So I have my motivation, but what do I do with what I have? I know I want a book about a computer problem that involves older, slower computers and solving it with Linux.
Now is the time for me to start throwing around some staging work, just to see what it sounds like. The characters do not have to be set, no pictures need to be taken yet, etc.
I want some honest emotion so I'll just say C1 (character 1) is playing with a computer, trying to play a game or do some activity. Then they begin to have trouble. The program won't run right. Does this sound familiar? For most of us it is familiar. It's restarting quite a few times, it's getting a blank screen, it's frozen, it crashes constantly, the keyboard or mouse stops working even though they are functional on other computers, the sound stops working or...the final straw...
"Maximum Memory Exceeded" or "Your computer has been shut down to prevent damage"
This doesn't necessarily mean you have exceeded the working memory of your drive, it could mean that your computer simply can't handle DOING one more thing.
But how do I put that in a way that my kid could understand it if they had never torn out the guts of a pc and really dug into what makes it work?
Should I bring up the subject of Macs? No no no. First we have to diagnose the problem right? We have to give these kids a way to figure out what's wrong. So we literally spell it out for them.
"C1 growls" "C2 asks what's wrong" "C1 says it won't work! It's slow/stuck/etc" "C2 says "Well, we need to figure out what the problem is. We'll do some troubleshooting" "C1: Troubleshooting, what's that?" Here is where I make an important comparison. Now this chart may or may not appear in the book, I don't know. It is a useful method for explaining how to "Fix" things. Kids generally learn the scientific process early on now, they don't necessarily learn how to analyze a problem when it goes wrong.
1: Is there a problem? It is always possible this is just user error correct? pushed the wrong button, turned something off when it should be on, etc. When C1 and C2 discover that it is not user error, they have to admit, there's a problem. So on to the next step.
2. What is the problem? What exactly do all these little hints "slow/stuck/etc" tell us? This is a good opportunity to explain WHAT an operating system is. Why is it important? Why do we care? So if the operating system can no longer handle these programs, we need to propose a solution. We could: pay for an upgrade. Hey, come on I'm only 12! How much money am I gonna have right? Lets look at some cheaper options. I could get other characters involved here offering advice, etc, They finally come up with the solution to put on a Linux distribution.
3. Now they have to test the solution. Make a USB stick and install the new OS. Put a program back on it and test it, put more on it, one by one. Now this can get tricky. There are programs that won't work on Linux, and I can't mention Windows by name. I may stick with just one program for simplicity's sake.
4. Finally, when everything is on and working, they can analyze what they have learned and write down everything that happened, documenting the process for others. They could even present it as a class project thus earning the interest and respect of peers in the book.
This is totally a mix of reality and fantasy and lots of elements won't work for kids, but this is a good scratch of the way I'd like it to go. If I didn't know any of this process, this would be the time I'd need to do some research, and for explaining an operating system to children, I will. In fact, I will take the opportunity to try explaining it to a kid. If I can successfully explain it to them, I'm pretty confident that it's a good explanation for the book.
Notice that I still haven't identified characters, I haven't placed gender to them, I haven't introduced personalities, I am only going over the very basic storyline. I want those major points down before I decide, who's going to say what? If I go too fast, my books become "rushed" and the points are not made. Especially with a complication that can be confusing, I need to concentrate on explanations first, then the fun stuff after. This is not three little guinea pigs running around the house, this is explaining a real life situation to kids who may have never seen this before.