Forget Duke Nuke ‘Em. Look at THIS.

My wife is a pretty amazing English teach in an amazingly deprived high school. I try and do what I can to help out when I can. I make things for school plays. I’ve painted backgrounds for show choirs. I’ve talked at career days. The thing that never fails to stun me with the students I interact with is the profane lack of technology in their education. When I talk to people who know about such things, it seems that schools either are flush with technology (eg students are issued laptops annually) or they are suffering through school with a War Games tech stack.

While I was at Southeast Linux Fest a few months ago, I saw two separate talks that led me to come up with the idea that might just help a little with this problem. The first talk was by Leslie Hawthorne about Humanitarian FOSS. One of the people at the talk mentioned a project she’d worked on with the girl scouts where each girl in the class was given a thumb drive with a a live Linux distribution on it. They would boot off of the USB drives, save their work to the USB stick, and when it was done they would take it with them.

It was as if someone had just cracked a board over the back of my head. OF COURSE. Not only are they exposed to Linux and FOSS tools, but they walk away with their OWN OPERATING SYSTEM. This was genius on every level. Even though I spoke with her later that weekend, I cannot for the life of me remember her name to give her the proper credit.

The second half of my thought came from Greg DeKoenigsberg, about FOSS and education. His talk in part was focused in on an idea he was working on where he was using an existing HTML5 gaming engine to make educational video games. He demo’d a game that had ~20 hours of effort in it at the time that was something like The Legend of Zelda meets 6th grade math. Greg’s project is on GitHub here.

The second board snapped over my large melon at this point. WHAT IF, you could hijack a programming or engineering or anything high-school level class once or twice a week for 8-10 weeks, teach the kids how to get around on a Live CD with a Fedora or Ubuntu spin on it, and have them actually MAKE THEIR OWN VIDEO GAME. This would diverge a little from the concept because the game itself wouldn’t have to be educational. The education would come in making the game itself.

  • Analytical Thinking
  • Problem Sovlving
  • Basic Algorithms
  • Programming Basics
  • High-end technology basics
  • Exposure to FOSS

At the end, for the kids who finished, they could upload their game to a server of some sort to make it available if they like, or just have it on their thumb drive. It would be  a stretch to do it in that timeframe, but if you had a ready-made example, and prepped examples and snippets on the thumb-drive installs of Linux before hand where they could plug and chug and spend time where it was important it could be done, I think.  Maybe 12 weeks, but certainly not more than that, and that’s at 1-2 times/week.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I sincerely think that kids would definitely like even a simple 8-bit game if they made it themselves. And if they learned how to make a for loop and a while loop and how to think through a problem during the process, then all the better. And one of the best things is that it could be done in any computer lab that could boot off of a USB stick. You could even modify it to a Live CD / thumb drive combo if you had to in a pinch.

Outside of the usb drives and prep time, the total cost would be $0. We would use 100% FOSS tools to MAKE THEIR OWN VIDEO GAMES.

I think it would be amazing, and I would love to try it out sometime soon.


SE Linux Fest Highlights

>From June 10-12 this year, a thousand or so fans of Linux and Free/Open Source Software got together in Spartanburg, SC to get smarter, talk about what they believe in, network a little, and drink top-shelf booze paid for by sponsors. In all of those, and many other, respects the 2011 incarnation of Southeast Linux Fest was a huge success.

While it’s three days long, the climax of the event is Saturday, which has the vendor tables going strong and is bookended by keynote addresses to start and end the day. Somehow, though, the schedule this year had a few oddities that ended up giving me even more enjoyable time, and ended up providing my own personal geek peak on the first day of the conference.

Friday started with Jared Smith (, the Fedora Project Leader, delivering a talk about Open Source communities and how upstream and downstream communities ultimately benefit one another. It’s a great talk with even better visuals.  While I heard an earlier incarnation of it in October when he visited Richmond, VA (, it truly never fails to impress. It brings the whole idea of community into a crystal-clear focus that is often hard to find when talking about such an abstract idea when we’re all so used to dealing with regression tests and overloaded classes.

The last speaker on Friday, Leslie Hawthorn (, was perhaps even better. Reading Leslie’s bio is an experience itself. The work she’s doing is amazing on multiple levels. To hear her talk about the causes and ideas that the holds dear is the closest I’ve been personally to wanting to win one for the Gipper. She makes you want to devote your time and efforts (and maybe your life) to these amazing causes.

Lots of people are talking about the keynotes from SELF 2011, and they were both great. A particular thank you to Tom “Spot” Callaway, for slaying the 800 lb. cloud in the corner with his first few slides in the afternoon keynote address. But for my (meager) money, two of the best talks happened while the main rooms were still being set up. I wish they’d have gotten a little more attention at the time, and I hope they get a little more attention when the SELF folks get the videos online from all of the talks.

I met some great people who are doing the work every day to keep the concept of Open Source happening, and it always helps to re-focus my own thoughts on where I want to make my contribution.  SELF 2011 was certainly not an exception to this. For anyone who thinks Linux and free or open source solutions are the hear of technology’s future, SELF 2012 should go on to your calendars now.