Eddie Baker is a 16 year old high school student and his family was one of our Reglue 12 Geeks of Christmas program recipients. Not only did he qualify for a computer, his family was qualified for help with Internet via our Prometheus Project. Eddie is a big guy. He’s well over six feet tall and goes a good 230 pounds. The stuff football linebackers are made of. Football is of no interest to Eddie. When he says so, he’s almost apologetic in the way he says it. Here in Texas, high school football is darned near a religion.
He wants to study and work in the field of geology. Specifically, the archaeological wing of geology. Eddie wants to study things like the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. He wants to know more about what really happened in that time period. He wants to know how the molten rock and metals at our core generate a magnetic field that prevents us from being destroyed in a micro-second by a heartless, murderous universe.
Football is of no interest to Eddie. Eddie doesn’t care about games. He cares about contributing to the human condition in a positive way.
See, this is where we really get to know our Reglue kids. Often, we’ll invite our kids into our facility after school and on weekends. Some of them come by just to practice on a computer like they have at home. We enjoy showing these kids how to do the cool stuff. No, not the glitzy 3D stuff, but stuff like using Audacity and Calibre, Stellarium and GIMP. But most importantly…
The philosophy and meaning of free open source software.
Now I agree, if you want to kill a party buzz all you need to do is pull out your Book of Stallman and start repeating quotes. I mean, let’s be honest here. There’s nothing particularly exciting about FOSS.
Unless you’re Eddie Baker.
It was last Tuesday and Eddie came by at his normal time at 3:30 p.m. I was on the phone with the utility company and waved Eddie to his normal seat in the classroom. He smiled and waved back as he took his seat. A few days before, Eddie asked me if there were any good websites that teach Python. I gave him a list of the sites I knew but told him some of them might not be around any longer. I strayed far away from the coding side of the business when I founded Reglue.
I disconnected from my call and glanced up at Eddie. The bold text on the computer page was easily read, even by my old eyes. “Python Programming for Beginners.”
He had no idea I was watching him and probably didn’t care if I did. He would rapidly look from keyboard to screen, screen to keyboard, trying his best to keep up with the tasks in front of him. Probably three minutes had passed before I said anything to him.
“Eddie, do you know how to type?”
It took him a minute to realize I was talking to him. Once he realized I was, he snapped around and apologized.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Starks. I didn’t hear you.”
I nodded and pulled out a notepad from my shirt pocket. I flipped pages as if looking for some specific thing.
“Ah, here it is,” I said. “That’s four dollars you owe me.”
Eddie and I have a running shtick. He owes me 50 cents every time he calls me sir instead of Ken. Eddie Baker might not have had much money growing up, but he surely had a good home environment. His politeness is telling.
I asked him again, “Do you know how to type?”
To which he shook his head. “No, I don’t, Mr.…uh, I mean, Ken. I don’t.”
I explained to him that while the computing field goes through it’s various phases, typing is still a valuable skill and he would profit by learning. I guided him to one of the many touch-typing online courses he could take. I asked how he became interested in Python.
He went on to tell me how he had looked up “Linux” on the Internet and became interested in the “free” part of software. It took him a bit to get his head around the fact that people from around the globe are contributing to FOSS for not much more than the spirit of kinship and giving. From that moment, in Eddie Baker’s eyes software became more than things you click on to make other things happen.
It became a tool…a machine. Something he could learn to build…to create. And to give away.
Closing time rolled up on us. As usual, I offered to take him home. On the way we talked about sports and school stuff–where he wanted to attend college and other things. The conversation rolled around to family. Eddie hasn’t had the easiest of lives. Suffice it to say, his upbringing didn’t take place in the most stable of environments. Gangs have been approaching Eddie for a few years. Someone with his size is a solid gold capture for a gang. Eddie never gave them the time of day. Sadly, that’s not uncommon for some of our Reglue kids.
Eddie had one foot outside of the car before he turned back to me. “I forgot to tell you the last time. My mom wants you to call her.” With a nod and a check of my phone, I made sure I had her phone number in my contact list.
My own memory isn’t as good as it should be. I did a mental forehead slap later that night, grabbed my phone from its holster and at 9 p.m. that evening I called Bobbie Baker.
“Bobbie, this is Ken Starks. I’m calling you because Eddie said you wanted to speak with me.”
She did. Her sister lives in Columbus Texas and has a daughter about the same age as Eddie. She had told her mom that she needed a computer at home to work on homework and other school projects. She’s working after school to save up enough to buy one.
She wasn’t asking for a computer. She was asking if she could purchase one. I told her that she would more than certainly be able to do so.
We realize that there are a lot of people who don’t quite qualify for our services so we’ve made sure people who just miss the mark on Reglue qualification are not left out. We will sell anyone a decent dual core full desktop computer for $100.00. Those funds then go back into the Reglue account to help us run our operation.
This coming Saturday, I will point the Ford Explorer in the direction of Houston and I’ll make the two hour drive to Columbus. In that vehicle, I will have a nice dual core computer system loaded to include a subwoofer speaker system and an HP 21 inch monitor. You might be wondering, “Isn’t 100.00 a bit cheap for a nice computer like that?”
And I would answer you, yes it is. So I am going to raise the price.
Her mom can keep her $100.00 for as long as her daughter carries a grade “B” average for the rest of the school year. She’s already carrying a better GPA than that, so I have no doubts that we will never see that $100.00.
And that’s the way it should be.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue