What’s Worth Teaching to the Poor

A few years ago I saw a news report on Brazilian television about a man in a poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro teaching children to play musical instruments. More recently I saw a similar feel-good story on the same channel about a man who’s taught music to kids in the poor communities surrounding Brasília. Similar tales are told and re-told in Brazil of people taking the initiative to teach music, dance and other arts to poor and at-risk youth. I honestly think this is great, as the arts help people explore their creativity and can build self-confidence. However, no one should ever think that the arts are a way out of poverty for the majority. Ever.

What troubles me is that near the end of almost every news report about teaching the arts to poor kids, they ask the children what they hope to gain from what they’re learning. Always…always they mention “opportunities.” I’m sorry, opportunities to do what? Play on the streets for spare change? Play at the mall food court for practice?

Again, it’s wonderful to teach children to sing, dance, paint, play musical instruments and write poetry. These disciplines enrich our lives and occupy a central role in what it means to be human. However, don’t expect to make money doing any of these things. If you want to help a young person to find her way out of the margins of society, help her learn math and science. At the very least teach a practical trade. Carpentry, masonry, plumbing, etc. In my case, the area is open source and the specific fields are system administration and programming.

People tend to specialize in subsets of either system administration or programming, but rarely do both. If someone trains to be a Linux system administrator, for example, he likely won’t go very in-depth learning a programming language like Ruby. The same holds true for programmers with regards to system administration. There may be some overlap, but not a lot. For this reason I’m asked from time to time whether I plan to go more into development or system administration. I hesitate, not because I’m uncertain, but rather because I like the two areas and also hope to learn skills in both that I can then teach.

In the past few months I’ve blogged about John “maddog” Hall’s Project Cauã. It is an effort to initiate a sustainable solution for people to go into business for themselves using system administration skills, creating their own opportunities and providing a valuable service. It’s a source of income that can make a world of difference for people on the edge of poverty.

Another project I’m excited to be participating more directly in is Ruby Nuby. This project aims to teach Ruby on Rails development to entrepreneurs and others who can then help at-risk youth learn Ruby on Rails, possibly even hiring them.

One project uses system administration skills, while the other focuses more on development. I like both, and from these and other initiatives (including Linux Against Poverty and ByteWorks) I hope to gather information and experience and form a picture of how I can work in Brazil to help young people reach beyond social and economic class into which they were born.

While I lived in Brazil teaching English and working with a church I was amazed at the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of the people there. I believe that this innate creativity and even optimism can be encouraged and brought to bloom in meaningful, transformational ways as people gain valuable work skills. Math, science and vocational training. These are what can make the most positive economic impact in people’s lives. A few years from now, through open source tech training in the context of a broader community development program (perhaps even including the arts, for reason cited above), I hope to begin making a real difference.  In the meantime, I’m learning, preparing and, hopefully, growing.

See Also:

Someplace Wired
Doing It Wrong
Ministering on the Emerging Grid
Being the Change

The Origins of Ruby Nuby

The following was posted recently by Malcolm Arnold, founder of Ruby Nuby, to the group’s discussion list on Google.

I was researching Open Source Social Networking Platforms (OSSNPs) to build a social network on community activism where a portion of the community who were programmers and believed in the cause would actually programming the site. I spent 4-5 months fulltime evaluating platforms and languages and even went to Elgg Camp (PHP based) at Harvard. Elgg was the clear leader for my very specific criteria IMHO (Buddypress had not been released).

I came to the conclusion that if my concept failed that I would be stuck with PHP as the technology that I would have learned and would use on future endeavors. My goal then and now is to fail as fast as
possible and to iterate anew.

If I chose PHP, then I would have to code in PHP…eeewwww;)

I was reentering programming after a 16 year layoff. My major was Computer Science 20 years ago and I learned Assembly, Pascal, ADA and Fortran. I did this paper on this brand new technology that had just been invented call Hyper Text Markup Language. I explored how it was going to totally revolutionize the learning process by enabling the user to choose the paths of learning and resources to learn from or about. I did nothing with CS in the military as I became a Russian Interrogator, later Counter-Intelligence Agent and led teams of both.  Later still, I designed training including language training.

Ruby was the clear choice even though the RoR OSSNPs were very nascent and there weren’t that many programmers out there.

So I started learning RoR. I saw there was not a streamlined curriculum and the resources for Nubies were VERY lacking. Some good to great resources here but no clear strategy for a streamlined
learning process that would have one hire-able in 90 days. Without any programming knowledge, a dedicated talented student studying full-time should be hire-able after 90-120 days in a capacity that
contributes to a company.

Ding Ding Ding

I will form Ruby Nuby. Take advantage of the market conditions where: everyone want to learn this,
no one knows how to go about it companies desperately need developers and create incentives for everyone to work together to do social good that that greatly favors their economic self-interests.

I will take my original idea and template it upon the RoR community.  I will learn all the skills needed to fulfill my original idea: how to start a 501(3)c, do social good on a global scale, build a social
movement from the ground up, create incentives for disparate groups and individuals to work collaboratively towards common goals even though they may have different goals or interests.

I will help train the community of activists who are programmers. A subset of this community will then feel drawn to my original idea when I release it in the future and will help build that site which would
be based upon community activism.

What is the follow on to the Ruby Nuby social movement?

Stay tuned..we have to build out Ruby Nuby first. We are only in the 0.01 edition..you could say at doing social good, we are …. Nubies;)

Malcolm Arnold

PS. I hate calling myself the Founder as that elevates me or puts me in a different class. We are a collective working together. I prefer RubyNuby01. Think of us as an array moving forward to do social good, working collaboratively to support each other and working with those who want to help in our socio-economic mission. With regards to our collective array moving forward, as RubyNuby01 I am just on end of the array. Though, I would prefer to be…Malcolm in the Middle;)

Being the Change

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us realize that all is not well in the world. Some mistakenly believe that things were better and steadily getting worse, while the evidence actually seems to be that there have been relatively “better” and “worse” periods in human history. It also sort of depends on what basis you grade the situation. Availability of food, medicine and shelter, moral conditions or all of the above plus others?

One way or the other, there’s evil out there. From convenience abortions in the West to grinding poverty in the developing world to sporadic genocides to…well…all points in between. Ever since I can remember people have complained that the news is almost always bad news (feel-good human-interest stories being the single exception).

In response some people take action, while the majority appear to remain indifferent, concerning themselves with their own lives and issues.  In taking steps to deal with perceived injustices, varying approaches are tried. Lobbying, ballot initiatives, pushes for diplomatic and trade embargoes, awareness campaigns, etc.

Although I see value in some of the above, I think there’s nothing better than direct action, whether individual or collective in scope.  I’ve experienced the frustration of attempting to get people on board for projects and seeing either no interest in return, or unfulfilled promises. If a band of people willing to work together for a common good can be formed, great. If not, I’m going to “be the change” anyway.

Take Christian unity as an example.  I’ve already blogged here about the “missional purpose” of Christian unity. Talking about our commonalities and differences is fine, but shared mission is far better way. In fact, the purpose of Christian unity is better, more effective (and credible) mission. If, as a member of a local church of the Stone-Campbell Movement, I find that there is resistance to getting involved with the work of other, neighboring churches of the same fellowship (though perhaps a different branch of the same), I can’t give up.  Christian unity is biblical. If no one will join me, I’ll still live this principle, participating in and helping with the mission of those other churches. Whether anyone joins me or not (and it’s hoped some would, eventually), I will still act on my convictions.

Rather than see something wrong in the world and say, “There’s no point in doing anything until other people change,” we need to learn to say, “Whether or not anyone joins me, I will be the change needed to address this situation.” You likely won’t solve the entire problem, but what you do will be meaningful, have value and give your life a sense of purpose.

Let’s get out there and do something.

“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17 NIV

See Also:
How to Take on a Passion Project When You Have a Job (GOOD)

D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution (NYTimes)


Two Recommended Sites for Linux Admin Newbies (or Wannabes)

There are two sites I highly recommend to anyone just beginning to get into Linux system administration.

First, Linux Magazine. This site regularly publishes articles related to Linux, and specifically system administration. Aside from pointers, the articles help keep me updated about what’s going on in open source technology related to Linux.

Second, The Geek Stuff. This site only publishes howtos involving Bash, Perl and the like. If you want to get familiar with the command line a little bit every day, check this site out.

Both of these sites offer RSS and e-mail subscriptions. I subscribe to both and look forward to seeing what they offer every day. Some days are better than others, but overall I gain a lot from keeping tabs on these sites.

Stand Your Ground 2010

If you live in eastern Pennylvania or New Jersey and have (or are) a teen, you don’t want to miss out on this years “Stand Your Ground” at Camp Manatawny.

Stand Your Ground (SYG) is a one-day youth rally held on the Camp Manatawny grounds.  Young people grades 6 – 12 are encouraged to be there for a day of fun, prayer, and worship.  I’ve spoken with Mark Zielinski, youth minister with the Freehold Church of Christ, and I’m impressed by his commitment to and conviction about working with youth.  SYG is an opportunity for teens to get away from their daily routine and the challenges they face, and refocus on their lives as disciples of Christ.  Mark is co-director this year, along with Carl Williamson (lead minister with Brunswick Church of Christ), and they have made a 10-year commitment to revitalize SYG as an effective means of encouragement and outreach for youth.

Here are some details:

  • Date: October 16, 2010.
  • $30 registration fee, payable in advance on the Camp Manatawny website, or on location the day of the event.
  • Registration on-site begins at 9am. Activities begin at 10am.
  • Parents or other adults who attend will be responsible for the groups they take, and are also required to register.
  • Two meals are included in the cost of registration. Extra money should be taken for canteen. T-Shirts and Sweatshirts will also be available for purchase.

Also, anyone going from New Jersey has the option of going with a larger group by bus, free of charge.  It will be leaving out from Regal Cinemas on Route 1 in North Brunswick at 7 a.m. Saturday [click here for map and directions]. Parents or other chaperons can take the bus as well.

For more information, including events lineup, visit the Stand Your Ground website. Any additional questions, leave your comment here or contact Mark at sygyouthrally@yahoo.com.

How to Remove the Fortune Message from the Command Line

If you’ve ever used the command line in Linux Mint, you will have noticed a cutesy little “fortune” at the top of the display, including an animal designed out of keyboard characters.  It’s not exactly my thing.  If you don’t care for it either but have it in your terminal, here’s how to get rid of it:

  1. Open a terminal. 
  2. Type “gksu gedit /etc/bash.bashrc" 
  3. At the end of the file, remove the line /usr/games/fortune 
  4. Save the file.  
  5. To be really thorough, delete the "fortune” package entirely: sudo apt-get remove fortune
  6. Restart the terminal.

You’re welcome.