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Linux and Kids: A Tale of Success as a Hero Battles for Life

By Katherine Noyes
Aug 20, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Well it was a dark, dark week in the Linux blogosphere last week, as further evidence of the economy's sickly state spread across the land.

Linux and Kids: A Tale of Success as a Hero Battles for Life

Tale after tale of personal tragedy has popped up on Google+ and beyond, in fact, making it more clear than ever that the magnitude of this economic crisis has reached nothing short of epic proportions.

Perhaps most notable among all the heart-wrenching stories, however, was the saddening news of the Linux community's very own Ken Starks.

For those who don't know him, Starks is a Linux advocate who has worked tirelessly for years equipping underprivileged kids with refurbished and Linux-powered PCs through the HeliOS Project, which has figured on LinuxInsider's virtual pages on several occasions in the past.

Today, however, Starks is fighting for his life in a brave battle against cancer.

'This Leaves Us With About 2 Weeks'

"Ken's cancer has just recently begun to spread to his right lymph node, but his Oncologist has assured us that this is 80 percent curative if he gets the needed surgery in time," wrote Starks' life partner, Diane, in a blog post on Thursday.

"Unfortunately, his 1100 dollar a month SSI disability disqualifies him for Medicaid care and the local county low-income insurance he was receiving," Diane added. "This leaves us with about 2 weeks to either raise enough money for at least the OR for the surgery (we are hopeful of finding a surgeon to do the work pro bono) or raise enough money for the entire procedure."

It's heart-breaking enough to hear a tale like this even when the person in question is a stranger. When it's our own Starks -- a true hero who has done so much good for the world -- it's simply unbearable.

An Indiegogo campaign is now under way to raise funds for Starks' surgery.

'A Computer Lab for Free'

Of course, even during the darkest of times there's still good to be found in the world, and -- speaking of Linux and kids -- it would be difficult to find a better example than that of Robert Litt, a sixth-grade teacher in California.

"How One Teacher Built a Computer Lab for Free" is the title of a recent article describing Litt's efforts on, and there's no denying it's an impressive story.

With Linux and 18 old, donated PCs, Litt reportedly launched an effort that has transformed technology education at ASCEND, a small K-8 school in the Alameda County School District.

Litt has not only enriched the lives of countless California kids, but also brought a fresh wave of inspiration to the Linux-loving masses.

'A Good Inspiration'

"While Microsoft locks into contracts with educational institutions, it's a nice change to see this sort of thing happening," wrote pinkushun on Slashdot, for example.

Indeed, "a good inspiration to other schools," agreed captainpanic. "Let's hope some teachers read this, because education could use a little boost that costs nothing at all."

And again: "With the onslaught of Apple, it's touching to read a Linux success story, like in the old days of Slashdot," wrote Compaqt. "The story of these 6th graders gives lie to the claim of TCO, training and so on. If kids can figure it out, what's wrong with you (talking to you dumb office workers)."

Similar sentiments could be heard down at the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge, where Linux Girl has recently been spending a disproportionate amount of her time.

'That Should Exist in All Schools'

"What an excellent way to make use of old PCs and hopefully raise the next generation of geeks," enthused consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, for instance.

"Of course, the next thing he needs to do is start teaching the kids how to install and maintain these things," Mack added. "As a geek who spent his early teen years piecing together old computers just to have something to work on, I know how good a learning experience it would be."

Similarly, "every school should have Linux PCs," agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. "With the education budgets we see in today's society, there's no justification for paying a dime to Microsoft when that money could be better spent elsewhere. Robert Litt's story is a great one, and that kind of project should exist in all schools."

'It's Really Easy These Days'

Blogger and educator Robert Pogson, in fact, has been doing something similar for more than a decade, he told Linux Girl.

"It's really easy these days with more intelligent installers and LTSP being a part of several major distros," Pogson explained.

Yet "while GNU/Linux will run on almost any old PC found in schools, I recommend using a few newer machines as GNU/Linux terminal servers and run the old machines as thin clients," Pogson suggested. "That way, you get the performance of the new machines on the old machines.

"Everyone loves that unless they are doing full-screen video when network lag is a problem," he added. "For point and click browsing or editing or searching, LTSP works like a charm."

'The Best Option for Education'

The fact is that "schools spend a bundle on teachers, buildings and utilities and often too little on IT," Pogson opined. "GNU/Linux, being the lowest cost option, is the best option for education.

"When I was teaching, it was usually possible to get dozens of donated PCs for the cost of delivery," he concluded. "I wiped the OS, usually that other OS with a really restrictive license, and often had years of trouble-free performance. Compare that with the endless re-re-reboots and malware of that other OS."

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol also had experience with a similar initiative.

'The US Lags Behind'

"I was involved from 2007 to 2010 in the project (here in Brazil) 'Computador para Todos'," Ebersol told Linux Girl.

Through that project, the government would buy computers and send them -- equipped with Linux -- to the nation's schools.

"That was a wonderful success," he said, primarily for the way it exposed countless students to IT, since even poor schools could have a good number of machines.

"It amazes me how the U.S. lags behind" in this respect, Ebersol concluded. "GNU/Linux in schools is awesome! We proved it here and it works wonderfully."

'That Is What Linux Is About'

Last but not least, "I think the key take-away here is not that Linux is 'Free as in beer' but that Linux is better," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien told Linux Girl. "This teacher could take computers that were 'broken' with Windows, and make them useful with Linux."

Particularly notable, too, is that "the report never mentions that Linux is 'too hard' or required students to use the command line," O'Brien pointed out. "Instead, they talk about online searches, using a spreadsheet, and making music with a synthesizer.

"That is what Linux is about in 2012," O'Brien concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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