to Linux, you will need to take an inventory and ask yourself some key questions. This can help guide your decision toward Linux adoption:

What Software Do You Need, and Is There An Open Source Equivalent: Looking at how you use your computer can help you determine what software you need and if there is an open-source solution that can run on Linux. If you need an office suite, LibreOffice is a full-featured alternative to Microsoft Office. For image manipulation, GIMP is a great alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It’s less about “can I run a Windows program in Linux” and more about “can I do the same things with Linux that I can with a regular computer?” (Although there are ways to run Windows software on Linux like WINE software or virtual machines). Whether using it for simple office processes or gaming, knowing why you’re using your computer can guide your Linux selection.

A good example is the laptop I’m writing this post on – it’s a Lenovo Thinkpad T530 running Linux Mint 20.2. I use it primarily for writing both the blog and my fiction, so I rely primarily on LibreOffice and the built-in text editor. Since I am exploring the possibility of self-publishing, I also have several software packages that are alternatives to commercial packages or open-source alternatives like Calibre, Sigil, and Scribus. The only money I spent was on the laptop itself and a solid-state drive to replace the hard drive. (Total cost was approximately $200). Everything works well, the battery has a long life (almost four hours on a single charge), and Linux runs very smoothly.

Inventory Your System – One of the first things anyone should do before upgrading their system to Linux is learning their system requirements. On Windows 10, that information can be acquired in the matter of a few keystrokes, and you’ll need to know these key system processes:

  • Processor – This drives the desktop or laptop computer’s activity;
  • RAM – This is where the computer’s processes run (and can be expandable in some units)
  • Storage – How much data can your device hold and should you replace it with an SSD (solid-state drive)?
  • Video Drivers – Although Linux can work with a variety of peripherals, some that require special drivers like NVIDIA can be especially challenging for Linux.

Two Key Decisions – After being used to Windows and its various quirks, the decision to switch to Linux may be daunting. However, there are two very important preferences that you need to examine before making a final decision:

  • Stability vs. Immediacy – if you prefer your software to remain relatively stable with few quirks, you want something that is derived from Debian or Ubuntu (like Linux Mint, MX Linux, Linux Lite, Pop OS, and others). If you want to be “bleeding edge” and are willing to dedicate time to the precise configuration and tweaks, an Arch Linux-based distro like Manjaro might be your ideal option.
  • Workflow Style – Many people prefer a Windows-style layout and others prefer a Mac-style layout. Many Linux distros offer a variety of desktop environments. These are ways to interface with the main software and can be preset with various levels of configurability.

Researching Linux Distributions

One key mistake that Linus Tech Tips made was a simple Google search of “best Linux distros” which are geared primarily to tech enthusiasts and those with advanced knowledge. Knowing where to start once you’ve decided to explore Linux can be challenging, but here are some easy first steps.

Check Out Their Website – Google can lead to a simple reading of a distribution website to learn its strengths and functions. Every distro has some manner of community forums that can allow you to investigate potential problems. (Also, please be warned if anyone seeking advice is being told “RTFM” – that is a huge red flag)

Distrowatch Is Also Good, But With a CatchDistrowatch is a site that focuses on recent updates to Linux distros. However, it does come with a slight warning: you will see a hierarchy of distros along the right side of the page. It’s only a ranking of unique web visits to that distro and not a ranking of the “best distros ever.” But the site provides links to both downloads and reviews to get a clearer sense of distribution features and functions.

Video Is Your Best Research Tool – Searching YouTube and Odysee for videos about Linux distros can be especially helpful as they sometimes provide screen captures of actual use. Besides Techhut and Chris Titus Tech (who has a great 30-day-switching-to-Linux playlist), other good channels include Linux for Everyone and Explaining Computers (more hardware-focused but with the occasional foray into Linux).

Test-Driving Linux Distros

This is the other major mistake that Linus Tech Tips made in their video: you never do a full switch on your computer without trying the distro first. (Plus, saying “yes” to something you’re not sure you should do is never a good idea). There are some great methods for “test driving” a Linux distro before deciding to perform a full install. This can save your computer, your time, and your patience.

Create a USB Live Key – Running a distro off of a USB drive can be very helpful in getting a feel for Linux on your particular machine. (In fact, that’s how I test-drove several distros before deciding on Linux Mint). Explaining Computers has a great how-to video on installing and running Linux off of a USB drive. (Some distros for lower-spec machines are developed to run solely from USB drives). The other advantage is that most distros have an “install” icon on the desktop, making it easier to switch when ready.

Find/Purchase a Used/Refurbished Machine – If you have an older, less frequently used laptop lying around, that would be a great test run for any Linux distro. This would allow you to get a handle on Linux while maintaining your current operating system on your main desktop or laptop. If you’re looking for a low-cost alternative (or don’t have a spare laptop), consider checking out a digital recycling center or online marketplace such as eBay or Craigslist.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to poke holes in Linus Tech Tips’ attempt to install Linux, since installing and working with any operating system brings specific challenges. However, Linux has many advantages for individuals and organizations (especially community-focused ones): it is available to download free, provides flexibility in computing, and brings out the best in any particular machine. This is the “latest, but not last” word from this blog on Linux, but we are curious to see where the conversation heads next…

Speaking of conversation, we encourage you to join the conversation via the comments section below. You can email me privately via this contact form, or join the conversation on our Facebook group.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

November 15, 2021 at 10:25 am

Resuming the Linux Laptop Lifestyle

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Earlier this year, I was looking forward to working with my Linux-powered writing laptop. After discussing how I revived several laptops with Linux distros, I managed to be highly productive with thirteen-year-old hardware. Even taking on paid work wasn’t an issue; my Windows laptop focused on work product (some software I use is proprietary to Windows), while my Linux laptop focused on creative endeavors…at least, until June.

My Linux laptop began overheating (it was an older model) and one of the screen/cover hinges fell apart, making it unusable. So my mission because finding – and converting – a new laptop for both writing and creative efforts. My overall goal was still the same: a writing/self-publishing machine that would allow me to craft articles and fiction as well as regular blog posts. Thanks to COVID-19, my normal backup plan of purchasing a machine through Free Geek Chicago was out of the question. (They were closed at the time; they have reopened since then). So I did what anyone else would do: purchase a refurbished laptop.


(You may be wondering why I did not just use my Windows laptop for writing and work. Since I am often working with client materials that are not for public consumption, distinguishing between the two helps me stay focused and productive. Plus, my work laptop, a low budget model purchased at Walmart, has a keyboard that doesn’t quite respond to my fast typing speed – I have to wait about forty-five seconds before I see typed text appear on my keyboard).

My laptop of choice, after considering various models, was a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad T530. It helped that I was already looking for a Linux-friendly model, but found a great deal via eBay. With a quad-core processor and 12 gigabytes of RAM, this machine was more powerful than I expected. (My last Linux laptop was a dual-core with 4 gigabytes of RAM). Although it has been upgraded to version 20, I chose to reinstall Linux Mint 19.3 – it hasn’t given me any problems and runs very smoothly. Although there are some deficiencies in my Thinkpad (which lacks a Bluetooth card and requires a dongle for connectivity), it works well…especially the keyboard. Many laptop users claim that typing on a Thinkpad is like driving a race car.

I’m writing this blog post on my Thinkpad, and the hype is true. It’s refreshing to see my words appear as I type…but I digress.

Linux Lenovo Thinkpad T530 With Stickers

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Having used my Linux laptop regularly for writing in the past two months, I’m finding Linux to be an extremely reliable daily driver. Working with Windows can be frustrating even after “debloating” the operating system. (Many of the privacy concerns around Windows 10 do not make it easier.) However, I have to acknowledge that several software packages that I rely on are Windows-only and do not have any open source equivalents. However. using a separate laptop for work may seem like a luxury (especially in current time), but there is comfort in moving from one laptop to another as a way of indicating that “work” is over. Plus, the Lenovo Thinkpad is a business laptop designed to be sturdier and more customizable, making it ideal for writing and self-publishing.

It would be impractical for everyone to switch over to Linux-based operating systems, but it makes a great way to revive older hardware and extend the life of a given machine. My previous Linux laptop had been initially released in 2008, purchased (refurbished) in 2013, converted to Linux in 2016, and fell apart (to be recycled) in 2020. My Linux-powered Thinkpad model was initially released in 2013 and purchased refurbished in 2020. At a time when recycling and repurposing older hardware is becoming more economically feasible, Linux provides a great opportunity to not only save money but also stay productive and learn about hardware functions.

Please leave your comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page. Email me directly via this contact page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

September 8, 2020 at 4:13 am

[VIDEO] Linux Laptop Screencast

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about tuning up my Linux laptop for writing.

Via YouTube, here’s a very quick (20 minute) screencast.


Written by gordondym

January 21, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Tuning Up the Linux Laptop for 2020

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Between increased caregiving responsibilities for my mother, looking for freelance work, and the holidays, my Linux-powered HP laptop went by the wayside. (It’s not my only laptop, thankfully, but the keyboard is great for writing). However, the past few months have seen me slowly repair and upgrade the laptop to the point where my Linux laptop is working very efficiently and becoming my go-to writing computer. It’s a good argument for adopting open-source computing, and my Linux-powered HP 8530p Elitebook laptop is a great example of reusing and repurposing technology. (I’m writing this post on the HP laptop)

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Two of the most pressing issues for my laptop were long booting time and overheating resulting in slower response time. The former was easier to handle; after some experimentation within Linux Lite, I switched to Linux Mint 19.3 with the XFCE desktop environment. (My Linux-powered Panasonic Toughbook CF-29 was relegated to “emergency backup” unit and was switched to MX Linux). Both laptops had low RAM (the HP laptop has 4 GB, the Toughbook was upgraded to 1.5 GB) and were over ten years old, so I chose operating systems that worked in lower spec machines but had the processing power to spare).

Overheating was a more complicated issue…after checking out various YouTube how-to videos, I opened my laptop, removed some of the cooling apparatus (including a large wad of dust in my fan) and replaced the thermal paste. (Part of the delay was finding the right paste for the job and waiting for the order to arrive…it was hard finding a local place that sold thermal paste. In retrospect, perhaps I should have checked out Free Geek Chicago).


So other than the pride of repurposing and recycling a machine, why would anyone switch towards adopting open-source computing via Linux? There are three reasons why I have adopted Linux for my creative writing and blogging:

Dependability – Both Linux Mint and MX Linux are distros that work well once installed with a minimum of tweaking. (We’ll talk about that in a later point). With the diverse range of Linux distros available (as well as a site where you can test Linux distros online), there is a Linux distro for anyone that works well out of the box, and that provides excellent performance especially in older hardware.

Adaptability – Not only can a user customize the appearance and functionality of the Linux distro to their specification (the desktop screenshot was a photo from a Beverly-area restaurant), but Linux provides multiple open-source software options for a variety of computing needs. By integrating LibreOffice, GIMP, Calibre, and Scribus, I have easily configured my Linux laptop to become a production machine for blogging, creative writing, editing, and self-publishing. (Many distros integrate a package manager/software center that makes it easy for users to download software). With privacy and data issues around Windows 10, Linux has some edge in that many distros do not share user data.


Productivity – The major advantage of my Linux laptop (especially when writing) is that I spend more time getting things done. The software works smoothly, I am not dealing with major glitches in my operating system, and I’m enjoying the process. My HP Linux laptop does very well for an over-ten-year-old machine, working as well as a regular laptop. (My Toughbook also performs well with MX Linux, but that laptop will only be used in an extreme emergency). Although I’m reliant on Windows 10 for freelance work, I find Linux an easier, more user-friendly operating system to use.

As a strong advocate of open-source software, I believe that Linux adoption can promote greater digital literacy and digital excellence. With Windows 7 ending security updates and greater numbers of older computers going to waste, Linux provides an opportunity to extend computing ability and provide a needed resource for underserved communities. And all this resulted from wanting to turn an older, slower machine into fully-functioning writing and publishing Linux laptop.

What your thoughts and perspectives on Linux and open-source computing? Please join the conversation via Facebook or leave them in the field below. Please use this email contact form to contact me privately.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 9, 2020 at 11:50 am

Writing With a Linux Laptop – Screencast

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Between caring for Mom and other issues, I have a backlog of posts to write. However, I also wanted to be mindful that this blog sees some activity.

So there will be several posts over the next week. However, I wanted to highlight previous posts about working with a Linux laptop.

In that spirit, here is a screencast of my current Linux writing laptop via YouTube – enjoy!

Written by gordondym

January 18, 2019 at 12:42 pm

Living the Linux Laptop Lifestyle Revisited

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When I wrote about my Linux-powered laptop awhile ago, things were going well, tech-wise. My refurbished Windows 10 laptop was a powerhouse, allowing me to blog and write, as well as keep up with my freelance work. (Writing includes my recent essay in The Joy of Joe: Memories of America’s Fighting Man from Today’s Grown-Up Kids). With my formerly-Ubuntu-now-Linux Lite-powered Panasonic Toughbook providing a great backup machine, it seemed like I was unstoppable. But then, something happened…

My Windows 10 laptop started overheating. It also become extremely slow, often grinding to a near halt when browsing or using software. After performing the necessary virus and malware checks, I discovered that much of the hardware in my HP laptop (including the motherboard) was nearly ten years old. Of course, I should have known better – I bought it refurbished three years ago, and In addition, my Panasonic Toughbook was  a Pentium-M machine that, even upgraded to 1.5 GB RAM (which is all you can upgrade it), was a bit slow. It was a tough decision, but I made a very critical decision…img_20161016_080249630

I needed a new laptop for freelance work, and my HP laptop was going to be converted into a Linux box.

Thankfully, since I had enough of a freelance income, I did some shopping for a new laptop. Although my ideal laptop (an Acer) was not available, my second choice – an HP that was much slimmer, had a larger hard drive and was more current. (Although I considered sticking exclusively to Linux, much of my software is Windows-based, and past experience with clients favors a Windows environment). My Toughbook would still keep Linux Lite 3.6, but would be officially “retired” and put in storage. Although I considered making the old HP laptop a dual boot, I decided against it.

You have to know what you’re doing to dual boot Windows 10 and Linux, and I was – and am – strictly amateur when it comes to Linux. c-now-linux-01

But then came the critical decision – what Linux distro to load onto the old HP laptop? I really love Linux Lite’s usability, and that many of the software packages were easily downloadable. (When it comes to laptops, I just want to set it and forget it). Linux Mint looked really good, and I was hearing great things about Manjaro Linux. For a few moments, I even considered using LXLE, but realized that I already had my heart set on a distro, and that the others would only be follow-ups.

However, I did what anyone considering adopting Linux would do: watch a ton of YouTube videos (including my now favorite Linux-centric YouTube channel, Switched to Linux) and test-drove various distros except Manjaro. (Manjaro is based on a different flavor of Linux, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the learning curve. However, I intended to play with it on the soon-to-be-Linux-powered-HP8530P-Elitebook once I had another installed. Think of it has test-driving a Porsche while owning a Mustang).

So moving full steam ahead, I installed Linux Lite 3.8, and it worked near-beautifully. I say “near” because there were a few adjustments to make – the WiFi indicator was blinking, the battery wasn’t charging, and there were some display glitches. But one major glitch was that the software indicated that it hadn’t been updated in two days (right after I did a full install)…yet, when I attempted to update it, Linux Lite informed me that the software was up-to-date.

However, what I hadn’t realized was that I had installed version 3.8 a few days before the latest version – Linux Lite 4.0 – was formally released. So last night, I did what any enterprising person would do in this situation: install and modify the latest version. And it works beautifully….except for the battery. (However, I had problems with the battery leading up to the installation, and I cannot blame Linux. I will probably, at some point, need to purchase a new battery).

c-now-linux-02But I know that right now, you’re probably thinking, “Gordon, why are you so fixated on Linux?” Part of my fascination with Linux – and open source software in general – is the idea that it’s based on community needs, and that it is (in theory) easy to modify towards a particular function. One of the things I love about installing Linux on hardware is that it not only extends the usability of technology, but allows it to perform at a higher level. (As much as I would love to think that the Toughbook could remain my backup, even during its prime with Windows XP it would never be considered “lightning fast”). Rather than recycling or junking an old unit, it now becomes extremely usable and valuable, even if it’s just for “basic” use.

But Linux – and open source software – really emphasize the importance of digital excellence: that software, hardware, and digital tools allow us greater access into the larger world. Despite its recent repeal, it is still important that people understand the implications of net neutrality and contact their legislators. But more importantly, it’s important to remember that technology serves people, and not vice versa. Open source software allows individuals and communities an opportunity to grow, learn, and access resources and information.

But more importantly, it allows communities to gather, helps individuals to develop skills, and provides great resources for those seeking low-cost technology.

If you would like to learn more about Linux or open source technology, please check out Free Geek Chicago. They provide training and sell Linux-driven hardware.

If you have comments, please join the conversation either via the comments below or our Facebook page. If you wish to email me privately, please use this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Living The Linux Laptop Lifestyle

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As a freelance writer and social media consultant, I rely on my Windows 10 laptop (a ten-year-old Hewlett Packard Elitebook) for my work. However, the replacement charger blew out…two weeks after the original HP-branded charger blew out, and my laptop battery drained. That meant only one thing…getting my Linux laptop out of storage while I ordered another replacement charger.

My Linux laptop was purchased shortly after my 40th birthday: a decommissioned Panasonic Toughbook CF-29 with an SBC logo. I had always been an advocate of open source software, and considered myself to be living an “open source lifestyle.” After all, it was the integration of two sides of my personality: a rugged, military class laptop integrating community-driven software. It was powered (then) by Xubuntu (following some experimentation with Ubuntu), and towards the end…well, the Toughbook only had 512 KB RAM and was only upgradeable to 1.5 gigabytes. With such limited resources, could my old Linux laptop keep me going until I received a new charger? c-now-linux-03

The answer, with some considerations, is yes.

Thankfully, I had ordered a new 1 GB RAM stick for my Toughbook…but Xubuntu would not be the right Linux distribution (or “distro”); my Linux laptop would require something more flexible with such limited RAM and processing power. After doing a little research (one of the advantages of open source software is that communities have formed specifically around implementing software), I found some Linux distros that work on older computers. After test driving some distros on my mother’s computer, I decided that Linux Lite would best serve my laptop needs.

Another great advantage of open source software: you can run it off of a flash drive before installing it. And I have to admit that I loved Linux Lite’s out-of-the-box feel, so much so that I reconsidered installing my number two selection: LXLE, which is designed for underpowered older machines. According to a label on the bottom of my Toughbook, this pre-Linux laptop was decommissioned in 2005, making it well over ten years old. And so I replaced the RAM, installed Linux Lite, and after a short period, I was back to living a Linux laptop lifestyle while waiting for my charger.

In short, it took a week…but I realized that I had missed working with a Linux laptop.

Part of it is the unique look of the Toughbook, especially with its carrying handle. Walking around through various neighborhoods whether the Walker or Beverly branches of the Chicago Public Library or LaCatrina Cafe for the Chicago Doctor Who Meetup, I received plenty of flattering comments about my Linux laptop. (Thanks to some add-on software, I was able to use the laptop for a Meetup screening). One of my old high school classmates revealed via Facebook that he had used Linux to extend the life of his kids’ laptops. Although web browsing was a bit slower than usual, finding alternative browsers helped ease the strain on my Linux laptop.

Mostly, what I missed was the sense of freedom that I had with my Linux laptop. I have a great sense of liberation knowing that I will not get updates for the software unless I specifically request them. (Unlike Windows’ forced updates whichc-now-linux-02 slow down online access). When I had issues or wanted to add or remove software, there was a great sense of discovery. Plus, my Linux laptop became extremely customizable in terms of fonts (which I had to download), wallpapers, and organizing my files. (Linux Lite takes up 10 GB of a 40 GB hard drive, while Windows takes up 60 out of 140 GB). Even working with open source equivalent software became fun…if a bit of a challenge (I love discovering features in VLC Media Player, but could do without the slight learning curves of LibreOffice and GIMP Graphics editor).

In time, the new charger arrived, and my Windows laptop is now working. (In fact, choosing a higher wattage charger has eliminated many of the issues I was having previously). However, when it comes to heading out and above and “fun” computing…my Linux laptop has become my computing “friend with benefits.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be serious about integrating Linux full time…but I have to admit, it provides some great opportunities for learning…and exploring.

And if Windows 10 is too much for my HP laptop, will I go full-on Linux with that laptop? What do you think?

Have questions or comments? Please feel free to leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you need to contact me privately, use this e-mail form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

February 20, 2018 at 4:14 pm

The Art of Learning About Nonprofit Software

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Computers - Art of LearningRecently, a colleague of mine had asked my assistance in identifying software vendors for nonprofits….and although I was able to help him somewhat (with further follow-up to come). it started me thinking about a central question….just how and where do nonprofits decide to purchase software?

For me, it was easy – I had always worked with computers as a hobby, so a casual Google search and/or reaching out to like minded people wasn’t that much of a challenge. But for other nonprofit workers, it can be a bit of a challenge. Sure, there are the usual suspects –Raiser’s Edge, CivicCRM, Salesforce, and various others – and some major companies like Microsoft offer incentives for nonprofits – but it can be a very daunting task.

Most of the time, learning about new software comes through networking – learning about nonprofit software vendors seems vast. Much of it consists of learning about who’s talking about nonprofit
tech. Bloggers like Beth Kanter often focus on taking a more tech-minded approach to non-profits, but in Chicago, we have a variety of opportunities to meet with others and learn more about software.

(It also helps that G2Crowd, a local startup, is working towards becoming a “Yelp for business software”. Recently, I had been invited to participate and leave reviews, and the site is very impressive. In fact, it’s more like Glassdoor
than Yelp – it takes a considered approach towards reviews, and most of them are thoughtful, considerate, and easy to understand).

But for most of us, learning about software and tech tools is a key step towards digital excellence, using digital tools (both hardware and software) to drive community development. In that regard, there are two
upcoming events that you might want to consider attending in the next few weeks:

Learning about software might not be easy, but there is an art to knowing where to find the information. In the next few weeks, there will be ample opportunity to connect and learn about all kinds of online tools, as well as develop online skills and foster connections. I know I’ll be making these events in the future….and I hope to see you there.

Any other resources you can think of? Any organizations in the Chicago area that are striving to educate nonprofits on tech matters? Please feel free to mention them in the comments below. You can also subscribe to regular blog updates via our Facebook page, and you can always subscribe via e-mail. If you want to contact me directly, you’re more than welcome to do so via this blog’s About page.

As always, thanks for reading!

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

September 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

More Non-Profit Coworking Resources in Chicago

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C Now - Seating A few weeks ago, we featured some great coworking spaces in Chicago focused on social ventures, non-profits, and other business entities focused on making an impact on the greater community.  Coworking spaces provide startups, non-profits, and other small businesses the opportunity to have a central, affordable place to perform their day-to-day business. Since many small organizations use these spaces, there is ample opportunity for networking, collaboration, and building a strong community. (Think of it as taking an open source approach to capacity building for small mission-driven businesses and organizations). Since we were fortunate enough to feature three such spaces awhile ago, we know of two spaces – one newer, one a long-standing institution – that provide resources for many social change agents to accomplish mighty things.

One newer resource (located in Wicker Park) is Free Range Office, which opened in November 2013. (Since it’s only a short hop from the Damen Blue Line station, you get to enjoy many cool amenities without worrying about heading downtown. Although it’s a smaller space, organizations like the Neighborhood Parents Network and’s regional office make their home there. (There’s a soft spot on this blog for organizations that take a strong focus on both social good and community building….but they offer space to startups, and provide discounts to non-profits as well). FREO offers a wide range of work spaces (including standing desks, open seating, office pods, and private offices), and a lounge area. (They also have a  large meeting/conference room that holds about fifty people, and organizations can rent the space for special events. FREO also works with Hands On Tech Chicago to put on seminars and training sessions for non-profits, so there’s always room for spaces that provide both a solid working environment and a strong commitment to capacity building for the social good.

And although it may seem obvious, local incubator 1871 in the Merchandise Mart – has always provided a great resource for non-profits and social ventures. Whether it’s advocating for tech job creation or encouraging female entrepreneurs, it would be easy to focus on 1871 solely as a private enterprise. But it does host a few non-profits, including Commogri (which allows non-profits and social ventures to gauge their impact on social media) and (focusing on immigration reform).

When I wrote that initial post on non-profit/social venture coworking spaces, I assumed – wrongly – that resources were few and far between. Thankfully, due to comments and feedback, I’m delighted to be proven wrong….and will be doing a follow up post in the next few weeks.

Know of any resources, or have questions? Please leave them below in the comments. You’re also more than welcome to follow me on Twitter (where I tweet about my twin passions – social good and pop culture), visit and like the blog on Facebook, or contact me privately (information via the About page)

And as always, thanks for reading!

Non-Profit Government Shutdown Survival Guide

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votingWith the government shutdown underway, many non-profits may be confused about how to proceed. With the debt ceiling deadline looming on October 17th, many organizations find themselves proceeding with great caution. However, this is also an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social ventures, and other social change agents to consider taking a slightly different approach.

So in that spirit, here are a few basic things to consider to make this crisis somewhat more bearable:

  • Know Exactly How Your Clients Will Be Affected – Various publications ranging from Non-Profit Quarterly to and Mother Jones magazine outline the direct impact of the shutdown. (You can also find information at This knowledge will be helpful when making critical decisions for how non-profit programs are implemented, allowing non-profits and social change organizations to be much more client-focused in their approach.
  • Consider An Open Source Approach to Software – and Collaboration – Many non-profits choose open source equivalents to commercial software to save money and open up services. (One good example is the Chicago Public Library making LibreOffice available to patrons). But open sourcing development and collaboration – allowing other organizations to take models, build on them, and create “forks” can enhance sustainability. (In addition, exploring potential partnerships with other non-profits, smaller organizations, and L3Cs/Benefit corporations can also be beneficial). Going open source can be a challenge, but thankfully, there are resources to assist in making the transition such as the NOSI primer (which is currently being revised)
  • If You Receive Federal Grants, Please Double-checkAs this article rightly points out, although some federal programs have integrated some contingencies, performing due diligence is not just a smart idea – it can provide for adequate planning and preparation to avoid later frustration and heartache.
  • Make Long-Range Plans and Rethink Your Strategies – Our only previous government shutdown seventeen years ago lasted about three weeks – there is no way to determine how long this current shutdown will last. As you inventory your non-profit’s current situation, attempt to see potential opportunities for partnership, services, funding and other resources. This is not a time to live in the age of the silo, nor is it the time to be a “gatekeeper” – adopting an open source approach will mean the difference between providing services and shutting doors. However…
  • You Can Make An Impact And Maintain Professional Standards – Many non-profit workers take the view that non-profits are not a business, and they do not require as much in terms of maintaining professional standards around hiring, bookkeeping, and other day-to-day activities. (In simpler terms, it’s much harder for a mission-driven organization to make an impact on the community if the electricity is turned off). As this article from Nonprofit HR points out, staying on top of current trends in non-profit administration is always critical, and being able to adjust to sudden changes in situation is a hallmark of an efficient organization. Although seemingly trivial, this is one area that non-profits and other social change organizations must stay vigilant.

Regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, those of us whose careers have centered around social change and social impact will be affected by this shutdown. The impact may potentially be incalculable, but nonetheless, there is an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social change organizations, mission-driven businesses, and others who share our beliefs to move slowly, but surely, towards the 21st century. Perhaps the twin ideas of “peer progressivism” and “digital excellence” can be more than just buzzwords in the metropolitan Chicago area….perhaps they can be great examples for the rest of the country to follow….

Any other ideas about how non-profits/social change organizations can survive the government shutdown? Anything that I have omitted? Any other thoughts to explore? Please feel free to share them below. In addition, you’re always welcome to contact me privately via Linked In (just mention One Cause At A Time in your note) or via private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!