[ale] Notes from Jun 19th meeting

Jim Kinney jim.kinney at gmail.com
Sat Jun 21 12:13:10 EDT 2008

On Fri, Jun 20, 2008 at 9:40 PM, Geoffrey Myers <lists at serioustechnology.com>

My apologies, Geoffrey. I seem to be having a mental block at getting people
to see the much bigger picture. So I'll try it again and maybe not hit as
many nerves :-)

It is a decidedly unrealistic expectation that any general purpose computing
environment be expected to perform all things for all people at all times.
We don't ask this of any other product so why do we ask it of a pile of

Currently schools are facing another round (every year with out fail since
1980) of overall budget cutbacks. The 1970 dollars per pupil budget has
dropped precipitously and the trend shows no end in sight.

Now the schools are expected to to integrate technology into their daily
process. While they often get a bit of extra money to fund the initial
purchase, the ongoing costs are the continued burden of the schools.

Along the way, schools send people to conferences like NECC where they get
schmoozed by the companies that write lock-in software that the only way to
improve <insert test score or other parameter here> is with their software.
It seems like such a good idea. Spend a few kilobucks and wham! <something>
improves. Except they need to get the upgrade and buy a support package and
get training and because they paid kilobucks they _have_ to use it. It is a
requirement. Even if it doesn't work. Or it's so single purpose they can do
anything else with it. In fact, the people with the ability to look at other
tools are actively discourage from doing so.

So here we come. The "free software" zealots. Preaching the virtues of stuff
that _we_ know works often better than the kilobuck stuff. The demo gets
shown and one person pipes up and says "that's all nice but can it do

Remember, this is a general purpose system that has now been tasked with
doing a very specific task by someone who probably just learned how to do it
on <despicable platform> and barely knows the process at all. They are
looking for an easier way to do <foo> without looking <foo>lish (sorry. bad
pun :) in front of their peers who probably can't do <foo> at all.

The schools need help. Desperately. They need a top to bottom cleaning of
technology. For the most part they need leadership with technical ability.

I have not found a use for a windows or mac desktop environment in the past
10 years. Yes, I said 10 years. Way before the distro's all started the push
towards a desktop environment. The issue for the schools that is not
addressed is planning. What do the NEED to use technology for?. Need is not
the same as want.

Well, I've got sidetracked and have now lost my train of thought on this.  A
final closing remark:
Everything that any school really needs from computers can be done with a
Linux system. What we have to do is focus not on the existing software that
will not work in Linux but on the new capabilities that they will have. They
will be making a tiny, nearly insignificant sacrifice to make the
transition. But the schools are terrified of the unknown. They already know
that what they have is unreliable. All we are offering in their mind is
another way to have more computers unused because of problems. What they
don't understand at any level is the rock-solid stability of the Linux
platform will provide a solid infrastructure for the basic technology needs
of finding information, writing a synopsis or critic or other evaluation and
presenting it to teachers for their evaluation of student learning. The core
of education is the use of language skills. Fedora 9 ships with translated
environments for about 40 languages. Other distro's do similar. That is a
heavy strength.

James P. Kinney III
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