Economy Size Geek - A Desktop for Our Little Penguin
There is a lot of software out there for kids—serious typing tutors, counting and shapes helpers, and even a Mr Potato Head simulator (KTuberling). The craziest thing I saw was eToys, which is a Smalltalk environment for teaching kids programming. It is way beyond what I learned in Logo as a kid.
Max's first “computer” was my Chumby. He spent a lot of time looking at LOLcats on there. Plus, because the Chumby has a built-in slideshow for all of the content, Max constantly would get new stuff, even if he was just looking at the Chumby. That kind of interface really works well with Max's level of attention span. I was unable to find an application to duplicate that experience for Max. Spending some time searching, I have found some Flash-based games that come close. I will keep introducing new things to Max and see what sticks.
This actually brings me to my primary lesson from all of this. When I started, I was not sure if Max was ready for a computer. To be honest, there was not a clear consensus among my friends as to when that would be. Having played with Max and his computer for a week now, I can say this: Max is ready to explore anything as long as it is on his terms. That is the real value of this desktop. Now I have a place to show Max new things. I can let him try out new software or Web sites, and he can do it at his pace, because it is his computer. Before, as soon as playtime was done, I switched my computer back to work mode. Now Max wanders into my office does a little paint or controls the volume on some music. I look forward to the day when he asks for help debugging his eToys programs. I am not sure when that will be, but I am pretty sure it will come a little sooner with this project.
Dirk Elmendorf is cofounder of Rackspace, some-time home-brewer, longtime Linux advocate and even longer-time programmer.