Fresh: /root Grassroots Tech Cafe

When he isn't running for public office, Justin Holmes, who became locally famous (or notorious) for battling his alma mater SUNY New Paltz a couple of years ago, is saving the world from behind the counter of a new New Paltz coffeeshop. Called /root (pronounced “slashroot”), the venture opened in January at 60 Main as equal parts coffeeshop, community space and computer tech support pit crew. Along with co-founder Amanda Catherine Stauble, Holmes hopes that by teaching the community how to use open-source software, he will do his bit to “slash the roots of proprietary software and plant the seeds of freedom.” Or at least give you a hand with building your website.

WP: Mind if I type this interview on my laptop?

JH: Sure. You're running Windows on that?

WP: Well, er, yes. I installed Ubuntu, but I couldn't get it to work with my wireless card.

JH: I can help you with that.

WP: Tell me the story behind this place. What do you do here?

JH: It's simple. You sit down, enjoy our coffee and surf the web. If you need help for any reason, a consultant will sit down with you for $15 for 15 minutes and make suggestions about open-source solutions that might help you. I think underscoring everything about our mission is the parallel between free software and fair trade products.

WP: What's the connection?

JH: We talk to people about the problems of closed-source software, the looming threats of censorship and surveillance. Free solutions can both save them money and liberate them from the pitfalls inherent in technology consumption. When we say free software, the first thing our customers probably hear is 'free' as in the phrase 'free beer.' We also mean 'free' as in 'freedom of speech.'

WP: What makes /root different from any other tech support place?

JH: When people leave our door, they've gained a degree of confidence. They're fully in control of their gadgetry. And maybe on a deeper level, the extent to which their economic decisions have a positive effect on the world.

WP: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take three pieces of open-source software with you, which ones would you pick?

JH: I need an operating system, right? Ubuntu. And do I have an internet connection?

WP: Sure. It's a magical internet-connected desert island.

JH: Firefox. And VLC Media Player.

Tomorrow, February 13, /root and its next-door neighbor, The Muddy Cup, are hosting an all-day benefit for Haiti, featuring a local art auction and live music from Los Doggies, Dream Bats, Earth Hound and Big Takeover. Stop by and donate online between 10am and 11pm. Or visit /root anytime on Main Street, New Paltz.

Photo of Stauble and Holmes by Avery Jenkins.

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