Back to the future

January 16, 2011

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

More times than not, Ken Starks — who pens the Blog of Helios — nails it, and his most recent item is quite possibly Exhibit A to that rule. In his latest submission, Ken responds adequately to a critic who “said that [the HeliOS Project] had wasted a computer on kids that were far too young to either appreciate the technology or use it efficiently.”

Ken’s blog takes the argument and slices and dices it in such a way that, if it were a Ronco product, you’d find it being advertised on late-night television.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll let Ken tell the story, from his blog. Ken writes:

“Skip Guenter and I do week-long computer labs during summer vacation. The kids range from 4th to 6th grade. When I first intro the class. I walk among the seated children and then I point to one of them and I say:

” ‘You are going to be the first person to walk on Mars.’

“I point to another and state:

” ‘You are going to discover an herbal compound that cures diabetes.’

“And to a third child I point and say:

” ‘You are going to invent the nano technology that reverses blindness.’

“Then I make sure that they understand one thing. Unless they embrace and learn about the machines in front of them, none of that is likely to happen.”

Amen to that, Ken.

Also, on the issue of age, there is my own experience. I started with GNU/Linux and FOSS very late — 48 to be exact, five years ago, and I’ve told that story here ad nauseum. However, thanks to the miracle of being my offspring (it’s a miracle to me, anyway, that she’s my girl), my daughter Mimi has grown up with FOSS for pretty much her entire life.

Her introduction to computers and their use, then, has always involved a high degree of FOSS exposure, and with this exposure comes a better understanding of how software works and a clearer knowledge of how software should be available to the public. It has been interesting to watch her grow along with the Free Software and Open Source philosophies; not to mention the snapshots along the way, like learning about how to install Debian at 8 under her Dad’s watchful eye, or her enthusiasm today for GIMP and other programs that allow her to develop and expand her passion for drawing.

With her understanding of how the digital world works and inheriting her Dad’s affinity for implementing Free Software and the Open Source paradigm, Mimi can usually be found with me at various Linux expos and shows. Not only this, she can also be found with her friends — Malakai and Saskia Wade — giving talks at expos like SCALE and the Utah Open Source Conference about “Girls in FOSS.”

[As an aside: Mimi is now an Ubuntu user, in what her Fedora-using Dad hopes will be just a passing rebellious phase. Or not. But rather than rend my garment and wail skyward, “I have no daughter!” I would prefer to be proud of her beyond words for trying a variety of distros and settling on one that works for her. That’s my girl.]

Back to the art, though: Mimi has developed an artesian depth of artistic talent, and my eternal gratitude goes to Bill Kendrick and the developers of Tux Paint for planting the seed of artistic abilities with that consistently outstanding program. Tux Paint and this household, digitally speaking, go way back, and Kendrick’s and his team’s efforts on all the software they write make a huge impact on the lives of those who use it.

This same “huge impact” can be claimed by a wide range of FOSS programs as well — substitute $FOSS_PROGRAM for “Tux Paint” and there are a wide variety of FOSS programs that have made their mark on the computer-using world, all for the better.

Which brings us back to Ken and Skip and the summer computer labs: One kid in that room may be the one who first steps on Mars. One may be the one who develops the technology to allow the blind to see. But also, they may not be the ones accomplishing those feats, and that’s OK. At the very least — at the absolute least — kids learning about and using FOSS will grow up to be average adults with a better understanding of how hardware and software work and a clearer picture of how hardware and software should be made available to the public.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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  1. Susan
    January 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I agree completely. There is no minimum age requirement. I know from my own grandchildren. Their parents exclusively use Windows products, but they come over here and use my Linux systems. They have no trouble whatsoever making the transition. In fact, I submit, they don’t even notice a difference.

    My granddaughter began using my Linux computer (GCompris and simple games primarily, but also looking around at kid sites on the Internet) when she was very young. I kid you not, she was playing pacman clones (with minimal help) before her first birthday. She was walking to the computer, firing up GCompris and Tuxpaint on her own when she was 3 years old.

  2. Colonel Panik
    January 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Ken is racking up Karma, big Karma.

    There was a middling scientist, I think it was Isaac Newton,
    who said he was able to do what he did because he “stood on
    the shoulders of giants”. Now Ken Starks may not be a giant,
    but those kids he and his band of merry techs are getting computers to are going to see farther, do more, get better grades and most likely end up being nice people who will
    remember the “giants” and help others.

    My two grand kids go back and forth between Linux and some
    other thing with no, as in zero problems. I was a good bit older than Larry the Free Software Guy is now when I started with these computers, I can sorta make them work and that means that anyone can use Linux.

    Anyone can use Linux and everyone should use Linux.

    You can see the “Giant” Ken if you go to the Texas Linux
    Fest in Austin, TX on April 2, 2011.

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