Bit Prepared: A Missing Link?
While discussing this article with Linux Journal Editor in Chief, Don Marti, I learned that we both were Eagle Scouts (or the equivalent title in our respective Scout association). Alessandro Rubini, co-author of Writing Linux Device Drivers, and Marco Bravi, a founder of the Rome LUG also have a Scout master badge in their backpacks. Does all this point to some kind of on-line conspiracy, a potentially powerful league of Hacker Scouts, still largely unknown to one another? I'm quite sure this is the case and that such a league would count many members. Even if it doesn't exist yet, no problem; it's time to start it. Raise your hands, everybody!
Merit Badges are a good starting point for the project of closing the Scouting/free software gap. Currently, Software Badges exist in many Scout associations, which is a good thing. Scouts must be self-sufficient, both in the wild and in daily city life. Because the latter usually implies working with computers to some extent, the more they are known the better. It is in this spirit that I have prepared the short list of requirements below, applicable to all computer badges. Some of them are inspired directly by the concepts presented in this article, while others are more basic, aimed at helping Scouts become good Netizens. Any feedback is welcome.
1.Describe the difference between free (as in Freedom) and proprietary software.
2.Discuss the differences among free software, shareware and freeware.
3.Describe the difference between open and proprietary protocols and file formats. Give at least three examples of each.
4.Describe the difference between command-line and graphical user interfaces, pointing out the advantages of each.
5.Install one or more operating systems on the same computer, starting from scratch.
6.Download, compile and install a computer program from source.
7.Apply a patch to the source code of a computer program.
8.Install a firewall on a computer, and test it by using an on-line validating service.
9.Be prepared to discuss digital signatures and how to exchange them among different operating systems.
10.Be prepared to discuss Web site accessibility--why browser-specific code is counterproductive, how to guarantee that users with handicaps can use the site and so on.
11.Describe the correct procedure to ask for support in on-line mailing lists.
12.Demonstrate knowledge of proper behavior suitable for public mailing lists and newsgroups (Netiquette).
I hope I have made clear why I think Scouting and free software have a lot in common, and why the first should use the second. To me, Linux enables me to continue to be a Scout even when I'm at the keyboard. It also allows me to try to help others, as in the RULE Project. I'm convinced that if Baden Powell was alive today, he'd use Linux. Do you agree? If not, why not? Let me know your opinions, both on this forum and privately. I'm obviously eager to help Scouts use free software, and I am available for further discussion and support. Above all, invite all your Scout friends who don't know about free software to read this article and act, or at least provide feedback. Ask them (and yourself) how they would score on the following test, and, again, let me know:
Are you using free software to manage your Scout activities?
Are you asking that proprietary formats not be used on Scout Web sites and in official Scouts documents, nor sent as e-mail attachments?
Are you making sure your Scout Web site is viewable with any browser?
Are you at least using OpenOffice.org and its open file formats?
Are you encouraging your Scouts to use free software and to earn their Merit Badges with it?
Will you ask your Scout association to do and endorse all of the above?
Judging from what is available on-line, the most likely answer seems to be No in all cases. On the other hand, this could turn out to be a similar situation to what happened six or seven years ago, when corporate executives heard about Linux for the first time. They would call their system administrators and ask "why aren't we doing this open-source stuff yet?!?", only to discover that Linux already was on servers all over the place.
One last word: while talking to him about this article, Alessandro Rubini pointed out an interesting corollary to these thoughts of mine. Both Scouting and free software have been accused time and again of extremism. The first is supposed to be a bit too much on the right/nationalist/militarist side, while the latter makes the opposite "mistake". Hopefully, showing their affinities in this manner will help to demonstrate that neither accusation is well-founded. To me, both movements seem to arise from such a massive and healthy dose of common sense, a desire to be active and a love for a job well done as to be simply beyond any label of this kind.
Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com