“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Let’s talk about the future, as understood by today’s children who will ultimately shape that future.
In the course of a normal day, for every adult with whom I speak, there are two kids who add to the day’s conversations. Sometimes they are 17 year’s old, sometimes they are anywhere from 9-12. Regardless of the “sometimes,” one thing remains a constant: These kids will shape the world in which they live, equaling and surpassing the accomplishments of their fathers or even their grandfathers, those fearful but heroic men who faced withering gunfire and certain death on foreign beaches, men who prematurely ended the Third Reich to insure those after them would not have to, and men who died so those approaching the land could advance.
Their sacrifice changed the future of millions, and the kids I work with are indeed that future. Kids like Brandon, a well-spoken eighth grade student in Taylor, Texas.
The organization I head, Reglue, supplied Brandon and his family with a computer so Brandon would not have to walk home from the library after dark. His family does not own a car and the library was the only place he could go to use an Internet connected computer, necessary to complete his assigned homework. Greatly influenced by Neil deGrasse Tyson — who in turn was influenced by Carl Sagan — he hopes to one day be an astrogeologist, and is already talking with his teachers and parents about the things he has to do to prepare for work in this field. Having a computer in the home on which to study is a good first step.
There is one person, evidently representing many, who disagrees with me. For a period of four months a few years back, he was a sure-fire first commenter on articles I posted on the Blog of Helios. “You’re not doing those kids any favors by giving them a Linux computer,” he would write. “In the real world, at most, Linux is a curiosity. The rest of the world is using Windows, and you are giving them rocks and a stick.”
Rocks and a stick? That’s a curious way to express Linux, the kernel that is the center of the majority of supercomputers around the world. I’ve heard it expressed or compared a lot of ways, but I don’t think “rocks and a stick” was one of them — up until then at least. But he’s not alone in his way of thinking. I remember a conversation I had with a colleague in 2005 who held the same view and went so far as to stop working with our newly-formed organization. He stated that he would not put his efforts into a losing cause. I vaguely remember that my response made mention of asses, doors and all of that.
Originally, in 2005, Reglue was called The HeliOS Project. Many of you might be surprised to know that at first we didn’t consider Linux for the operating system on the computers we’d be handing out. It made sense to me that if the rest of the world used Windows, we should probably do the same, even though my business was a 100 percent Linux shop. However, using Windows on our outgoing computers immediately hit a concrete wall, which we smacked into pretty good.
We contacted Microsoft often, asking them to donate a few licenses for our nonprofit use, but not once did anyone from Redmond have the courtesy of returning our calls or letters, even though some letters were sent certified mail. Microsoft is big on talking about building sustaining communities as long as the cameras are rolling. Outside of that, not so much. In our case, not at all. The loudest response we received? Cue the chirping crickets. In a way, one could deduce that Microsoft actually left us no other option but to use Linux on our computers, and it was the best thing that could happen to us.
We even made it a practice for a while to snail mail Bill Gates letters every month, depicting the number of new Windows computers we replaced with Linux machines. Early on, we would remove the Windows case badges from our computers as we made the switch and stick them on a World War II fighter, designating one more “kill” for our Linux shop. They ignored those too, but in reality there wasn’t anything they could do by way of reaction. Eventually we stopped acting so childish and ceased the weekly mail-outs to Redmond…mostly.
But back to our latest critic who thinks we are harming our Reglue kids chances of success. All I can do is shake my head as I mentally count the number of our kids who have entered college using Linux, who’ve been accepted into graduate programs using Linux, and who’ve found an affordable way to extend the life of their older machines by using Linux.
If we’ve been supplying unusable computers to these kids, it looks to have paid off. Some of those we’ve mentored have gone on to earn six figure incomes as software engineers and architects. Many have taken their use of free and open source software into classrooms of their own, teaching computer science and engineering.
I offer this critic the opportunity to come work with me for a week, side by side, and to see for himself what we do and who we work with. I can promise him, that whether he admits it or not, he’s been dead wrong all of these years.
Tomorrow, I will place two more stickers on that old airplane. Somehow it just makes me feel good to do so.
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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