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Portrait: Long-time Linux advocate Clay Claiborne

By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller on May 16, 2007 (8:00:00 AM)

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Clay Claiborne was an early Linux advocate, and his company, Cosmos Engineering, was one of the first computer builders to offer Linux-based PCs and servers. But Clay has never been as much about business as he's been about social activism. He cofounded the Linux Users of Los Angeles (LULA) group back in 1999, but lately he's dropped out of Linux activism and is spending most of his time on social (mostly anti-war) activism. He'll still happily build you a Linux-based entertainment center PC, but his current passion is making a Vietnam War video retrospective he hopes will help Americans remember how poorly that adventure ended, and how the experience we gained in Vietnam should should be applied to our occupation of Iraq.
Clay Claiborne
Clay Claiborne
On the Linux front, Clay's most notable pioneering effort was his mid-'90s Linux on a Disk (LOAD) product. It was Linux preloaded on a hard drive that you'd plug into your existing computer instead of downloading a distribution -- specifically Red Hat back then -- and burning your download onto a dozen or more diskettes.

Back when Clay started selling LOAD, broadband connections were few and far between, and CD burners were not common. Buying a hard drive with Linux already on it was the simplest and easiest way for a lot of people to get Linux back then. Clay says he shipped LOADed hard drives to Hewlett-Packard and IBM people, not to mention plenty of others, and that for many corporate types this was their first encounter with Linux. He's not taking credit for turning HP or IBM on to Linux for the first time, but he believes his efforts may have helped them realize that Linux was a viable operating system for professionals.

Clay got into the computer-building business in 1984, when he founded Cosmos Engineering. In 1996 he started concentrating on computers running Linux both under his Cosmos Engineering brand name and as Linux Beach, a name Clay selected because he has been a devout Venice Beach resident for many years.

Linux, Venice Beach, and Clay have all changed over the last decade. Linux, of course, has gone from radical movement to commercially acceptable computer operating system, Venice Beach has gone from Bohemian hangout to yuppie haven -- the owner of a one-bedroom house next door to Clay's rent-controlled $1,000/month studio apartment was asking $1.3 million for it in early 2007 -- and Clay has become less active in Linux-type activities and more active in the peace movement.

His current main project is a Vietnam War retrospective video based on thousands of TV and film clips taken while the Vietnam War was still going strong, all filed and catalogued in a PHP/MySQL system Clay wrote for himself that runs on his personal MythTV box. The amount of time he's putting into this video project has severely curtailed his business activities; he's still building and supporting Linux computers, but he says that he is currently "dipping into savings" since he cut back his work hours to make more time for anti-war activities.

On the social front, Clay was fascinated by Free Software from the first moment he heard about the concept. He saw it as a way for ordinary people to liberate themselves from corporate and government control, at least in the computing portions of their lives.

Clay is still a devoted Linux user and advocate even if, for now, he's concentrating his activism in other directions. He'd really like to merge his Linux and FOSS activism with his peace and environmental activities by showing radical groups how FOSS can help them achieve their goals and, at the same time, help free their computers from the corporate behemoths (i.e. Microsoft) that dominate the IT industry. He has tried to bring groups of FOSS advocates and social activists together, but says "the only people who ever come are eight or 10 Free Software people who are also interested in leftist politics."

It saddens Clay that anti-war movement people "don't understand that Linux is closer to their politics than Windows" and that "they nod their heads when you tell them about Free Software, but go on using Windows."

Someday, perhaps in part due to Clay's efforts, all wars will end and FOSS will run most of the world's computers. But right now the main things on Clay's mind are a pleasant meal and a brisk stroll along the boardwalk. The world's problems will still be with us tomorrow, and even a devoted activist like Clay deserves a break from them now and then.

Our Portraits series seeks to profile individuals who are doing interesting things with free and open source software. If you know of someone you'd like to read about, please let us know.

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The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 01:26 AM
Anyone who is leading off talking about the US occupation of Iraq is leading off with a lie. The US occupation of Iraq ended with resumption of Iraqi sovereignty a couple years ago. Our current activities are military support of the Iraqi government, together with the Iraqi armed forces and police.

Next, as a Vietnamese, I can tell you that Iraq is nothing like Viet Nam. In Viet Nam, the situation was that the government in the south had little popular support and was in fact not legitimate, having canceled elections b/c they knew the Viet Minh would win them easily.

In Iraq, the government does have popular support, and the problems are A) A small number of insurgents, and B) Sunnis and Shiites who can't/won't get along.

The issues of whether we should have gone there and whether we should still be there (my opinions are no and yes, respectively) are open for discussion, but let's frame the debate properly. He is framing the debate as falsely as Microsoft frames the open source debate, so let's not pay attention to anything he says about anything but Linux.

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Re:The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 06:39 AM
The large majority of the iraq population reject the US occupation of their country. And recently, even their puppet gouvernment agree:

Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation:
<a href="http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/51624" title="alternet.org">http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/51624</a alternet.org>

Does it mean you will leave next week, right ?!?

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Re:The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 11:06 AM
That would be the Shiite majority who believe that without the US they, along with Iranian support, would be free to "cleanse" their country.

Of course then the Saudis would come to the aid of their Sunni brothers and sisters. This would lead to a regional war, death and destruction unlike anything we've seen in generations, a disruption of oil supplies leading to a world economic crisis, etc.

Not that there is anything wrong with all that.

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Re:The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 12:48 PM
I thought the lesson we learned from Vietnam was that you couldn't have politicians running a war. Instead you need to give military commanders a goal and the politicians stay the hell out of it.

I guess we didn't learn that lesson at all.

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What are you smoking?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 08:39 PM

The US occupation of Iraq ended


Are you on drugs, or do you just ignore the news (getting all your "news" from Fox network counts as ignoring the news)? The vast majority of the Iraqi people want the foreign troops out. Try reading some news.



<a href="http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2251363.ece" title="independent.co.uk">
A British newspaper</a independent.co.uk> for example.

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Re:What are you smoking?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 01:55 PM
Before you accuse me of smoking anything, I recommend getting out your dictionary and looking up "occupation." You will find that occupation and a state of sovereignty are mutually exclusive. Japan was occupied until somewhere in the 1950s, as was Germany. At the end of the occupation, Japan and Germany returned to national sovereignty. US troops are stationed in both countries to this day, but neither is occupied.

I don't remember much about the VN war because I was so young, but many people who were in it - from both sides - have told me so much that I really know it. My family was split down the middle by the war. My dad was a South Vietnamese soldier, and my mother's brother's were VC. When I say that Iraq is no Viet Nam, people ought to listen.

And you should be embarrassed to be talking about occupation without even knowing what it is.

Iraq has already returned to sovereignty, and if the Iraqi government wanted US troops to start packing tomorrow and be out by the end of summer, they'd be gone. They have no choice, since they are in Iraq now by invitation. The only other option would be to refuse and fight a war against the new Iraqi army to remove the new Iraqi government. Even if it were the wish of the US government to do so, no one anywhere would support it and they couldn't do it. It would be political suicide.

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Re:The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 11:19 PM
It’s a war on al-queda – No, Wait..
It’s a war on weapons of mass destruction – No, Wait..
It’s a war on terror – Wait, No..
It’s,.. It’s.. well, it’s not about Oil that’s for sure.. heh.. we swear. We certainly didn’t lie a country into war over Oil.. no sir. (pst.. what business is the Bush family in when not governing and

And the only government building that was captured and protected during the initial occupation was the Ministry of (say it with me now) OIL. While looting of other government buildings went on for weeks including military bases that where completely emptied of munitions be anyone with a truck.

Ok, so his political view doesn’t agree with yours and probably doesn’t agree with mine which also does not agree with yours. I can accept that little love triangle though. Let me have a go at your comments here since you feel this here technical forum is the place for political debate and knee-jerk defense of your current administration.

Anyone starting off with US occupation of Iraq has been watching more than CNN and Fox News. He may be getting sources of news outside of the US political scope of influence over reporting. Maybe it’s not an occupation now but it sure looks like it from the outside.

It’s compared to Viet Nam due to the US forces marching into someone’s backyard thinking they’ll be there for a week of bombing then the “police action” (war) will be over and US flags will wave happily in the sun. The reasons for going into Viet Nam where questionable (one being to boost the national ego after being whipped in Korea a few years previous; “history of espionage” is a great university course by the way). The reasons for going into Iraq where even more questionable (daddy Bush puts Sadam in power, Sadam doesn’t play nice, bubba Bush takes Sadam out of power).

The problems in Iraq are long standing issues mixed with current political issues. It’s an area of the world where people have been fighting over religion and natural resources for thousands of years. The US is a four year old (a very young country) trying to settle a dispute between two adults who’ve been fighting for years. Somehow, bombing countries back to the Stone Age doesn’t seem like the right approach but that was the approach they took.

Your last bit is pretty good stuff though. Nope, shouldn’t have invaded a sovern nation in the first place and yes, now that they’ve made a huge mess of it (years longer than expected, billions over budget; yes, they had a “war budget”), they can’t simply walk away and not have the rest of the local nations continue there war over who get’s the Iraq (lest we forget that pesky Oil the US would loose access too).

But yes, we should listen to what this person has to say about Linux; accept all information and filter out what is not relevant. I don’t agree with everything Mr Raymond has to say but that’s the same thing. I listen the FOSS related content and leave the gun advocacy to the firearms collectors. That does bring up the question of why you responded to the political information *then* commented about ignoring his political opinions and focusing on his Linux opinions.

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Re:The US *what* of Iraq?

Posted by: Administrator on May 23, 2007 08:15 AM
As a Vietnamese, I'm glad that you recognize the U.S. occupation of your country for what it was, even though a succession of South Vietnamese governments (five in one year at one point) asked, even begged us to stay. But with Iraq you know so much better! Even with a couple hundred thousand coalition troops and mercenaries running around killing anything they like, Iraq is sovereign because the occuppying power says it's sovereign. I hope you don't apply that logic to your programming.



But you are right, there is a world of difference between the two wars. For example, in the case of Vietnam, the architect of the failed war policy, Robert S. McNamara was promoted by the president to the head of the World Bank. BTW McNamara said that the U.S. killed 3.4 million Vietnamese. The Vietnamese say the number was closer to 5 million. The truth probably lies somewhere between. In any case it is not a number to be proud of.

Yesterday I posted the rough cut of <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8944817304139359835" title="google.com">Vietnam: American Holocaust</a google.com> and since you are Vietnamese I'd be very interested in your take on it. Also for your education here is a soldier talking about our real policy in Iraq: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwwMF6biCJU" title="youtube.com">KILL THEM ALL</a youtube.com>

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Shame on you

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 03:20 PM
Every day lots of innocent people are dying in Iraq and you didn't even consider this as a "problem"...

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Re:Shame on you - suspect it's more than that

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 11:45 PM
I'd guess the he, like most, thinks the daily loss of civilian and deployed soldiers lives is a tradgedy. Soldiers choose a dangerous occupation so that loss has to be expected though it's no less sad.

I have to go back and re-read the article but is he saying "it's not a problem" or is he focusing on the bigger political picture of the US playing foreign politics in yet another country?

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Re:Shame on you - suspect it's more than that

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 01:38 AM
My post was reply to the first message, "The US *what* of Iraq?". I incorrectly posted it here.

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Clay

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 06:20 PM
I met Clay several times over the years before the US decided to treat all visitors as terrorists and I stopped travelling there. It's good to see him recognized and to know that he's still fighting for all the things he believes are important.

Alan

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*sigh*

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2007 07:12 PM
> It saddens Clay that anti-war movement people don't understand
They might not understand a whole lot of things.

E.g. the link between conscience and consequences, and the difference between free and frivolous.

Bush and Rice being considered as christians is quite an illustration: they believe in *themselves* obeying what's told to us all but in fact they *betray* it. No surprise as western branches of Christianity were personality-screwed, little has left what was there and lots of sports and business was thrown into something they now call "religion".

--
Michael Shigorin
shigorin/gmail

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religion is like any other large organization

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 12:26 AM
Indavidually, the local ministers (by whatever term you call your preacher) generally have best intentions and do a great deal of good in the community but as you move up the organization to the larger whole, you find more flaws due to human nature and established policies. I quite like my local minister but the "church" as in greater organization tracing back to Rome has a disapointing history of self-service. At the same time, I've no issues with the concept of God (Gods, for the poly-deity readers) but the fanclub terrifies me.

Yeah, Bush and Rice; polititions. If 90% of the population was Muslim or Hindu, they'd suddenly be publicly faithful Muslim or Hindu followers.

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Re:religion is like any other large organization

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 11:06 AM
Some would argue (I among them) that you cannot be Christian and politician. The requirements of the former, to be humble servants of humanity, is completely inconsistent with the latter, power and control.

You can see this in the kind of religiosity politicians have. It isn't Christianity at all but a kind of pseudo-judeo-christian civil religion. Presidents often invoke the name of God but rarely if ever invoke the name of Jesus.

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Re:religion is like any other large organization

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 09:49 PM
well put. The irony I giggle over is that state and church are, by law, supposed to be seporate entities yet the money claims "in god we trust" (provided the related outcome is how the polititians want it) and the most powerful compain tactic is to flaunt religion and engage the lesser ethical religious leaders (remember that seporation of church and stat thing?) during campain season.

It's great on paper but like anything, it goes sour quickly when manipulated by the power hungry polititians (popes, kings, presidents..)

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Anyone remember his "Linux Lives" sign on Venice?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2007 07:11 AM
When Cosmos Eng. was on Venice Blvd., back in the
mid '90's, the side of the building had a giant
sign saying "Linux Lives!" It was a great,
if cryptic, source of visibility for Linux
in Los Angeles back in the day.

I've known Clay for years, and his LULA group
was a real hotbed of activity for a number of
years. We held dozens and dozens of monthly installfests. Ah, those were the days!

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