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Posts Tagged ‘HeliOS’

Play ball

September 3, 2012 4 comments

Warning: Very little of this blog item deals with free/open source software. In fact, with the exception of some historical references or discussions in the periphery, there’s little here on FOSS. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it; on the contrary, you might welcome the break from my tilting at windmills and read something slightly more important.

This blog deals more with the human condition, or specifically Ken Starks’ human condition, and baseball, as well as why sometimes you need to step outside the proverbial batter’s box to get some perspective.

As many of you already know — and for those of you keeping score at home — back in the spring Ken and I planned to go to the Astros-Giants series in Houston at the end of August. Let me back up: Ken and I have been planning to go to a ballgame since 2008, since we teamed up to organize the Lindependence Project, and never got around to it until now. Last week, he and I went to Minute Maid Park to watch the three-game series and, as one might expect, the Giants swept.

That’s all the gloating I’m going to do. Honest.

As many of you also already know, Ken’s about to go under the knife for larynx cancer surgery, which many of you heard about through FOSS channels; and I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you for pitching in like most of you did. As far as the trip was concerned, we were touch-and-go on whether Ken was able to make the trip due to the fact that he may have had a quick reservation for a table for one at the hospital where his surgery will take place. But finally he was cleared for travel, and we ended up watching the series at Houston.

Let me tell you something about Ken that he relayed to me in conversation between innings, and I don’t think he’d mind if I mention it. I thought the topic was somewhat obvious to me, yet I think Ken may feel it bears repeating.

It is this: Some may be under the impression that he’s down for the count; that he’s lying in bed waiting for death. Clearly he’s not.

I got the impression that he finds it irksome that some may think he is somehow disabled or on the fast track to becoming an invalid. To say Ken has a lot on his plate at the moment is an understatement: In juggling the news of his possible mortality with negotiating the maze of the American health care system, all while continuing his day-to-day life, I think Ken wants folks to understand that he’s still standing.

Whether it’s just his Texan nature or just the fact he’s an incredibly tough guy (and I’d want him on my side in any fight), Ken’s continuing to do what he’s always been doing while he waits for the next step on his fight against cancer. Of course, that would include getting underprivileged kids computers with Linux on them, and promoting FOSS with the same passion and zeal, just as he has been doing all along. In short, he’s just getting things done; not for the accolades or for the fanfare, but because a.) it’s what he does, and b.) it’s the right thing to do.

No, he hasn’t got the strength in his hands that he used to, and there’s a self-consciousness about “the PVC pipe sticking out of my throat” that a bandana conceals. He speaks in a hushed tone now, or what he refers to as his “Godfather voice;” a voice that may even be more quiet in post-surgery. But with each time that Ken gets floored by chemo or radiation treatment — let alone by surgery — it seems he gets up off the proverbial mat, dusts himself off and is asks, “Is that all you got?”

Today, Ken blogged about the Linus Torvalds-Miguel de Icaza dustup when I’m sure he’s had some other, more weighty, things to think about. During my visit to Houston, we talked a lot about how many kids were being helped in Taylor, north of Austin, by Reglue (formerly the HeliOS Project) and how this is going to continue as he recovers. In other words, it was pretty much business as usual with a couple of hurdles in the near future to overcome.

Some of you already know this story: Ken and I would probably have never met, let alone be on speaking terms, if it wasn’t for FOSS. I wrote about it here before he and I actually met in Felton for Lindependence in 2008. Videographer Christian Einfeldt of San Francisco filmed much of Lindependence that year and did an interview with Ken and me that you can find on archive.org if you do a search for Lindependence, so you can see the Mutt and Jeff, the Laurel and Hardy, or the Abbott and Costello first-hand in unedited form.

I’m proud and honored to know Ken and I’m proud and honored to consider him a close friend and a teammate in the wide world of FOSS. And if he gets on base, you can bet I’m going to drive him in for a run, just as I know he’d do the same for me. It’s what players on the same team do.

Play ball.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Interview with Ken Starks

March 14, 2012 2 comments

It’s fairly common knowledge that if anyone on the planet eats, drinks and breathes Free/Open Source Software, it’s Ken Starks. A tireless advocate for FOSS and Linux, Starks is the poster boy for walking the FOSS walk after talking the talk. In the Austin, Texas, area he provides underpriviliged kids with Linux boxes through the HeliOS Project, which takes donated hardware, refurbishes them and gives them to needy children in the Austin area.

Starks had overcome a cancer diagnosis in the past, but he is now engaged in fighting a new battle with throat and neck cancer. While the HeliOS Project is the sum of its parts, Starks is the voice and face of the organization he founded. With a health condition possibly sidelining him for the time being – and possibly longer – this interview provides the most current information on his medical situation, and also provide a report on the direction of the HeliOS Project going forward.

In this interview, we take a look at where Starks and HeliOS has been, where it is now, and where it’s going.

Q: Let’s go back to the beginning and bring us up to where we are today at HeliOS Solutions. How much of an impact has The HeliOS Project made in the Austin area?

Ken Starks: Statistically, we have placed just under 1,500 computers to underpriviledged kids since 2005. Over-all impact is honestly hard to measure. Sure we can give the tools to build but how many use them to their full potential?  We are just not big enough or funded enough to track that info with any science. However, If the weekly feedback we get from our kid’s parents us any indication, we can measure ate least some empirical evidence of an increase in both math and reading skills.

Outside of cold, hard statistics though, you really need to take into account that “aha” moment. That moment when a child glimpses the possibilities at their fingertips. I cannot measure that Larry, and I don’t think anyone can. Still,that does not make it unimportant.

Q: You’ve won local awards, you helped organize the Lindependence Project a few years ago, and you’ve keynoted last year’s Texas Linux Fest. You’ve had a very busy few years recently.

KS: Thanks for noticing and it really was accidental notice. I take some pride in being awarded The Dewey Winburne Community award more than anything but the rest of it has been fun, too … but onward. Laurels wear out quickly in this business and resting upon them just crushes them to the ground.

Q: The HeliOS Project is all about providing Linux boxes to kids. Can you explain how the concept of providing children with technology resonates with people and why it’s a necessary goal for HeliOS?

KS: It’s really the only goal for HeliOS, Larry. When I first got involved with this project, it was something to do while I healed from a work-related injury. But when I began placing the computers, and seeing the huge “digital divide,” it rang a clear, concise and commanding bell within me

Q: Over the years, you and the HeliOS Project team have grown the project to where it stands today. In large part, the project has flourished under your leadership. How does this change with your current health condition?

KS: It leaves much unanswered, Larry, and to this point we’ve always had a pool of great volunteers to rally and help us get the job done. However, out of all of them, should I have to step aside for any period of time, I can’t think of anyone that could take a full lead position. I’m not saying that it’s that hard, but if you have other things pulling you in other directions, you are not always going to be focused where the project needs you.

I was in the hospital for just under two weeks and in that time, we have fallen 20-some installs behind, we have received machines for donation that are just lying about without triage and our landscape has grown to jungle proportions outside of our facility. I am amazed the City of Taylor hasn’t contacted us. I am receiving both chemotherapy and radiation Treatments and to be honest, Larry, I am mostly dead inside. I just don’t have the energy to
go from the bed to the bathroom until I can complete this treatment. And hopefully, we will kill this frickin’ monster forever.

Hopefully, we can gather a small pool of volunteers to go do the installs but if not, it’s just going to have to wait until I can get better. Honestly, the last thing I want people to imagine is that HeliOS is languishing.

Q: Is there a real chance of that, Ken? Languishing, or worse?

KS: Larry, I think so. When you have a project who’s vision and dream are guided by one person, then if that person disappears, the void takes its toll. Again, I don’t know anyone that is in the position to step in and take it over. It is an unpaid position at this point and even with some upcoming funding, the Facility Administrator job will pay tops of 28K. I can work for that but most people can’t or won’t. I do have some very real concerns over HeliOS lasting this health problem. I have to balance my life right now with the needs of the project and the demands on my health.

Q: You mention upcoming. How are you funded now?

KS: Except for donations and things we sell through the HeliOS eBay store, I pay for most stuff out of pocket and and then request reimbursement if there is any money in the SPI donation fund. I work small contracts to pay my bills. If there is money in the donations fund, I submit for reimbursement. The biggest problem I have now is that I lost two working contracts while in the hospital due to lack of my ability to go forward with the work.  That’s going to prove to be a big short term problem but hopefully, we will get by this with a little help and we can move along.

I’ve come to the community often in the five years we’ve needed help, and once before when my health was bad. And to be honest with you, I’m not real comfortable with doing so now so verbally, I won’t. It’s just where I/we are at the moment. I have no doubt that if I can regain my health, we can get back on track again. And to be honest Larry … I’ve had a full, interesting life, full of things from all sides of life’s spectrum, both good and bad, innocent and evil, and as I come to realize that my life’s clock may actually be showing the last quarter, the most I could ask for is another five years of productivity so I can make HeliOS a self-surviving entity.

If you care to, you can contact Ken at his prime mover email address: helios@fixedbylinux.com

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Deep in the heart of TexOS

October 4, 2011 3 comments

Both Ken Starks and I have full plates, rhetorically speaking, when it comes to things we’re doing, things we’re planning to do, and things we’re actually getting done in the FOSS realm.

The up side of this is that things are getting done and we’re both staying out of trouble — although I can only speak for myself on the latter. The down side is that, in these busy days, I don’t get to talk to Ken as much as I’d like. But my good friend from the great state of Texas (no, that’s not sarcasm, Ken. Honest) passed on an interesting link that I think deserves special mention.

As most of you know, Ken gets Linux/FOSS boxes in the hands and homes of underprivileged kids in the Austin area through the HeliOS Project. He and I also organized the Lindependence event back in Felton and, as mentioned here in an item back in 2008, he and I are living breathing proof that Linux/FOSS works across political lines for a greater good.

Meanwhile, back at the original point of this blog, Ken passed on a link to something I find very interesting and something that needs to be shared, if not actually built upon.

The link in question is for TexOS, the Texas Open Source Project. The Texas Open Source Project, according to its site, “is working with local, non-profits in the San Angelo, Texas, area to provide technology to students who don’t have access to it at home.”

San Angelo is almost smack dab in the center of Texas — if “smack dab in the center” were me aiming a dart at the bull’s eye of the Lone Star State and being where the dart ends up (just to the left) after I tossed it — just West-Northwest as the crow flies of Austin.

Looking at the “About TexOS” page, the project encompasses a FOSS mentality, especially in providing “low cost access to educational and other useful software for all other purposes.” That’s where we — those who advocate for, and use, Linux and FOSS — come in.

A good example of this is the item posted about how TexOS used LibreOffice and Kalzium, a KDE program, for a school project. This combo is one of may ways that FOSS can be used in an educational setting providing free — as in beer and freedom — software to the classroom/student environment.

The folks at TexOS hold workshops to go with the placement of hardware, so users get a head start with their new machines. This is a definite plus for the kids — who are, according to one report, ages 10-13 — where they get an idea of what they’re getting into with FOSS. They’ve held two so far, with the third coming this Saturday.

This looks like a great program, and I would like to think that Linux/FOSS advocates will take a close look at TexOS as a blueprint in getting the same kind of program promoting Linux/FOSS in their own community.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

This just in . . .

February 3, 2011 1 comment

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

Every day when I check my blog stats — and now that the number of hits is in triple-digits, it warms my heart to know that some people really like the blog — there is always one item from 2008 which is still getting multiple hits on a daily basis for reasons way beyond my understanding.

It is this one: It’s Official: Microsoft’s Concerned about GNU/Linux, which outlines Microsoft’s 10-K report, which they file annually with the SEC (as all corporations do). This one is from 2008. In it, as 10-Ks are supposed to do, it points out potential pitfalls to the business, and open source is one of them, so says Microsoft.

Needless to say, I find it extremely funny that commentary on a 10-K from three years ago is still getting attention.

But never mind. I really wanted to relay this bulletin: This just in . . . HelioOS Project made it as one of the top three finishers at the Rock A Charity Event on Feb. 18. HeliOS, Well Aware, and English at Work are the three top-finishing charities in the contest. Congrats, Ken!

And, once again, here are the last three words of The Heart Sutra: “Don’t Waste Time.”

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Random thoughts, cheap shots and bon mots

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin. Also, apologies to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler, whose six words in this blog’s title often appear on his sports columns.

Whatever our opinions of Facebook might be, I think we can all agree that the social network which garnered Mark Zuckerberg Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” serves humanity not by releasing any relevant information about the inner workings of government or anything like that, but serves as the biggest human time sink in history. But as such, we’re going to start with it, and . . . .

Give a hand where needed: Ken Starks and I have worked together in the past on the Lindependence Project — and we may do so again this year (more on this another time) — and his baby, the HeliOS Project, does great things for kids in the Austin, Texas, area. Specifically, the project provides castoff computers which run Linux to underprivileged kids in the area. The HeliOS Project is in a contest where top three finishers in popularity — you have to “like” them, in the Facebook mode of liking — are awarded a monetary prize for the most “likes.” Even if there wasn’t an award at the end of this contest 12 hours from now, you should still “like” this project. Go here if you’re on Facebook and give them a click. This just in . . . HelioOS Project made it as one of the top three finishers at the Rock A Charity Event on Feb. 18. HeliOS, Well Aware, and English at Work are the three top-finishing charities in the contest. Congrats, Ken!

After returning from Tempe, Ariz., losing a fight with a cold and then rallying, we can now talk about . . .

FUDCon finishes with a flurry: Literally — many of my Fedora colleagues who attended FUDCon in Tempe, Ariz., at the beautiful campus of Arizona State were stranded there after Monday thanks to snowstorms in what seemed to be every state east of the Rockies. Without going into great detail — after all, I did that already as Larry the Fedora Guy (you knew that was coming) — what I did want to say was that events like this are great for getting people face-to-face and working on a common goal. Eternal thanks go to Robyn Bergeron, Ryan Rix, Paul Frields, Ian Weller, Max Spevack and others who put on this great event.

From there we turn up the temperature . . . .

Trying the new hotness: Adam Williamson invites those who are interested to give GNOME 3 a workout: Adam writes, “Fedora will be running three test days to aid in the final polishing and stabilization of the GNOME 3 release, and make sure Fedora 15 provides a good desktop experience. This is a great opportunity to help both GNOME and Fedora development and help make sure you can work effectively in GNOME 3 when it lands on your desktop.” If you’re so inclined, go for it.

And, in closing, the editorial “we” reminds you of the last three words of The Heart Sutra: “Don’t Waste Time.”

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Back to the future

January 16, 2011 2 comments

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

More times than not, Ken Starks — who pens the Blog of Helios — nails it, and his most recent item is quite possibly Exhibit A to that rule. In his latest submission, Ken responds adequately to a critic who “said that [the HeliOS Project] had wasted a computer on kids that were far too young to either appreciate the technology or use it efficiently.”

Ken’s blog takes the argument and slices and dices it in such a way that, if it were a Ronco product, you’d find it being advertised on late-night television.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll let Ken tell the story, from his blog. Ken writes:

“Skip Guenter and I do week-long computer labs during summer vacation. The kids range from 4th to 6th grade. When I first intro the class. I walk among the seated children and then I point to one of them and I say:

” ‘You are going to be the first person to walk on Mars.’

“I point to another and state:

” ‘You are going to discover an herbal compound that cures diabetes.’

“And to a third child I point and say:

” ‘You are going to invent the nano technology that reverses blindness.’

“Then I make sure that they understand one thing. Unless they embrace and learn about the machines in front of them, none of that is likely to happen.”

Amen to that, Ken.

Also, on the issue of age, there is my own experience. I started with GNU/Linux and FOSS very late — 48 to be exact, five years ago, and I’ve told that story here ad nauseum. However, thanks to the miracle of being my offspring (it’s a miracle to me, anyway, that she’s my girl), my daughter Mimi has grown up with FOSS for pretty much her entire life.

Her introduction to computers and their use, then, has always involved a high degree of FOSS exposure, and with this exposure comes a better understanding of how software works and a clearer knowledge of how software should be available to the public. It has been interesting to watch her grow along with the Free Software and Open Source philosophies; not to mention the snapshots along the way, like learning about how to install Debian at 8 under her Dad’s watchful eye, or her enthusiasm today for GIMP and other programs that allow her to develop and expand her passion for drawing.

With her understanding of how the digital world works and inheriting her Dad’s affinity for implementing Free Software and the Open Source paradigm, Mimi can usually be found with me at various Linux expos and shows. Not only this, she can also be found with her friends — Malakai and Saskia Wade — giving talks at expos like SCALE and the Utah Open Source Conference about “Girls in FOSS.”

[As an aside: Mimi is now an Ubuntu user, in what her Fedora-using Dad hopes will be just a passing rebellious phase. Or not. But rather than rend my garment and wail skyward, "I have no daughter!" I would prefer to be proud of her beyond words for trying a variety of distros and settling on one that works for her. That's my girl.]

Back to the art, though: Mimi has developed an artesian depth of artistic talent, and my eternal gratitude goes to Bill Kendrick and the developers of Tux Paint for planting the seed of artistic abilities with that consistently outstanding program. Tux Paint and this household, digitally speaking, go way back, and Kendrick’s and his team’s efforts on all the software they write make a huge impact on the lives of those who use it.

This same “huge impact” can be claimed by a wide range of FOSS programs as well — substitute $FOSS_PROGRAM for “Tux Paint” and there are a wide variety of FOSS programs that have made their mark on the computer-using world, all for the better.

Which brings us back to Ken and Skip and the summer computer labs: One kid in that room may be the one who first steps on Mars. One may be the one who develops the technology to allow the blind to see. But also, they may not be the ones accomplishing those feats, and that’s OK. At the very least — at the absolute least — kids learning about and using FOSS will grow up to be average adults with a better understanding of how hardware and software work and a clearer picture of how hardware and software should be made available to the public.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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Monday, Monday

August 9, 2010 2 comments

One of the more peculiar items I find when checking my blog stats is that I still get hits for a blog item I wrote in 2008 — 2008 — about Microsoft’s 10-K report that year and how it implies how good the open source paradigm might be compared to its own software and its own business model.

Bear in mind that one of the purposes of a 10-K report — somewhat like the medical disclaimers you hear on drug commercials that, after listening to it, would make any normal person avoid the drug at all costs — is to outline any potential pitfall in buying stock in the company you’re considering so you can’t sue them if, well, the stock goes south; way south.

Why the blog item keeps getting hits is beyond me, but for those who keep reading it, thanks.

A brave man: My friend Steven Rosenberg, who writes a tech column for the Los Angeles Daily News, wades into uncharted territory in his column today, where he outlines dual-booting a Lenovo with Fedora and . . . wait for it . . . Windows 7. As always, Steven’s blogs are always informative and instructional, and the reasoning behind his using the Xfce spin of Fedora is something that hadn’t occurred to me before. Steven says in the blog that he “prefer(s) the Xfce tools over those in GNOME. I like the Thunar file manager, the way you can ‘minimize’ a window but keep it visible on the desktop, I like the look (and speed; these helper apps are super-quick) and functionality of the Xfce terminal and Mousepad text editor. The Xfce configuration apps all work great, and there are plenty of them.” Nice work, as always, Steven. Keep us posted on this dual-boot adventure.

Survey says: Ken Starks over at the Blog of HeliOS has a fairly interesting survey to be taken, if you have several minutes. Tell Ken how you use GNU/Linux or Linux and help him out.

Now, who wants more coffee?

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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