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Posts Tagged ‘Ken Starks’

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 In fact, with the exception of some historical references or discussions in the periphery, there’s little here on FOSS.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!

O’Reilly, you missed two

July 22, 2012 1 comment

I don’t want to take anything away from the winners of the O’Reilly Open Source Awards for 2012, given out at the big corporate FOSS Kumbaya in Portland known as OSCON this past week. All are very deserving of O’Reilly’s accolades — especially Elizabeth Krumbach, whose work I see on an almost regular basis — and I won’t go into listing the winners or their accomplishments here because O’Reilly has seen to that already.

But there are two — at least two — that were nominated and that O’Reilly missed. The misfortune that these two have been omitted arguably borders on tragic, too, because each of the following folks mentioned below have made significant contributions to FOSS in ways that equal, if not eclipse, those made by some of the this year’s recipients.

Here are two you missed, O’Reilly. Maybe next year you can rectify this.

The first O’Reilly oversight is Bill Kendrick. If you have children, you have probably happened upon Bill’s software opus Tux Paint somewhere along the line. If you don’t, then you may have seen it anyway. In its 10th year, Tux Paint is an award-winning art program for K-6 kids that not only teaches art, but also computer literacy. A long list of schools use it. It’s been open source ever since its inception, and is made for a variety of platforms — the usual suspects of Linux, Mac and Windows. Tux Paint alone should garner Bill the award, with an oak-leaf cluster, but he is even more deserving of the award for developing other educational software like TuxTyping — helping kids learn to type — not to mention Tux, of Math Command — which “lets kids hone their arithmetic skills while they defend penguins from incoming comets,” according to the website. Or, in other words, think of the ’80s arcade game Missile Command, only with math problems instead of incoming nuclear missiles.

[Blogger's note: Bill Kendrick straightens out the personnel lineup for the aforementioned projects here, and a full list of authors and contributors can be found here and here.]

The second oversight is Ken Starks. As those of you who regularly read this blog know, Ken and I go back a ways, back to the days when Ken successfully — miraculously — raised enough money to get Tux on the nose of an Indy car at the Indianapolis 500 back in 2007. The car crashed early in the race — irony of ironies for Linux — and finished last. As long as I’ve known him, Ken has been the most tireless advocate for Linux and FOSS for years. With the HeliOS Project — now REGLUE, an acronym for Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Used for Education — Ken and his merry band of fossketeers get refurbished Linux-based computers into the hands of underprivileged kids in the Austin, Texas, area. Ken was also one of the co-founders of the Lindependence Project, which brought Linux to a small town back in 2008. Currently, Ken’s battle with larynx cancer is limiting his activity, but he is still doing what he can with the hand he’s dealt.

So, how about it, Tim?

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!

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