The Heart of Linux
In Southeast Texas, a young girl easily harnesses the power of GNU/Linux as she prepares for her future as a veterinarian in America’s heartland.
This past Sunday I had scheduled a Reglue installation for a young lady a couple of towns east of Taylor. This part of Central Texas is dotted with small towns. Some towns flourished during the golden age of the railroad, some grew to support miners for a local aluminum mine, and even others gathered as a farming and cotton textile hub. I like spending some time in these places, since my small town is much like these. They are barely a shadow of their former selves, their industries having dwindled or disappeared, but for some reason they remain.
The upside to these small towns is almost always the presence of extremely good school systems. The class sizes are at most 20 kids, but most often, in the mid teens. Some teachers who began their teaching careers here remain until they retire, at least those who do not have to move away due to spousal employment circumstances. It is not rare to have a fifth grade teacher attending his or her student’s high school graduation.
When I visit kids from these heartland towns, I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate time. Not of time past, but a different kind of time. A time where grade school kids are challenged by their homework assignments and look forward to that challenge, high school kids take food orders on roller skates evenings and weekends at the local Sonic drive-in, farm kids work the land with their parents, and almost every boy learns how to turn wrenches with his dad on Saturday mornings. A time where being referred to as “Sir” or “Ma’am” is the norm.
Holly would seem out of place in a larger social environment. Her dress is that of a maturing but modest 17-year-old young lady. Her auburn hair is loosely pulled back and wisps of it escape from time to time, which she brushes back behind her ear. I sit at the aircraft carrier deck these folks pass off as a kitchen table. The high ceilings and hardwood floors of the 110 year old farm house combine to leave me with a feel for the rugged and no nonsense craftsmanship. Holly’s mom enters the room and gathers cups for coffee.
Let’s take it back 30 minutes and talk about Holly’s first exposure to a GNU/Linux computer. While the whole GNU vs Linux war is long over, I still introduce the new user to the concept of GNU and the importance it plays in all of our lives. I explain that if I should not include the GNU in every iteration when speaking of Linux, it’s out of laziness. Holly understood and shook her head to affirm so.
This is where kids and adults begin to pull apart from each other…when we sit down at a new computer. When Holly took the bridge and knowingly clicked the icon on the bottom left of the computer screen, she knew exactly what she was doing. It was the “start menu.” A different icon size, shape and color didn’t deter her from doing what she wanted to do. It was an icon at the place to start, and she knew that. She glanced over at me and I thumbed the “listen to me talk like a robot” device and told her to do what she wanted to do. It’s now her computer. I wasn’t going to give her any instructions until she asked for them. I don’t think she’s going to.
She nodded and for all intents and purposes I could have stood up and quietly left the house. But I didn’t, because I wanted to know more about this future veterinarian.
Holly had been active in farm activities from the time she entered elementary school. Her “way” with animals was obvious when she gave me a tour of the family’s farm. What she wanted to do was specialize in large stock animals. She had helped her dad during calving season since she was 11. I grew up on a ranch and I won’t go into detail, but helping a mama cow deliver her calve(s) can get interesting. Up to your elbows interesting.
When Holly was getting used to her new computer, she navigated the web like a pro. Hand and eye coordination was extremely good and it wasn’t five minutes before she had bookmarked a dozen pages that she would reference at a later date. She was so focused on what she was doing that it was almost a shock to her when she noticed me still sitting next to her. She blushed and smiled while she apologized, When we went back into the kitchen, Holly’s mom asked how she liked the new computer. Holly didn’t miss a beat. “It’s better than that hunk of junk you have.”
That “hunk of junk” turned out to be a two year old HP desktop running Windows 8.1. The problem was the horrible amount of toolbars and “helper pages” that were cluttering the system. I was happy to show her what I was talking about. When I explained to her that her daughter’s computer would never likely suffer the same problems, she showed some real interest. In that she doesn’t do anything outside of the need for a web browser, she would be okay with a Linux machine. She told me that she would take Holly’s computer for a test drive and if she thought she could do her business on it, then she would contract me to come out and set her up.
A guy’s gotta eat, right? Naw…her money’s no good with me.
So, is this just another feel-good story about how another young person was able to put her efforts into a solid computer system? Well, yes and no. Holly is going to Texas A&M in the fall to begin her veterinarian training, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Reglue has presented disadvantaged kids with Linux-based computers since 2005, and we see the same thing over and over. This next generation will accomplish things that our last three generations could not. In 2016 alone, we have delivered machines to four kids with their eyes on the stars, wanting a career in aerospace or astro-physics, seven kids who want to be educators, two who will strive for degrees in computer science and eight who want to pursue the field of bio and robo-technology.
Oh, and one wo wants to be a veterinarian.
Could I have garnered this much satisfaction if setting up these kids with Windows machines? No…most of my time would be spent telling them how to protect themselves from viruses and hackers. While that is a valid concern in Linux, it’s not the most important part of operating a computer.
Learning how to become a veterinarian is. It most certainly is.
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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