LinuxCON Kids’ day

Part of this year’s LinuxCON / ContainerCON in Toronto was a full day program called Kids’ Day. Its purpose was to foster an interest in technology among junior nerds and the children of their nerd parents (raises hand). My 12 and 15 year olds were keen to lay hands on some hardware and hang out with like-minded instructors, so we signed up.

What we did not know at the time was that the program was organized by Kids on Computers (@kidsoncomputers, http://www.kidsoncomputers.org/), a charity dedicated toward bringing technology to communities where it doesn’t exist and where there is no internet access. Much of the first part of the session involved having the kids wipe Windows from a bunch of donated laptops and install GNU/Linux on them before they were to be shipped to Mexico as part of this endeavor. By my count, 17 kids were given flash drives with Ubermix (http://www.ubermix.org/) and were walked through the steps to boot off of the flash drive, select the script that did the nuking and paving. I imagined I could smell the uranium and asphalt on the ground.

Having cleansed and consecrated the hardware, the children were instructed to connect to a local network containing an Intel NUC specially designed to act as an offline Wikipedia / Khan Academy / Open Street Maps / <So much more> server. Once that was done, it was a simple matter to enter “school” into the laptop’s Firefox browser to pull up the school interface and to see what was there. A complete listing of the services offered can be found on the kidsoncomputers.org site (http://www.kidsoncomputers.org/knowledgebase) but I understand the NUC cost a little under $300 and runs CentOS.

As the laptops were connected to an ad-hoc network, they were able to ping and SSH to one another on the local network. The kids were shown how to do that and how to use SCP to move a greeting to other laptops with minimal/no security. When asked what I thought his greeting should say, I suggested ‘sudo apt install malware,’ which elicited a few chuckles. My sons had a grand time shutting each other’s systems down before I reminded them that they could change their administrator passwords or turn on the firewall. Thankfully, the instructors decided to move us along before things devolved into a mini black-hat conference.

The rest of the morning had the group playing with Scratch. For those of us old enough to remember, Scratch might remind you of the Logo language from a generation ago. But instead of moving a turtle around to create different shapes, you move a cat around and… create different shapes. The times, they are a changing.

The afternoon focused almost exclusively on the Arduino (https://www.arduino.cc/). Kids connected Arduino Unos to their former windows laptops and used the installed Arduino IDE to upload programs they created or modified to make lights blink faster or slower, make speakers play tunes and respond to button presses.

All in all, Kids’ Day was extremely productive – for the kids, certainly, but for the community, for the other kids to be served by their efforts and for the amazing instructors who put it all together.

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Eric Beyer
Eric Beyer is a general pediatrician in Canandaigua, New York who has played and worked with computers since the third grade. He has been using Linux regularly for the past ten years and is excited to learn from its awesome community. Eric provides Freedom Penguin with editorial assistance.

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