Penguinz in da hood

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People in this country are pretty funny, they really are.

It’s a damn shame how we exert so much energy for what we want, and considerably less for what we really need. People will queue up for a week, and risk weather and robbery (“Violence Mars PlayStation 3 Launch") to secure the “opportunity" to spend $500+ of slave labor earned money to buy a PS3 while probably oblivious of how that same amount of money could buy them computing power that could set them free(r).

What we need are more Penguinz in da hood and fewer PS3s.

But I can almost hear some not in da hood geek shout, “dude, ya can run Linux on a PS3, and still have all the awesome games too..." Right, but it misses the point.

Penguinz versus PS3s, where I live, its a no brainer. Given the choice they’d take the PS3 invariably every time. Why?..Marketing!

In da hood people usually get only what others are willing to sell them, and many times, that’s not what they need. Because Linux/FOSS is basically free, there hasn’t been any incentive to inundate da hood with free CDs with (pick your distro) on it, like AOL used to do with its CDs ubiquitously stuck into just about every paper you could get.

Now I can almost hear someone else say, “well, most people in da hood don’t have computers to run Linux/FOSS on"...yeh, right. Did most people in da hood have computers to run AOL on? Back in the day almost everybody I knew with an email address had it with AOL, and they used something to get onto AOL.

No, people in da hood are exposed (even over exposed) to what’s going on in society, its just that most of the things they are exposed to aren’t “easily" accessible, with the key word here being easily. You see Gameboys, PS2s, and Nintendos in the hood, and computers with Microsoft on them, and even a few Macs, because certain people made concerted efforts to sell those things to people in da hood. And people in the hood made specific financial decisions (and sacrifices) to get these things.

So, why aren’t Penguinz in da hood just as ubiquitous as PS2/3s. The answer is obvious, the FOSS movement hasn’t specifically seen fit to target the hoods in this country where Black, Brown, and poor people proliferate, to put Penguinz in them as they have foreign underdeveloped countries and societies, with such efforts as the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative.

As for all the marketing prowess the Mozilla Foundation and are supposed to have, they’ve just blown a bigtime, practically free, opportunity of mass marketing Penguinz in da hood this holiday season. You see, there’s this animated movie (Happy Feet) out with all these—guess what—PENGUINS! in it. Did anybody in the movement see this coming? Why hasn’t there been a deal made where penguin laden CDs of (pick a distro) are given out in the lobbies of theaters. In this same vein, a couple of years ago you had an Academy Award winning documentary on—guess what—PENGUINS! (March of the Penguins) and not a Tux mascot in sight in the theaters. Since people in da hood go to the movies a lot these would have been perfect opportunities to market to them. Because I can tell you, a lot more people from the hood went (along with their imploring kids) to see cute little penguins march across Antarctica than have gone to see about how those cute little penguins won’t be around much longer if we don’t change our fossil fuel burning ways, in an Inconvenient Truth.

So I challenge the FOSS movement to make a new years resolution for putting Penguinz in da hood a high priority. For every 10 OLPC PCs put into Soweto, put just one in Watts, or Southeast DC.

I ain’t asking much, just a little vision and love for my peeps here.

After all, if Barney and Kermit can make it in da hood so can Tux.



Mauro Bieg's picture

lol - this blogpost is really well written! penguinz everywhere!!

And the point made is absolutely true. We need those penguinz paddling around badly. It's a shame the FOSS community doesn't care more about marketing...

I lately read 'In the Beginning was the Command Line' (should've read it long before), and it says really a whole lot about why the mind-share of GNU/Linux in the general public is that low. It's all about feelings. When people buy Windows or Macs they think they're getting something for their money. How could Linux be worth just a damn? We have to get the people value the freedom they would get - somehow.

Why not make a computer animated film with penguins, gnus, leopards (OS X) and some strange windows hanging around in the landscape! ;-)

ktraglin's picture
Submitted by ktraglin on

I agree completely. Prior to 9/11/01, I worked as a computer support consultant for many fortune 1000 companies. Since then, my income has been significantly reduced. I've been working toward setting up a non-profit that gets re-conditioned computers to low-income families. We don't do Windows because GNU/Linux simply makes much more sense.

I have, however, found some issues for which I hope I could get some suggestions. What I see is that most kids are interested in being able to use their computers to play games that are comparable to Playstation, XBox, etc. I'm not sure how to get Ubuntu/Edubuntu to do that. Additionally, many of them seem to be particularly interested in watching music videos from sites like just as easily as they can using Windows or a Macintosh. I've personally used greasemonkey, pklaunch, and mplayer with some success, but it doesn't seem to work with the latest Ubuntu/Edubuntu (6.10).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

you mean GNU/Linux right, not only the kernel I guess.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Don't knock the PS3.

IBM's Cell architecture is a breath of fresh air to an industry that has been stagnent since the IBM PC took us all on the great leap backwards, and allowed Wintel to give us 80's 32bit GUI computing in small increments over the last decade, while making oodles of profits from 70's old R&D.

According to measurements, a dual Cell system is 3 to 50 times faster than a dual core MAC, and 30% more thermal efficient. 50 PS3s can connect at the hardware level into an OpenGrid with more power than IBM's Blue Gene, currently the fastest supercomputer on the planet, at a cost less than $50,000. Quite a bit cheaper than $25M and using a lot less airconditioning and energy. The PS3 is greener.

The other area the Cell is useful to Linux hackers is audio visual recognition and response. Part of the holy grail of a really useful user interface. An Open Grid of PS3s can process large AI data domains, even over a broadband network.

Couple all this with existing Linux daemons and tools and the money you spend on your PS3 can become the interface to an intelligent computing slave instead of saving your money on outdated technology dumb PCs.

ktraglin's picture
Submitted by ktraglin on

I agree that PS3s will be great (for those who can afford them). Still, I can't help but wonder why the free software community isn't pushing the idea of kids (and adults) using GNU/Linux in low-income communities here in the USA.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

[QUOTE]Don't knock the PS3[/QUOTE].

I'm sure the author used the PS/3 to drive down the more important point of FOSS missing opportunities to make FOSS more widely known.

I know this is easier said than done. Any marketing initiative will need funding. And any marketing initiative on even a medium scale - e.g. giving away "Live" CDs of «YOUR_FAV_DISTRO» - needs, money, people and coordination.

There used to be an ad on UK TV last year from IBM talking about Linux taking over and being the next big thing. That ad has now disappeared.

It is things like that ad, Live CD give-aways, local events and demos at local PC shows and such that can spread awareness about freedom of software choice, the problems that software vendor lock-in poses, and how FOSS software addresses these issues.

So, despite the technological prowess demonstrated by the PS/3, GNU/Linux being embedded and therefore invisible to the average end-user does not achieve any increased awareness among average people about software freedom of choice. In other words, the PS/3 will perhaps be a great dual-boot platform for gaming and running GNU/Linux services for the GNU/Linux enthusiast. For the average gaming enthusiast, this will mean nothing and they will happily plug on with PS/3 games.

ktraglin's picture
Submitted by ktraglin on

It is a sad but true fact that a greater percentage of the "colored population" (black & brown skinned people) lives in "da hood", than the percentage of the "caucasian population" (our white brothers & sisters). There are many factors that have led to this reality, but I don't want to go into that here.

It just seems to me that if the FOSS community can push GNU/Linux in South Africa, India, China, and many other countries, where there are lots of "poor" people, somethings terribly wrong if it can't be pushed similarly here in the Bronx, in Compton, and everywhere in between.

What schools can use (in the USA) is determined by Federal, State, and local governments who all too often are corrupted by kick-backs & other such questionable money deals. Perhaps we need to find a way to get kids & their parents some GNU/Linux exposure. My hope is that upon experiencing it, they will ask for it by name in schools and elsewhere.

The Tenant Association office in my housing complex has some computers available for tenants to use. They are about 8 Internet connected PCs running MS Windows. The "TA" President does all the maintenance and support for those PCs. He seems fairly "set in his ways", so getting him to change his mind could be a daunting task. Perhaps I could find a decent used PC, install & configure GNU/Linux, and give it to them. I could offer to help him to do whatever support he needs.

Suggestions are welcome.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You can't put penquins into an environment where knowledge and education are looked at as a weakness and expect them to thrive. These hoods and barrios were once nice safe neighborhoods that were destroyed by those that now occupy them. Do you really think something as mind expanding and potentially educational as a computer, regardless of OS, would fair any better? Good luck with that.

Mauro Bieg's picture

You don't necesarrily need a lot of education to be able to use a computer, surf the net and use the technology to something useful. You learn how to use a computer only by using it, not by getting taught how to use it. And bundled with 'Net access, a computer could even help these people to get to more information.

Only because they aren't given the opportunity to go to private schools, that doesn't mean these people are stupid.

Terry Hancock's picture

I knew this topic was in danger of going downhill, simply because of the (potentially? apparently?) condescending usage of "da hood".

Your statement follows a couple of common logical fallacies. The dismissively racist and classist overtones, which essentially resolve to a claim that the plight of the poor is their own fault (an all-too-common excuse for middle-class Americans to ignore social problems) are among them, but I don't think much is served by doing more than noting them. I'll just point out that you are almost always about to make a really stupid mistake when you let these prejudices guide your thinking.

The most egregious error, however, is the "one bad apple" theory. You speak of neighborhoods "destroyed" by "those that now occupy them". This is perhaps referring to crime rates. In any real population, including even the worst neighborhoods in America, "law-abiding citizens" out-number "criminals" by a considerable margin.

Crimes are perpetrated by a usually tiny minority which is disproportionately visible. Reacting against the whole population is therefore a highly inefficient response. You are mostly punishing innocent people when you do that, which only serves to further destabilize the situation. Many of America's urban and race problems are directly attributable to authorities also making this mistake. This is why many honest poor people in the US regard the police as an occupying army to be avoided. This kind of response only increases class polarization and increases the risk of violence for everyone involved (even the rich who misguidedly called for "more police" and a "hard on crime" policy, even though those will actually exacerbate the problem in most cases).

Tarring all of the low-income inhabitants of a neighborhood with the same brush is not only unethical, but it is also inaccurate. You will draw many false conclusions by doing that. One of them is this idea that "knowledge and education" are "looked at as a weakness". Sorry, but that just isn't true for many honest low-income families of whatever ethnicity. Providing opportunities for those who will take advantage of them provides a means for those honest citizens to "take back" their communities.

What is true is that poor families (or individuals) in such neighborhoods are in a constant state of crisis. Their fight-or-flight reflex is operating at a constant low-idle, and it does interfere with rational decision-making. In a FoF state, the mind drops long term goals in order to focus on immediate crisis. This is usually the right thing to do when FoF is actually a point-like event as it is meant to be in nature. However, constant fear of authorities, landlords, police, crime, and racist/classist attitudes like ones expressed above, contributes to a sustained FoF response which becomes endemic. It's even taught to children by example and sometimes explicit instruction. Kids are taught not to care about "non-essentials" and that they can't trust authorities or mainstream society's values and ideas of "education".

Getting these people to trust that— 1) you actually understand their problems, so are capable of formulating sane responses to them, 2) that you care about their success and not some hidden agenda (i.e. you're not going to stab them in the back as so many have before you), and 3) that you actually have the resources to back up what you are promising — is extremely difficult. These people believe that "education" of the kind that the society has been trying to push on them is a "weakness", because it is. Most of the "educational" programs pushed on these people are simply programs designed to control them for the benefit of the wealthy, not to genuinely help them.

Much more constructive approaches do exist for urban-renewal. Community watch organizations (and community-based policing in general), church or non-profit programs for education, and business start-up help are often more positive. In fact, it is through these latter initiatives that GNU/Linux advocacy could actually be useful. You have to work with people the community will trust. Ultimately, change comes from within, it can't be imposed from without. If you want to see improvement, however, then you can help by contributing resources to the insiders who are trying to improve their communities. In America, this generally means working with church groups, and sometimes inter-denominational alliances of church groups.

Be aware, however, that on the scale of the problems these groups face, the licensing of their software is small potatoes. You have to demonstrate that there is a real benefit to be gained by using free software. And be prepared to be turned down a lot. A lot of folks are just going to stick to what they know. It's only after there are real examples to point to of people using free software to make real strides forward that usage will take off.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

i used to be able to find as many pii300's as i wanted 2 years ago at the flea market. now i cannot seem to find anything faster than my 1200. the reason is hw recycling has grown, i think in this neighborhood. but are the old boxes going to be reborn to linux or shredded? any capitalistic ecology invites a middleman to squat wherever some more profit can be squeezed out of a product. think ebay.
i was seriously tempted at the time to offer reborn boxes at that flea market. maybe somebody has stolen their thunder from me!

ben davis's picture
Submitted by ben davis on

I DIGG the energy, enthusiasm and sincerity in this blog and the thread in general.
Glad to find social concience alive and well.

Glad to see your brains and your heart Shaykh Jabari Al-Zakiya! (Mumtaz!)

However... the usual trap has been sprung, and I think you need to escape!
Let me explain: "Why doesn't [insert_person_or_organisation] do something about ..."
Haven't you heard of viral marketing? It's the latest BIG THING buzzword fest getting capitalists salivating. It is also the basis for YouTube success (and others)

Viral marketing may be considered a new thing, but all it really means is that "ordinary people" become carriers of the product marketing, and infect their friends through word of mouth.
This is cheap, and it relies on grass roots interaction with people, enthusiasm and a good product to capture people's imagination: things we already have.

Some thinking still needs to be done, i'm not advocating a "lock'n'load" attitude, but if you are crying over opportunities missed by others, then please look closer to home, your tears will sting! You live in a community. That community has needs, grinding poverty, low esteem, poor access to information and knowledge, and even a disdain for any highminded values that interfere with "keeping it real" and making money. In other words, they are people waiting for someone to reach out their hand to them, guide them and help them and educate them.

Is there a Bronx LUG? If not, then maybe now is the time to set one up. If there is, then I am sure you are an active member, yes?(swap BRONX for your local deprived area).

The "thinking" I mentioned earlier would revolve around a few things:
1) What is the "HOOK": What aspect of GNU/Linux/FOSS will be the killer feature that excites the community you wish to target? Sorry for stereotyping, but maybe it's the audio authoring capabilities of Jack, Rosegarden, Audacity, Ardour et al (a cheap way of building your own MIDI studio) that would excite some people in "da hood", and get them talking about Linux, and giving disks to their friends (I'm sorry, but music and sports are still considered the best means to escape from ghetto poverty). Maybe there are other "killer apps'" that would excite these people, but I wouldn't know (and neither would you) without talking to them and discovering their needs.

Repetative marketing and naked ladies is the means used to create the feeling of a need in people, and make them desire a product. You don't have the money or the ethics for that, so instead you need to talk to them to find out what is their real need is, then try to provide a solution according to your means.

2) How do you meet the people and disseminate your ideas to them effectively? Through the LUG? To your freinds only? Go to community centres? give handouts on the street? (sounds dangerous and unproductive if you don't "make a connection" with the people.)

okay, I've definately gone on enough! Just one small(ish) point, then I'll quit.
While it is natural for knowledgeable people to be enthusiastic about open source, and motivated by the ethics and ideology, it is not a natural selling point for most people. What they want is a way to solve a problem that they are living with, and you need to prove your solution is good and effective (and accessible)-the "killer app/feature". Once they have bought this solution (embodied in GNU/Linux), then you can indoctrinate them why FOSS is better than proprietary, because they are already taking that medicine, and they are committed to it.

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