Belize Botanic Gardens – NGO Interview
I’m enjoying these interviews, and I hope folks are too. There is some great feedback with these interviews and already we have had an organisation mail us asking for advice, suggestions and help to move to an Open Source environment. Which is in fact GREAT! Other news is that people are trying to help with the issues raised to work out where they can help, and offer solutions.
This interview is with Brett Adams from the Belize Botanic Gardens.
Czajkowski, Brett can you tell me a little about the Botanic Garden?
Belize Botanic Gardens is an organization based just outside of San Ignacio, Belize. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. We are a 45-acre botanic garden with a small staff in a beautiful location.
Czajkowski, so how did you get involved in such a project? The area is very pretty.
I had a short computer programming career after finishing university in Texas. After our company went out of business I was looking for something different to do. So I came to Belize to volunteer at the botanic gardens. After 8 years I am now the Foreman of the Gardens and am in charge of all the plant collections and gardens.for a month.
Czajkowski, so tell me about some of the work you’ve done there.
The land where the gardens now lie were purchased in 1993. At that time the land had been mostly bulldozered for a citrus plantation. Since then we have worked on improving our plant collections and displays to be as educational, attractive and useful to the greater botanical community as possible. Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from Belize, amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation.
Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from Belize, amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation. We work with the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin quite a lot. In the middle of the house is a small thatched building that I organized and built.
Czajkowski so how do Open Source fit into this very green and pretty picture?
I developed a software application for managing plant collections called Bauble. Bauble is now used by a couple other gardens around the world to manage their plant collections. Bauble is open source. After reviewing the existing software I decided to create Bauble. The existing software for managing plant collections was proprietary and very expensive. So Bauble makes it easier for smaller gardens and especially those in poorer countries to manage their plant collections effectively. It is an application for managing what plants you have in the garden, where they are, where they came from, their status (living, dead, etc) among other things. It helps you maintain the data about your collections like wild collections info and relationships between botanic concepts like families and genera.
Czajkowski so what other software do you use?
Although the other 7 desktops in the office use Windows, I use Ubuntu everyday. We also have a an Ubuntu server which uses Samba for the Windows clients to authenticate against and for a file server. Of course the usual culprits, OpenOffice, Gimp, Inkscape, Emacs.
Czajkowski, do you think the other 7 machines will switch over at some point to Ubuntu?
We share an office with the adjacent duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge(www.duplooys.com) and they mostly require Window for accounting and payroll. Old habits die hard and with all of my other work with the gardens I don’t have the time to switch over and train people. If there was a good open source alternative to Quickbooks then I think there would be parades in the street.
Czajkowski, so have you any other issues with switching over fully?
The accounting is the main issues and payroll requires MS-Access. Hardware compatibility is always an issue as well. Particulary with printers. n Belize we don’t have the selection of computer accessories that other larger and more industrialized countries might have. Its also expensive to ship packages and import duties are high. This means that we are often stuck with a small selection of hardware we might need, particularly printers. What would help us would be to improve hardware compatibility with as many devices as possible. We also seem to have fewer computer technicians and particularly those that are well trained in using, configuring and administrating Linux.
We are a small organization with very few resources so everything we do has be considered against the cost and benefits. This often means that we get sub par or non-existent
Linux support. Having a good web based administration tool would be great, especially one that made Samba administration easy and automated. And of course to make the documentation as accessible and extensive as possible. good source of centralized documentation from all the disparate sources across the Internet and cross references would be helpful.
Czajkowski is there an Ubuntu community for you, do you use IRC/Forums/Mailing lists for help?
I don’t know anyone else in Belize that uses Linux at all. I use all the available resources I can find to troubleshoot. One of the main reasons I use Ubuntu is that there seems to be more people using Ubuntu than most other distros so you can almost always find answers to your questions in the forums, mailing lists, IRC, etc. Its very rare for me to encounter a problem that someone else hasn’t already written about somewhere.
Czajkowski how can Ubuntu better match your needs?
Like I said before, hardware compatibility, Window interoperability, web based admin, extensive cross-referenced docs…With those things I think Ubuntu would sell itself and convincing others to mover over would be alot easier. Well, getting Samba setup just right always requires a couple aspirin and a stiff drink. And the video regressions in 9.04 were a pain in the neck. Those are specific issues. I’m not in university anymore, I don’t have time to tinker. I just want things to work.
The only thing left would really be to have the ability to expect any printer to work without hassle.We go through quite a few printers around here. Other than that I think its feasible. Especially if we had a technician besides me that could do the work. We accept volunteers. We also have a wish list.
Thanks to Brett for taking time out to tell me about his really cool project. If anyone knows of a LoCo near him please let us know!