by Greg DeKoenigsberg
This is actually the second summer we’ve run Red Hat High. We learned a lot of lessons in our first year. The biggest lesson: We’re a technology company, not a summer camp company. It took the truly heroic efforts of many Red Hat employees to make the camp happen last time, and it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to duplicate those feats. Thus, our partnership with Science House at N. C. State.
They run summer science camps for a living, and they know their business. In preparation for this week, the nice folks at Science House arranged the counselors, the dorm rooms, the meals, the off-hours entertainment, the access to student health, the transportation, and lots of other details that we wouldn’t have even considered. Which has allowed us to focus on the part that we can feel like we can be good at: introducing technology to kids.
It seems to be generally accepted that successful business people feel passionately about what they do for a living. Personally, I find this to be true; the most successful people I know tend to work long hours, and frequently they spend their “downtime” talking and thinking about work as well. Not because they’re trying to be “a success”, per se, but because they love what they do, and the hard work is a byproduct of that.
So our first goal, months ago, was to recruit passionate users of all of these pieces of software, knowledgeable users who could pass their enthusiasm on. Some we asked to develop and teach curricula; some we asked to speak about their unique experiences using the software in the real world; and some we asked to observe, so that they could help us expand the Red Hat High curriculum beyond this local camp.
Jason “Groo” van Gumster, an independent animator and designer based in Richmond, Virginia, led the development of the Digital Animation curriculum, based around Blender. He was assisted by Sam Brubaker and Jonathan Williamson. The project: create a ten-second animation sequence.
Eileen Matis Wong, Red Hat designer, photographer, and former professor, led the development of the Digital Darkroom curriculum, based around Gimp. She was assisted by new Fedora Project Board member Dr. Jef Spaleta, who came all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska to observe and assist. The project: create an online photo album.
Adrian Likins, Red Hat software engineer and musician, led the development of the Digital Audio curriculum, based around Audacity and other free audio software. He was assisted by Steve Salevan, music director for WKNC, the award-winning college radio station for N.C. State University. The project: produce two minutes of original audio content for a Red Hat High radio show.
The Special Guests
On Monday night, John Bintz and Tim Daniels, two experienced digital cartoonists and Inkscape developers, showed all of the campers how they used Inkscape in their own work. Tim drew a comic using Inkscape, in real-time on a Wacom tablet, while John described what he was doing. First they sketched the basic outline in blue, then they inked. Within minutes, and with some advice from the audience, the scene was complete.
Then Tim showed them how painful it was to trace and fill a curved shape by hand. He drew in point after point after point and connected them all, and complained the whole time about how slow the process was. Then showed them a nifty tool in Inkscape to perform that task automatically… and then pointed out that he, himself, had written that tool. It was a real lightbulb moment for the kids.
On Tuesday night, kids and instructors were treated to a screening of the groundbreaking open source animated movie Elephant’s Dream, by the director himself, Bassam Kurdali. Bassam made the trip down to Raleigh to show his movie, and to tell the kids the story of how Blender became open source. Some of the kids weren’t too clear on the movie’s storyline, but everyone was amazed by the effects, and the kids in the animation track besieged Bassam with questions.
The Trip to Digital Circus
On Wednesday afternoon, we took the campers to visit the School of Communication Arts at Digital Circus. The campers toured the facility, visited some classrooms, and talked with college kids who were doing projects very similar to what the kids in Red Hat High have been working on all week.
When the kids reached the 3D Animation classroom, they were very impressed by Maya — until one of them asked for a free copy. “A full license of Maya costs $7000,” the instructor said, which elicited an outraged reaction from the kids. “But Blender is free!” they cried in unison.
Then the teacher started to show them some of the things Maya could do, and he was clearly surprised at the kids’ clueful responses. “These are vertices,” he’d say, and then they’d say “yeah, we’ve done that.” “Okay, this is texturing.” “Yeah, we’ve done that too.” “Okay, this is FK and IK.” “Yeah, forward and inverse kinematics. We’ve learned about that.”
For me, that moment has been the highlight of Red Hat High so far: standing there behind these kids, watching the professor become more and more frustrated at his inability to stump them — when they’d been in class for three days. It’s incredible what 13-year-olds can accomplish when you put them to the test.
Next time: Graduation Day, and where we go from here.