Friday, December 12, 2008
It never was my intention to attack anyone personally....
My sights were set on correcting some obvious misconceptions. It was a focused attack on ignorance but with some unsolicited commentary on a particular group.
Whether by proxy or focused intent, it appears that is what has happened, however.
A particular teacher within the Austin Independent School District now sucks.
The consensus began building about 24 hours ago when I published a blog strongly chastising a teacher who emailed me. She made, what I considered to be, some amazingly ignorant statements, statements that I felt attacked the very core reason for my existence. It made me much angrier than it should have.
I'm human, so sue me.
No wait, scratch that last line...don't sue me. It is being discussed.
Her tone didn't help her case much. She insinuated that I may had done something illegal. We build/refurbish computers for kids who are financially disadvantaged. We also build and present computers to kids of high achievement. To even hint that I am involved in anything that approaches breaking the law is not only silly, it evokes emotion better left un-evoked. I've worked for years to bring the level of success, however limited, we have now. The last thing I need is to lose it all for something silly.
So instead of crafting a measured, count-for-count personal response, I chose to share her obvious ignorance with members of the Linux Community. It was meant to illustrate the maddening ignorance and bias a Linux Advocate faces in a Microsoft Windows world. It was also meant to digitally spank the hand of the offender. It was a good direction to go I thought.
Things pretty much turned to fecal flakes from there.
Look, I write this little back-water blog to document what we do at the HeliOS Project and to advocate Linux in general. One of our main focuses is to see to it that Linux begins gaining a foothold in the computing public's awareness. And no, my goal isn't to convince you to switch to Linux.
That's my desire.
My goal is to make you aware that you have a choice in how you operate your computers. And yes, a bias exists on the Linux side of the ledger.
Ya think? People don't realize they are prisoners in their own computers when they use Microsoft Windows. If they ever read the EULA, they'd understand quickly.
So boasting a stunning readership in the dozens, I go about my business writing about things that happen in our day to day operations. Every now and then, something or someone does or says something that I believe needs attention.
Well, we got attention. When I published a part of the email this Teacher sent me, it experienced something known as "The Slashdot Effect." Slashdot is a website devoted to the tech/internet world and is read by hundreds of thousands an hour.
Yeah...hundreds of thousands an hour. My article scolding this teacher ended up on the front page of Slashdot.
For whatever reason, this story took on a life of its own. By 10:30 AM, I had to turn my cell phone off. Poeple were getting my number from my business website and calling me with their comments and reactions.
Not all of them were particularly on my side.
I received calls from South Africa, The Netherlands, Croatia, The Land Down Under and Russia.
It's the one from New Zealand that bothered me the most.
The caller identified himself and then further identified himself as an editor for a well known magazine published in the UK. He was extremely to-the-point with his call.
He would donate $1000.00 immediately to The HeliOS Project if I would give him the name of the Teacher I blogged about.
I hung up the phone.
"This is madness." I thought to myself. What is the big friggin' deal here? This is a non-story.
And my phone buzzed again but it wasn't with the incoming call ring...it was a text message being received. I cued the caller ID and it returned as "unavailable".
I pushed "read message" and waited for the text to appear on my screen.
"Can I call you?"
I pulled the truck over into a parking lot and answered:
"I guess. Who r u?"
The inactivity was so long that I started the truck and began to put it into gear and re-enter traffic when the buzz came again. I pushed the read button.
It was my turn to hesitate. Finally, I toggled Reply and typed in one character.
She didn't call right away. It took her about 15 minutes to finally call me. When she did she didn't say anything for the first 15 seconds. When she finally did speak, it was obvious she was crying.
"Why did you throw me to the wolves like that?"
I didn't even have to think of the reply.
"I didn't throw you to the wolves Karen, I threw ignorance to the wolves. Let me ask you something. If I had not emailed you a link to my blog, would you have even known about this?"
Again she hesitated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that if you didn't know I had written that blog, would you have known about all these comments? Has anyone called you or bothered you about this? Have your co-workers mentioned it?"
"Then the wolves didn't touch you Karen. If I had included your last name or email address, then yes, you could ask me that question but as it stands, you are just a nameless school teacher that evoked a public response from me."
She didn't say anything for several seconds. When she did, it was a quiet and simple:
Yeah...thank you. Like I deserve that. Let me share a couple things with you here. First off, I want to sincerely apologize for some things I did say, things that were way off base and even if they were situationally true, they didn't add anything of value to the conversation.
I want to apologize to all the hard-working and honest NEA members. My statements were based on an isolated but nasty experience two years ago, and, while I developed a nasty dislike for the people in that situation, it was both unfair and short-sighted to say the things I did. The teachers that we entrust our kids with on a daily basis do us a service that is under-appreciated, under-paid and over-criticized. My mini tirade didn't add anything of value to the situation and only served to inflame an already volatile area of debate. You have my sincere apology for slapping you all with such a wide brush.
Karen isn't alone in her ignorance. I have sat in a PhD's office...a PhD that happened to be a principal of a school. She told me that according to her "tech staff", it was illegal to remove Microsoft Windows from their school computers. So who is ignorant here? The "tech staffer" afraid of losing his MCSE position or the Dr. of Education that didn't bother to check into such a statement. Ignorance isn't the sole possession of this particular school teacher.
Karen and I have talked on the phone now for a couple of hours, here and there. We've come to understand each other more and had she said some of the things in her email that she said during our phone conversations...this black ink on white digital paper probably wouldn't exist.
And neither would over 2000 comments that were less than kind on one end of it and absolutely brutal on the other.
The student did get his Linux disks back after the class. The lad was being disruptive, but that wasn't mentioned. Neither was the obvious fact that when she saw a gaggle of giggling 8th grade boys gathered around a laptop, the last thing she expected to see on that screen was a spinning cube.
She didn't know what was on those disks he was handing out. It could have been porn, viral .exe's...any number of things for all she knew. When she heard that an adult had given him some of the disks to hand out, her spidey-senses started tingling. Coupled with the fact that she truly was ignorant of honest-to-goodness Free Software, and you have some fairly impressive conclusion-jumping.
In a couple of ways, I am guilty of it too.
Karen seems to be a good teacher, and as she stated to me today, she has learned more about the tech world in a few days than she's learned in five years.
That's because she's trapped in a world of Windows. Most people are.
I have contacted the technology department of AISD and have discovered it has a rich technology environment that uses open source software in all aspects of instruction, operation, and administration. The District has over 36,000 desktop and laptop computers. While about 24,000 of those computers run some version of Windows, AISD is anything but a Windows shop. Their current standard teacher/student image includes both Open Office and Firefox on all Windows computers, and recently has added Open Office to the Apple OS image. Other open source software on both images include audacity and lame, and other free software such as Google Earth, iTunes, Adobe and many plug-ins. They also are members of the world community grid; their 36,000 computers are providing many hours of spare processing time (during the work day) to organizations trying to solve major world problems such as energy, cancer, and AIDS. Additionally, they are running more than 100 Linux servers. Other Open Source and Free Software AISD uses include:
apache for web servers
samba for file sharing
nagios for server monitoring
mySQL and postgreSQL for some databases
sendmail for email services
ISC DHCP and bind for DHCP services
moodle for course management
tomcat and jboss for web based applications
perl and php to build in-house applications
As an Austin citizen I am proud to see that AISD is a solid supporter of the open source community and is not blindly following a Microsoft centric architecture. In fact because they are reasonably agnostic they make an overt attempt to find applications that are multi-platform and save money. Also, it is not unreasonable that an organization with approximately 6,000 teachers representing a cross section of America with many different teaching specialties, that there will be some individuals that are not totally aware of current technology trends.
Now to the meat of the matter. Many, many of you have pushed for the identification of this teacher.
I cannot or will not relinquish that. Read the comments from slashdot alone or the hundreds on my blog to understand why!
There isn't any amount of money I will accept to throw a human being into that cement mixer.
The fact that I did it to a profession is bad enough.
All Righty Then