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Re: Debian for kids (long)

I'm glad to see there is some interest.  I'm not sure at this point if
there needs to be a list to discuss "Debian for kids" issues.  In fact,
it's probably not a good idea initially, as having discussions on this
list may attract more interest.  But I hope that eventually we can be our
own subgroup with a list and some web space on www.debian.org in the
developers area.  In fact, I think I'll start by plunking things down
in my home dir on master, once I have collected enough ideas from this

First off, I think a roadmap of some sort needs to be developed before we
dissipate all our energy into the minutae of discussing and working on
specific issues. 

However, I will address some of the responses so far, paying particular
attention to the general goals involved.

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> I'd just figure those as ``well, now you know not to do that in future''
> lessons

Ah, but this only works sometimes.  Really, I think it was poorly behaved
of pico to allow /dev/dsp to be read at all.  Hopefully this mistake is
not repeated in nano (the new free pico replacement).  It should stat the
file and determine if it is a device or a file and refuse to open it if it
is a file.  The general point I want to make is that there are certain
issues with the software that come up *because* kids are curious and do
unexpected things that developers might think "well, *nobody* would ever
do that!"  So one of the goals of a "Debian for kids" group would be to
help with some bugs like this that wouldn't otherwise get the attention
that they deserve. 

> You might like to have a backup program to copy your kids home directories
> into somewhere safe in case they discover rm. Some would say that rm'ing
> your homedirectory is a good lesson. Which it is. Watching daddy make
> backups is probably helpful to get rid of that nasty `but real men don't
> need backups' attitude... :)

Well, I am pleased to say that we now implement backups via tape for the
entire home network.  Before I had tape, I took occasional snapshots of
the whole /home tree into a tarball, out of harm's way from the kids. 

This sort of issue is probably best dealt with by documentation (for
parents who are sys admins, I mean).  A sort of "Kids and Linux howto" 
that can be contributed back to the LDP.  I think I'm a good documentor,
and would gladly volunteer to write and maintain such a document if we
think it's a good idea.  The purpose of such a document would not be to
duplicate documentation that is better explained elsewhere, but rather to
provide a tick-list ... a starting point for parents thinking about making
their Linux systems accessible to their kids.

> > 2) desktop
> I wonder if you could do that with an <foo>wm theme. Big buttons, a toolbar
> of some sort, and the obligatory bright colours?

Sifting through themes can be a very time-consuming task.  I am sure we
could save parents some time by reviewing what is out there and finding
what our kids like best and what works best for them.  Then we could
package a handful of them, again as just a starting point for parents &
kids.  Naturally, kids are going to want to customize their desktops as
much as parents enjoy doing.  I think if we could help themes.org
categorize some "kid-friendly" themes, rather than go on a theme-packaging
rampage, our efforts would benefit a broader range of people and not be
Debian-centric.  If we can get something started, other people will be
happy, I am sure, to make further contributions to themes.org in that
category.  Of course, the older kids are going to want to check out
themes.org in general, and not just look in the "kids" area, so when I say
"kids" I really mean the young ones who don't have the patience or skill
to browse through such a huge site.

> > 4) parental guidance
> Hey, net nanny software's great. Banning http://*.doubleclick.net/*
> makes the web so much more pleasant.

heh :)

> > 5) "kids' box"
> >    - kids might have their own Linux box.  What's the best way to
> >      set up a kids' box and integrate it into your home network?
> Remember to make sure you've converted yourself to ssh, scp, https, and
> so on *before* they discover tcpdump... :)

Ah yes.  Again, this is just standard wisdom for setting up a home network
... but perhaps the parent who is home sys admin has focused more on just
the *firewall* than what happens behind it.  So a reminder is appropriate. 
Here at home I use ssh/scp between all the inner boxes for precisely that
reason.  I'm sure I could tighten it up more, but the kids are still young
and unsophisticated in their use of computers (however, I don't expect
*that* to last for long ... just wait until they enter their teens! :) 

> > I very much want to see my kids grow up using Linux because the
> > alternative is so odious to me.
> Windows doesn't even come with QBasic anymore, does it? An OS without
> a programming language. *shudder*

Good point!  Programming languages were an integral part of shaping my
computer experience as a fledgling geek^H^H^H^Hyoung computer user.  Even
if my kids aren't inclined to become programmers themselves, I certainly
hope they experience the thrill of writing their first infinite loop and
so forth ...  It has long been on my list of things to do to set up logo
and introduce the kids to it.  Also, recently it stumbled on the CMU
Sphinx project (recently announced on Slashdot, see
http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=00/01/31/0848243&mode=thread).  The
sample language model provided does speech recognition for the "turtle"
commands that logo uses.  It would certainly be cool to see a sample
implementation of logo + CMU Sphinx integrated and packaged.  My five year
old boy is the most likely kid to "get into" programming, but his keyboard
skills are still quite rough yet.  I'd love to see him have tools to start
to think with that don't require skills that are beyond his tender years.

> > Whether I like it or not, Windows is far
> > more geared towards kids than Linux is. 
> That's very quotable.

Perhaps something to throw onto the web page, then. :)

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Andreas Tille wrote:
> > 1) Kidproofing
> >      learned the 'passwd' command, as daily she would change her password
> >      to something arbitrary and promptly forget it the next day ;) Oh, and
>   mv passwd.bak passwd    into /etc/cron.daily ??

Actually, I ended up creating a "nonkid" group.  I added myself, my wife,
and some friends who have accounts on my system to that group.  I then
changed the ownership of the passwd program to root.nonkid, chmod 4750,
and the problem was solved.

'nixes in general arose from a University environment in an atmosphere of
trust and sharing of information.  I don't want to suggest that in the
home things should be any different, but some checks and balances are
necessary to keep the parents from going absolutely insane continually
"rescuing" the kids from situations where they've tried things at random
on their accounts and really borked things up.  But at least on a 'nix
system, those problems tend to be localized to the user account that the
kid is running on, and not things that can affect the whole system.  For
example, on Windows it is quite a simple matter to delete programs and
dll's at will.  But I digress ... and I'm preaching to the converted I
am sure. :)

> > 3) applications
> In my opinion internationalisation is an important topic here.
> Since FreeCiv speaks German too, its much more fun for my son
> (9 years) than before (OK, he learned some English words but the
> help system was useless before).

I hadn't thought about i18n.  But yes, language issues are amplified
as a child.  I can think of a few more:

- fixing docs for programs that would otherwise be suitable for kids
  except the docs are poorly written, non-existent, or hard to find
  (e.g. no "help" menu provided)
- kid-friendly tools for developing keyboarding skills ("lletters"
  has already been mentioned, and I maintain "typist" but it is
  a bit trickier for kids and less fun, though there's no reason
  it couldn't be improved to be more kid-friendly)
- speech interfaces (i mentioned CMU Sphinx already ... programs
  that speak & listen are standard fare on Windows now.  we need
  more of this sort of thing) 

> Even the wumpus game, which I tried some days ago with him made him
> trouble at first time.

Sorry to hear that.  Frustrating I am sure.

> As a consequence I started to collect a German fortune database which
> now has more than 4000 cookies and jokes now.  An ITP will come soon
> (it's packaged but I want to here some response from some German
> developers first).


> > 5) "kids' box"
> >    - kids might have their own Linux box.  What's the best way to
> >      set up a kids' box and integrate it into your home network?
> Hmmm, usually my son will get the box I used before I bought my new one.
> May be that will change somedays when he wants more power but at these
> times he is happy with it.

Yep, kids can be quite demanding in their use of a computer's power.
Multimedia doesn't come cheap, and that is what they have come to expect.
I have a 486 allocated as a "kids machine" but I'm afraid it is woefully
inadequate and gets little use.  Instead, my wife and I take it in turn to
give the kids turns on our systems.  After all we've invested in kick-ass
hardware for ourselves, it's a shame to hog it all and not let the kids
benefit from it.  But still, I hope the 486 will provide them with their
own little "space" on the network and more of a sense of ownership and
responsibility when it comes to learning how to deal with computers.

> Easy to avoid:  On his box runs OpenDos besides Linux and the old Win 3.1.
> No Win 9x or NT was ever on any of my boxes.  I avoid to by Software which
> only runs on Win 9x systems.  Why shouldn't the boy start with simple
> DOS running such games like Colonize or Civ 1.0 or the funny arkade
> games we used many years ago.  He likes it and the learning effekt would
> be the same as any other modern Win-Game.  (Actually it makes more fun
> to play the old games on a 486 in terms of speed.)
> Security is easy.  When Linux starts up I do a backup of the DOS partition.
> That's all.

Not so easy for me.  Reader Rabbit really is superior educational kids
software as far as the "multimedia experience" goes.  My intent is not
to shield kids from better Windows software that is out there, but to
give them a broad exposure to computers and software of all sorts.  So
I won't be eliminating Windows.  However, kids are smart ... as kids'
Linux software becomes more available, they will value it for its
stability and freeness.  I see frustration written all over their faces
every time a Windows game crashes after they've put much effort into
reaching a certain level.  I'll certainly be guiding them through these
experiences and helping to shape their values with regards to Windows vs.
Linux.  Without both in the home, I have no hope of accomplishing this.

> Andreas (in the "over 30" bracked, to, married to a non-tech non-Linux :-(
> user (my wife sits on a Win-Box at work ...) and father of only one kid
> (at this time ...): Alexander, age 9) -- and ready to package any more
> kid related software.

I would like to come up with a couple of lists, one of already packaged
kid-friendly software in Debian (with links to it on www.debian.org),
another a "wishlist" of things that already have a ITP on them and are
in the WNPP, and a list of sources of kids' Linux software that we can
sift thru and add to the WNPP (like www.linuxforkids.com)

> By the way I started the xteddy project with the toys of my son.  Why
> doesn't anybody send more such stuff to me to include it in Debian?
> He like to see his beloved friends sitting on the desktop.  Ask your
> children if they would like this and send me pixmaps ...

Ah yes, xteddy.  We very much enjoyed that. :)  I believe I set it up
on the kids accounts, but lately they've been distracted from it by
their Windows games (they got a few for Christmas) and more recently,
xmame.  As we come across more artwork, we'll be sure to submit it to

Also, "stickers" is great fun.  I'm hoping that sound will be added to
this and the "lletters" programs in the near future, and have been in
touch with one of the developers about this.

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Fredrik Liljegren wrote:
> About more such stuff..  I've been involved in the SEUL/edu for a while now;
> and there are LOTS of stuff that would need packaging, allthough most are
> some kind of beta.
>   On their/our site you'll find links to "kidsgames" and "linux for kids"
> too.  I'd be happy to see more debian enthusiasts on the seul-edu-mailing
> list too.
> Check out www.seul.org/edu

Wow!  This is a *great* resource!  Thanks for passing this along.
Definitely one to stick on the web pages I'll be scritching together

> Regards EOF,
>    Erik Olof Fredrik, Was to become a teacher but got a well-paid
> programming job instead....

Ahh.  I'm in a similar situation.  I've always had aspirations to teach
... have done a little bit as a Sunday school teacher, a trainer/lecturer
for our freenet, and general helper-of-friends-with-computer-problems.  I
guess it is a part of my heritage.  Both of my parents are educators of
extraordinary talents. 

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Andreas Tille wrote:
> So the year before it was xteddy, last year it wad fortunes-de.  This
> fits well with my spare time, but actively searching, testing and selecting
> is to much.

Well, I am sure that the group I am proposing will take contributions
of all sorts.  Each has their own skills and own priorities.

> If you would have a special hint I could think about something for
> the Easter bunny to hide in our Linux box :-).

Hmm.  I have already mentioned xjig ... but it really suffers from a
decent front-end and library of images.  I few minutes browsing some free
picture archives on the web will give you plenty of images ...  or scan
some of your kids' own artwork.  As for the front-end, I think writing a
menu hook to treat all files in a dir (or symlinked in a dir)  as puzzles
with appropriate # of pieces for your child's skill level would do nicely. 
Also, I find "-side 2" to force all pieces to be displayed with the same
side up works well (dealing with a two-sided puzzle is really too much for
our kids). 

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Fredrik Liljegren wrote:
> Well, I don't know much about your kid; but "xletters" is a nice game for
> learning the keyboard, and is quite stable; at least in english..
>  http://www.eleves.ens.fr:8080/home/madore/programs/#prog_xletters

Aha!  Now why does this sound familiar?  I think someone who tried
"typist" mentioned it to me but I dropped the ball on it, never checked
it out, and then forgot about it.  I'll have to take a look.

Now that we have seul-edu to look for, along with linuxforkids, I am
sure we can come up with any number of things to package.

But let's not get distracted from the first task at hand ... if this is
going to be an organized collective effort, let's put together a plan, put
up some web pages, and get the ball rolling towards meeting some specific

    nSLUG       http://www.nslug.ns.ca      synrg@sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca
    Debian      http://www.debian.org       synrg@debian.org
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