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September 15th, 2014

Hello World: Videos That Teach Linux To Kids

The Hello World Program needs a few bucks to buy some new equipment to enable them to continue to keep on doing what they do. What they do is make videos that teach Linux and other computer tech subjects to kids, using sock puppets, robots and animation — sort of Kukla, Fran and Ollie for the 21st century. Or Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop in color and high def.

They don’t need much. $2,048 by their estimation will do just fine — a mere drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things. They’ve been on Indiegogo since last Wednesday, where they’re making their case.

Hello World Nielson

Jared (L) and JR (R) Nielson at work on a video project.

“We don’t have a proper studio to shoot video,” they wrote on their Indiegogo page, “the bulbs in our light kit are burned out, our cameras and lenses are dirty because we’ve been shooting in basements and (very cold) garages for the last year, our backdrop needs replacing, and our highly intelligent robot host requires an upgrade.”

They’re already a third of the way there, with $680 raised so far. But crowdfunding campaigns sometimes stall after getting off to a good start. It happens — ask Mark Shuttleworth. It’s not time to relax yet.

The Hello World Program is the work of two brothers, Jared and JR Nielsen, two guys from Utah with a vision to make learning as fun as anything educational can be to a nine year old. “We are working without a budget and with minimal resources,” Jared told me recently in an email. “We use free and open source software to produce our media on Linux-based machines.” It seems fitting, somehow, that they use free and open source software on Linux to make videos about free and open source software on Linux.

Recently, they launched a new series, “Superusers: The Legendary GNU/Linux Show,” which stars Aramis, a gnu who bares a strange resemblance to Richard Stallman, and a penguin named Adelie. The pilot episode for this series, called “Help,” deals with the Linux command by the same name and features some clever wordplay, utilizing lyrics from the old Beatles song. This would be in keeping with the brothers’ idea of making sure their videos appeal to kids and adults alike.

“Our target age group is nine to thirteen,” Jared explained, “though our videos were created to appeal to all kids of all ages. Toddlers too young to understand the concepts being taught in the show still like watching the puppets and animations, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, adults appreciate the subtle humor and numerous references to popular culture scattered throughout each episode.”

All of Hello World’s videos are posted for free viewing on their website. With fifty episodes available, you might think these brothers had been at it for a long time — maybe a decade or more. Actually, they’ve only been at it for a couple of years, releasing their first video in May of 2012.

“Our production value continues to improve with each video and tutorial we create,” Jared wrote. “‘Superusers: The Legendary GNU/LINUX Show’ is leagues ahead of our first episode, ‘What is a Robot?’ The ten computer science videos proposed in our Indiegogo campaign will only be better. We will focus on improving our script writing, fine-tuning the balance of education and entertainment, incorporating more animations, and refining our audio/visual production techniques.” So far, they’ve created videos under the subject headings Computer Science, Linux, Web Development and Python.

Both brothers have educational backgrounds on which to draw for this project. Jared has a BFA from MassArt in Studio for Interrelated Media, as well as a MFA from UC Irvine and JR has a BS in Digital Media from Utah Valley University. Both said that they discovered Linux and FOSS while working to build careers after completing college.

“I worked for the last decade designing and installing museum exhibits around the country,” Jared said. “It was through this work that I developed an appreciation for free and open source software and public education.”

As for JR: “I have spent the last six years as a web developer, creating websites for hundreds of law firms, universities, and nonprofit organizations across the nation. The web development field introduced me to Linux and open-source software, which I now use for all creative media production.”

Hello World’s Indiegogo campaign resembles a NPR fundraiser and offers six levels of contributions, from one buck to a thousand. So far, most contributors have been choosing the twenty dollar option, for which they’ll get ten videos and an illustrated e-book covering the basics of computer science. Three people have chosen the hundred dollar option, which means they’ll be able to have a video made for them on the subject of their choice.

In an age when tech start-ups with no chance of success routinely raise hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, I find it refreshing that these two only want a couple of grand so they can keep on doing what they love. I wish them success. I think these guys are on to something worthwhile and that their product will only improve with time. Besides, somebody has to be the Jim Henson of the Internet age — better that it be FOSS people.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one more of their videos, which I particularly like. This one is from their Web Development track.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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