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September 29th, 2015

The Young, the Gifted & the Linux Proficient

Her name is Natalia and she doesn’t have a clue about what is in store for her tomorrow. Natalia started high school this year. She’s not only an honor roll student, she’s musically gifted as well. Natalia studies the piano, tenor sax and now the cello. She was inspired by the group “Two Cellos” and she begged her mom to buy her a cello. Well, that’s not possible in her home with their current income. Natalia’s mom works two jobs to make it and the only instrument she has at home is an old tenor sax that she found in a pawn shop. However, an uncle did respond and he is buying her a cello at the end of October.

MusicNatalia is able to practice piano four hours a week. Two hours at her school, another hour at a local community-sponsored recreation center and one hour at the local library. That library has several music rooms. Her mom takes her to these various places when she returns from work each evening. Natalia’s mom doesn’t have much time to herself, she’s a single parent who wants nothing more than for her child to succeed.

Tomorrow, Natalia is going to receive a laptop. It’s powered by an AMD Phenom II quad with a 500 gig hard drive and I’ve upgraded it to 12 gigs of RAM. This machine will give her the ability to take her own computer to a computer lab she will begin after the winter semester break. This laptop, along with many others have been donated by nFusion in Austin, Texas. We’ll be covering our relationship with nFusion here in the next couple of weeks so check back often. If not for nFusion’s first equipment donation to our organization, I doubt we would be where we are today. They gave us the machines we needed to move into full tilt boogie mode. It’s where we want to be. We’ve not slowed down since.

Natalia or her mom are not strangers to Reglue. We installed a computer in their home in 2011. It’s an old Dell Optiplex 745. I say “old” only because it’s long out of production, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been useful. When I show up tomorrow, I’ll take a look at it and see if it can be serviced there on the spot, and if everything is in order, I will max it out with the RAM I’ll bring along.

Natalia will have a desktop and a laptop. Why? Because Natalia is a gifted child. Extremely gifted. Two years ago, she received a B on her report card and she was inconsolable. As her mother recounted the story, Natalia’s body was racked with sobs when she saw the report card on the table when she came home. She thought she had failed her mom. It killed her to think that she got anything less than perfect. Natalia isn’t driven by anything or anyone but herself. That’s how amazing this kid is. She possesses an intensity that might disturb some people. When she talks to you, she looks you in the eye and her gaze does not waver until the conversation is over. She isn’t distracted by anything. Yeah, that can disturb some. Me for instance.

File CabinetBut that personal drive and determination doesn’t stop there. Let me tell you about Natalia’s first exposure to the Linux desktop.

When we first introduce Linux to a new user, whether child or adult, we take our time with the introductory stuff. The file system itself is a sticking point with many new Linux users. The ever-present “My Documents” isn’t to be found. Instead, they have their “Home” folder. Now, that’s easy enough to explain. In fact, we show them just how much easier their file system is for them under Linux.

Most of everything they will ever need to access is in the “Home” folder. On top of that, if this is a Reglue Kid, that Home folder is often the new user’s name, so that further simplifies the process. It doesn’t take long to sell the file system to the new user. For the majority of Reglue kids, their home folder is the only folder they have any business in anyway. For those a bit more advanced, we take the time for the full file management spectrum.

I soon discovered that Natalia wasn’t to be found in that 90 plus percent of new users. I spent another 30 minutes explaining where her “program files” were as well as some other “hidden” files she might need. I also purchase for her “Understanding the Linux File System Hierarchy.” Over the years, and specifically since 2008, there have been only eight Reglue Kids who would benefit from that book, and a book we gladly purchased for them. The stinger here is that Natalia is a full four years younger than the last person who received that book from us. Did I mention that Natalia is a gifted child? Oh, yeah…I probably did.

So tomorrow, I will be again meeting an old friend. Natalia’s mom and I have kept in touch over the years but we haven’t seen each other since I installed Natalia’s first computer. We’ve talked, Natalia’s mom and I…we’ve talked about the challenges of raising a gifted child on one’s own. How the descriptors of “gifted” and “motivated” are not always found together within that special person. I’m the parent of one such child so I know the challenges that might occur.

We’ve talked about Natalia’s interests and goals.

Oh yes, Natalia is most certainly a goal-oriented young lady. It’s just that those goals change as often as from week to week. Two months ago, she wanted to be mentored by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Last month, she announced her desire to go to New York and design clothes specifically for her generation, clothing that highlights and complements any ink artwork on the body. Asking Natalia about what she sees in her future is like trying to snatch a straw from the funnel of a tornado. You need to keep up with this girl if you want a conversation with her.

So why have I spent this amount of time telling you about a high school freshman with advanced placement skills? Because she’s the face of her generation. She’s the woman who will lead and she will lead upon and through many levels and disciplines. She will make the decisions that could profoundly affect her environment and those who make up that environment. Natalia’s leadership potential is evident within a 30 minute conversation. Her love for technology will play a big part in her future.

Natalia wondered aloud why more people don’t use Linux and free open source software. She also expressed concern about people not knowing how invasive most every other computer system can be — ;potentially anyway. She wasn’t asking me. She was setting up an environment in her mind…an environment built specifically to answer those questions. An environment that helps her plan a way for her to do something about it.

Natalia is most certainly a young lady who knows her place. Her place is in the forefront. I suppose what strikes me most profoundly is that she doesn’t doubt for a moment that she will be a leader. She just has to figure out who it is she will lead.

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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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