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Today, on the 4th July, I reflect on the huge number of men and women that have selflessly worked and fought to make our life today so much easier, that have secured the many freedoms that we currently enjoy in this country and much of the western world. They have not sought rewards of money or power for their efforts. It is fortunate for mankind that their number greatly exceeds those who succumb to Greed for personal gain.

On July 4 in the United States we remember the thousands of volunteers, that ragged, cold and hungry, fought 1775 to 1784 for independence. In many countries over the centuries others have done the same, including the underground fighters against Nazi occupation in World War II, the struggle against Communist tyranny in Hungary and Poland. Now It is time to pay tribute to those who continue to fight for those freedoms where they are still denied, especially those in Myanmar (Burma) and Iran.

     While some have made fortunes as result of the development of transistors and the resultant explosion in home computers and of the Internet, none of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of scientists, engineers, programmers and just plain experimenters and students who worked long hours just to satisfy their curiosity and their desire for knowledge.

     The most astounding contribution to the worldwide spread of computers and knowledge round the world are the efforts of dedicated programmers, starting with the initiative of Richard Stallman, who in 1984 pioneered the development of the GNU General Public License, with the aim of providing a sufficient body of free software [...] to get along without any software that is not free.
Linux, provides the backbone operating system, that is free for all who wish to use it. It was originally developed by the Finnish programmer, Linus Thorvalds, in 1991. Hundreds of volunteer programmers world-wide have expanded it so that it now provides all of the features of Microsoft's Windows, with much lower memory overhead.
Netscape used hundreds of volunteers to develop the Mozilla family of web browsers (the latest version Firefox) and made them available free of charge for any non-commercial use.
The most spectacular success is the development of the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia, available free of any charge and with no advertising. Wikipedia went on-line 13 January 2001 with only one article in English. With only a handful of paid staffers, but hundreds of thousands of volunteers all over the world , the English version has grown to 2.9 million articles (4 July, 2009). In addition versions now exist in over 200 languages, with the five next largest (in hundreds of thousand articles) - German (7.2,), French ( 6.3), Polish (4.8), Japanese (4.7), Italian (4.2).

     Another outstanding example of what can be accomplished when many talented and generous individuals become dedicated to an idea is the One Laptop per Child non-profit organization, sponsored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, with assistance from many companies and individuals. The units are programmed to cost $100 each, and are equipped entirely with free software. The purpose is to assist in the education of children in undeveloped countries. Presently over 1 million laptops are in the hands of grade school children in 10 countries.
The government of Rwanda announced in June 2009 that 2 million primary school children in the country will be provided with the OLPC by 2012. Already wireless servers have been built throughout the center of the country creating a gigantic WiFi "hotspot". University students are being recruited in many countries to spend 12 weeks in Africa to assist in this program. Pilot programs are also currently underway in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ghana, Mongolia, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.

     No discussion of the generosity and dedication of ordinary people would be complete without mention of the hundreds of thousands who devote their time to participate in programs to assist the poor and the elderly. These include those who cook and serve meals everyday in shelters and soup kitchens of the churches and Salvation Army, provide meals on wheels to elderly in their homes, and build and repair low cost homes for the disadvantaged. Similar programs exist in all industrialized countries.

If not, now is the time to think about it.
Encourage your teenagers to give some of their time.

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Last updated: July 6, 2009.