Thursday, January 15, 2009

Woman struggles with Ubuntu, online classes

The issue is that Windows is easy to get started with, and there isn't a lot to learn. Simple GUIs for everything, and you wouldn't know about any advanced features unless you looked them up and knew what you were doing.

Linux is about productivity first. Linux is easy to use, but not completely obvious. With the power to begin any complicated task just a click or keyword away, it can feel like being dropped into an ocean and being asked to swim. The most extreme example of this type of design where productivity is valued over obviousness or 'intuitiveness' is Blender3D. Blender is a F***ING nightmare to figure a damn thing out. I used 3D studio max and poked around and was modeling simple buildings and funny creatures in a matter of hours. Blender I was just like WTF!?! and by the time I figured out how to draw a simple cube, I gave up. Last summer, I thought I would give it another go after watching Elephant Dreams. I figured, ok, of they can do this, I must be able to do better than a box. I thought: What would be the pragmatic way of going about this. Hmm.. Read the damn documentation maybe? The first thing the documentation covered was that the GUI ia intentionally designed a very particular way and they are NOT going to change it. While it requires a lot of memorization, once you 'get it', it will enable you to model faster than ever. Despite not knowing how to do anything, the GUI didn't seem so 'stupid' anymore. If every little detail was very well thought out, then I needed to give it a chance. I jumped on youtube and did a search for "Blender tutorial". MANY results. I picked a series and followed along. While the controls were not obvious in any way, they were easy to remember and simple to use. Every few videos or so, I would try to figure something out on my own, but usually with complete failure. But continuing with the videos, each 20 minute segment was showing me whole new aspects of what could be done. I got to give credit where credit is due. super3boy did a pretty good job. The videos were a bit on the crude side, and the examples were really simple and drawn out, but considering how effective he was in assisting me with my learning, it was perfect. I even showed a friend that had never even much used a computer but to check email, and within a week we were making beautiful scenes, fun simple games, and such. Water, fireworks, explosives taking out buildings, whatever came to mind could be put together right away as the thoughts unfolded. It wasn't like having to think of one part then work through it and then think about the next part after the first part was done.

Anyway, the point is, Linux can be over whelming. I know many people are interested in Linux, but watch people who are comfortable with it, and it all just looks like magic. I have been using Linux for several years now, and I still see people do clever things that appear "magical". Maybe that is why Macs are so popular. I don't think there is anything I have ever seen done on a mac that couldn't be copied by a monkey. Maybe that is the appeal. One simple way to do certain things that people want to do with their computer that make them look cool. But while mac is much like a "choose your own adventure" novel, Linux can feel like pencil and paper, but give it a little time and energy, it is more like Harold's Purple Crayon.

I can understand that some people just want the choose your own adventure. I get that. But Linux enables your computer to be a tool, and as with any complex piece of machinery, the novice needs a teacher. Just because its complex and there is much to learn doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the machine. It means people need help. This is why I feel the Linux community is so strong. It is necessary for people to share their knowledge. It requires upstream developers to hang out in their own irc channel. It requires LOTS of third party documentation to address all the various learning styles that may best help people learn.

My local library uses only Ubuntu. They also have free classes on getting started with Ubuntu. I think it is also a cultural thing, because I remember there being very similar classes at local libraries when Windows 3.1 was new. People had no idea what computers were going to be capable of, but saw the advantage of digital word processors over type writers for editing, and businesses were beginning to require basic computer skills for jobs. Linux is revolutionary, and as Microsoft has feared in their internal memos, FlOSS is completely revolutionizing the way people think about computers. The Internet in a very basic way operates around the government; it is not something you can put a wall around because it is designed to work, and circumvent censorship because objectively censorship is identified as a problem within the network and attempts to fix it. Software and just the exchange of ideas operates on a humanistic level above the monetary system where the sole objective of sharing ideas is to be a part of a community of ideas, not trying to scrape together bits of money here and there to get by. Sharing your ideas and having people listen around the world is like printing your own money with whatever value you desire... but guess that it a bit beyond the scope here.

Short of it? Non-computer people and people willing to change need mentors. Start a club. Have a few hours a week or each month where you can teach people about Linux, community center, library, school, whatever; if you believe Linux can really make for a better world. Microsoft will always bribe and pay people to do their dirty work, but a passionate Linux user over a paid Microsoft lacky should be able to win the debate. Each of us just need to make the effort. If you don't really want to leave the house, spend a little time in #ubuntu irc channel. Yes, there are some complete f***ing idiots in there that make you want to just bang your head against the wall till you can peacefully drown in your own blood, but they are making an effort, and if they are willing to be patient with you, maybe they deserve a bit of your time. Hasn't someone else ever done that for you?

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