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August 2nd, 2014

Linux Advocates in the Wild

Every now and then, you get the opportunity to show others what your Linux computer looks like. Some of those people will want to give Linux a shot on their computers as well. I can’t think of anything as gratifying as teaching someone how to use desktop Linux. On a personal level, I do it because I am sick of fixing friends’ and family’s Windows problems. On a professional level, well…that’s my job.

I want to tell you a story about one of those Linux conversions and the amazing ripple effect that one person caused. You just never know how far your kindness can spread.

tux_linux_inside_512Jaimee is a bright young lady. She attends a magnet school for the gifted and accelerated students in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She lives with her aunt during the school year and comes home to her family during the summer months. She will be a senior this coming school year and she is focusing on a career in physics. The entrance exam for this magnet school is brutal.Think of it as SATs on steroids. And this is just the high school.

Jaimee had a hard time finding a school that could cater to her intelligence and readiness to learn, but once she found her current school she felt at home. Jaimee hadn’t thought much about what branch of physics she wanted to study in college. A young woman of her aptitude has plenty areas of study from which to choose.

When Higgs boson was proclaimed to the world, she knew what she wanted to do. She wants to study particle physics. Wow. Sometimes I feel like such a fraud in front of these kids. I’d be happy with 1/4 of their intelligence.

At the end of the school year a few year’s back, we were told that Jaimee was extremely bright. The oldest child in a family of five, her mother passed away after a protracted battle with breast cancer and she took on the duties of mother and mentor for her siblings. Her family was close to broke. When we heard that she couldn’t afford a computer for her studies, we were more than happy to help.

As far as Linux is concerned, there wasn’t any learning curve for Jaimee and she told me so. When I was explaining the difference between Windows, Linux and Mac, she brushed the explanation off and summarized it quaintly.

“It’s not a big deal,” she told me. “You see an icon, you click an icon and stuff happens.” I smiled and thought inwardly, “Stuff happens indeed.” You may have heard or read me say the exact same thing. Now you know that I stole it from a brilliant 15 year old girl.

So now I’ve told you all of that so I can tell you this…

Almost three weeks ago I got a call from a single mom of three. She had heard about our program and wanted to know if she qualified. I made the one hour drive to Kyle, Texas and sat with Melissa long enough to discern if she qualified for our help. She certainly did. I also explained to her that the laptop to be given her oldest son didn’t use Windows, it used Linux.

She shrugged it off and told me that they were a Linux family. The old ramshackle Pentium 4 single core with 2 gigs of RAM in her living room was running an old but solid build of PCLinuxOS. I asked Melissa how she came to use Linux and she told me that her son had installed it on their old computer and they saved a lot of money since they didn’t have to have a new computer to use Linux.

Chalk one up for Team Linux.

I arrived the next Saturday and met with Melissa again and she introduced me to her son Trace. It was nice doing an install and not having to spend an hour giving the recipients the Grand Tour. Trace was as at home with Linux as he was with his own bedroom. He showed me a bash script/cron job he wrote that ran the command line program Fdupes every two weeks.

Color me impressed.

So as we were talking shop, I asked Trace how long he had been using Linux at home. Trace told me that a kid he went to school with in the Lakeway school district turned him on to it when he was a freshman and they had been using Linux ever since.

Now, at one time our shop was located in Lakeway and I was curious about who his Linux mentor might be. Trace wrote down the phone number of his friend Willum and I got back in my truck to make the drive home.

A week later I ran across the crumpled piece of paper that had Willum’s number on it and I called. I told him who I was and that his friend Trace had given me his number. Yeah, he used Linux. He told me that a lady who was friends with his mom had told him about it.

The lady who was friends with Willum’s mom was a good friend of a woman who provided hospice care to a woman dying of breast cancer. That was Jaimee’s mom.

She stopped by every now and then to check up on Jaimee’s family. On one of those trips, she complained to Jaimee that her computer was eaten up with viruses and she was going to buy a new computer. Jaimee showed her the Linux laptop she used and helped her set it up on her machine.

I sat there on the phone, trying to put together the circle of events that had just been revealed to me. All I could do was shake my head in wonder…

This is a story of us, the Linux desktop community, and what one small, seemingly inconsequential moment in time can have on many.

Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

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