By Sneha Das

Propagating and sustaining Free Software (Free as in freedom) and the importance of its applicability in learning, development and teaching are important issues that the Free Software Movement globe across has been engaged in, with regular collaborations with various other  Free Software communities.

While community collaboration is the crucial aspect of this global attempt, today, the Debian Community stands out as the most important of these communities in the Free Software world. Delivering to the world, the Universal Operating System – Debian, dubbed the mother operating system and thousands f packages with diverse applications Debian community is leading the effort of setting software free (again, free as in freedom).

Jonas Smedegaard is a Debian Developer, associated with the Debian Community. He is involved in the development of Freedom box, a revolutionary idea striving to liberate world-wide computer users from the shackles of centralization and internet spying. His recent visit to Bangalore gave me a wonderful opportunity to interact with him. Here is an attempt to portray the insightful interaction we had.

Me: Pedagogy : formal definition – study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. From Freedom Box to Pedagogies related to learning, using Information and communication technology tools. That’s a wide range of work. How do you have such diverse interests?

Jonas: My mother is a teacher and my father a psychiatrist. I mostly grew up with my mother and probably that’s how she has had an influence over me to get me interested in techniques of learning. I started getting curious as to how the strategies and styles of instructions, structuring of materials impact the human mind, specially that of the young. I believe that learning happens through the creation of mental models of the world around us, through real life experimentation, in short, a believer of constructionist principles.

Me: I get it. A believer in “Learning through exploration and construction”. Has this been the driving factor for the sugar project?

Jonas: Yes. Absolutely. Sugar was initially developed for the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO-1 netbook but today runs on most computers. It is a free and open source learning platform that provides an amiable environment to help children ‘learn how to learn’. It departs from the conventional ‘office desktop’ approach in a way that makes learning fun through rich multimedia expression. For example, a ‘task’ in this environment is termed as an activity, something easily understood by children, there are ‘moments’ which can be frozen and gotten back to as per the child. All in all, the sugar project is an effort to trigger critical thinking and real problem solving skills among the youngest learners.

Me: “You take the blue pill and [..] believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and[..] I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. [..] all I am offering is the truth. Nothing more”. This is something that I caught from one of your talks. Could you please put some light on that?

Jonas:  [laughs…..] Redpill and bluepill, these are some terms that i picked from The Matrix (Matrix fan, like almost all geeks are). Pills usually soothe pain without touching upon the underlying problem. These are analogous to the blue pills. In relation to computer users, it refers to the services from a single provider that users get completely dependent on without any conscious or active understanding of the issue. The red pill is opposite. Its soothes pain, but by attacking the problem at its root, even if that takes a little longer. It is basically a self-help process, an active and conscious use of information and communication technology tools. I try to design such systems that are both user-friendly and self sustained meaning- if a computer user comes to me for help, I would not give away the solution immediately. Rather, I provide him with a lead and allow him to find the solution such that the next time he could try to resolve similar issues himself.

Me: Debian pure blends, Debian blends and Debian derivatives, I believe there is a very thin line between them. Could you please elaborate?

Jonas: I will put it this way- A Debian derivative is a state where you absorb a part of Debian and turn your back to it. A Debian blend is when you absorb a part from Debian but with your face to it. Whereas a Debian pure blend is analogous to the state of ‘Nirvana’. A person in that state wouldn’t be able to enunciate as to what it is, but a person outside the realms of nirvana would certainly feel the ecstasy associated with it. A Debian Pure blend is 100% Debian, targeted to a specific group of users like Debian multimedia, Debian Edu, Debian Science.  [laughs…….] As a matter of Fact, I suggested the name ‘ Debian Pure Blends ‘ for Custom Debian distributions which led to quite a lot of skepticism among fellow Debian developers because the two words ‘pure’ and ‘blend’ don’t seem to go along too well.

Me: ‘Flavor of a customized Debian distribution’. What is meant by that?

Jonas: I would say flavors are to pure blends as pure blends are to Debian. Its a futher specialisation of a pure blend. Take for example- Emdebian. Its has flavors such as Emdebian grip, Emdebian crush, Emdebian baked, all of them deriving from Debian. Debian-Med could have flavors like Medical practice, Medical research etc.

Me: Finally, there are Debian pure blends for various target communities. For example, the Scientific Community there is Debian Science, for health care there is Debian Med, Skolelinux for education. For the Electronics target group, is there any such thing?

Jonas: Certainly yes. Emdebian- Debian for embedded devices. It is a set of Debian packages mainly optimised for size. Since an embedded hardware can range anywhere from a chip with asmall memory to full fledged computers, Emdebian provides a complete Debian- based environment with Debian type of consistency. I recommend you visit http://www.emdebian.org. You will have a holistic understanding of it.

Me: Thank you Jonas Smedegaard, for your time and patience. This discussion ranging from technology to real life values-all that shines is not gold, the clear divide between leadership and heroism, to the debate on the law of natural selection and archetypes, science fiction- The Space Odyssey series has been enlightening and has certainly triggered a curiosity to delve deeper into them.

More information about the speaker and his interests in Free Software and Freedom Box:

http://dr.jones.dk/

http://dr.jones.dk/blends/talk/

Picture courtesy: Vigneshwar Shankar

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