The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Gurlz Just Wanna Be Geex

There's not much wiggle room in the statement, "Linux is a Boys Club".

Always has been...

But slowly, like the acceptance of Linux on the desktop...things are changin'.

Recently, a friend of mine, a firefighter and all around nice guy mentioned that he recently had some contact with a family of a Mom, three girls and no computer.

That sounded like something we might want to look into so I took the address down and that evening, made a inpromtu call on Brenda Meiendez. Brenda is a single mother of three girls, Evelyn, Arlene and Daicy.

It didn't take long to become absolutely captured by this family. No compelling story, no tragedy, no real "hook"...just a solid all-girl family trying to make it in today's world.

Without a computer in the home.

After talking with them for a while, I felt comfortable in working with these people. Now that may sound a bit odd so let's put a bookmark in this story here and take a short side trip.

In 2008, it happened on more than one occasion. Three times actually. We had to retrieve some of the computers we donated from pawn shops. Lowlife live-ins or other ner-do wells sometimes find an opportunity to score a few bucks by hocking the kid's computers. On all occasions that this was reported to us, we dutifully reclaimed the machines, returned them to the kids and password-protected the bios so that no one but the child could log in.

I pay for that...not The HeliOS Project. You can bet I'm not going to let that happen again.

Now that sounds as if it could put the child in a clumsy situation and I suppose it could...but in every situation like this, we haven't received another call to spring one of our machines from The Dollar Pokey. That's why we "interview" the family prior to leaving one of our machines. We've developed a fairly good gut instinct on the environment there and if the machine is going to be used in the way it was intended.

I started bringing in the components and the the two oldest, Evelyn and Arlene followed me piece by piece, even carrying the smaller stuff in. The excitement was obvious as they closely watched me assemble their computer.

That should have been my first clue.

They closely watched me.

I mean "on-hands-and-knees-with-me-as-I-hooked-stuff-up" watched me. Not sitting on the couch and politely, not these girls.

Arlene, 11 years old and by far the most inquisative, even asked about the little green light that came on when I plugged in their newly installed Time Warner Internet cable.

"Does that mean we have Internet?"

Her gaze was so steady and hopeful, I almost hugged her.

"You bet it does honey."

She looked at her older sister and they both clapped. I immediately got the impression that MySpace was about to gain two more residents.

Sound check...graphix check with the most sophisticated 3D test available...a quick run of Extreme Tux Racer...Cube spin...Sub woofer was woofin'....

Houston, we have a computer.

I sat down with Brenda and began writing out some things she needed to know and asked her about any particular filters she might want on the system. It wasn't five minutes into our talk when Arlene pulled at my sleeve.

"Which one is the DVD burner?"

I looked at her then over at the computer. Evelyn had already found K3b and had hooked her Ipod to the machine, using Songbird to manage the sync.

The computer had been on less than ten minutes.

I told her the top one was the master, both cd and dvd burners, and the bottom was cd rom/burner only. She nodded and rejoined her sister at their mixfest.

I suppose what continues to amaze me after well over 500 installs is the quickness that these kids pick up the system. There is no stodgy hesitation of adult handling of the mouse as if it were an unstable explosive...

They drop the menu, start digging into stuff and commence learning.

And they don't stop.

And I am gratified..

In more ways than I can come close to expressing.

All-Righty Then

Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 HeliOS Project Christmas Raffle Winners

The following people are winners of the First Annual HeliOS Project Raffle. From Larry, Tom, Bob, Darrel and myself; thank you for making this year's raffle a success. We will be able to build approximately 20 computers with what was donated during this raffle. The names of each winner will be posted here after the Twitter posts at 6 pm CST, 12/20/08. See the winners as they are drawn and posted on twitter.

look on Twitter for helios17.

You folks are a huge part of what we do and we thank you for thinking of those who cannot always provide for themselves.

As a side note, if there are any Austinites or Central Texans reading this, email me if you wish to go out on any of our HeliOS Project installs. It's not only gratifying, it's usually a lot of fun.

First Prize Winner

Clarence Beckham
Alexandria VA

Second Prize Winner

Nichole Uhlik
Austin TX

Third Place Prizes
Autographed Linux Networking Cookbook

George Socker, Owlings MD
Peregrine Concepts, Brush Creek TN
Samuel Woods, Round Rock TX
Robert Williams, Lancaster OH
"watdat", Newark DE
Lee McLain, Cuyahoga Falls OH

Mandriva 2009 Live CD w/4 gig thumb drive

Rich Bacchetta, Rochester NY
Ryan Southard, Harrisonville MO
George Gatewood, Belfast ME
John Pelrin, Carver MA
Jenny Vincin, Missouri City TX

Again, thanks to everyone who helped us get through this Christmas season. I was able to go out today and install two computers in Florence Texas that would not have been available had it not been for the fine people that entered our raffle. From my heart to yours...

Thank you.

All-righty Then

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand......

Anything I have to say about this would be redundant. I am placing a call this morning to the people responsible for this and asking why this is. Far be it from me to jump to any irrational conclusions....they can lead to messy misunderstandings as I hear it told.

Thank you to Thomas Holbrook for bringing this to our attention. You can see his insightful postings at

The phrase "their tentacles are everywnere" comes to mind. Then again, it may just be a silly over-reaction. I am curious to know what you think.

EDIT: David Liu of Gos has responded: While currently we do not have a relationship with MS, but most of our hardware partners do. Cloud will be customized into different versions, it may have Google, Yahoo, or Live.

That's fine...we just think that it might have been a better choice to put a Google representation know...the company that built their business on Linux Dave?

And oh by the way...sometimes links just won't become happens some times. For those inconvenient moments, a firefox extension has been created that allows double clicks on those annoying text links to act as regular hyperlinks. You can find it here.

Your welcome.

All-Righty Then

Friday, December 12, 2008


It never was my intention to attack anyone personally....

My sights were set on correcting some obvious misconceptions. It was a focused attack on ignorance but with some unsolicited commentary on a particular group.

Whether by proxy or focused intent, it appears that is what has happened, however.

A particular teacher within the Austin Independent School District now sucks.

The consensus began building about 24 hours ago when I published a blog strongly chastising a teacher who emailed me. She made, what I considered to be, some amazingly ignorant statements, statements that I felt attacked the very core reason for my existence. It made me much angrier than it should have.

I'm human, so sue me.

No wait, scratch that last line...don't sue me. It is being discussed.

Her tone didn't help her case much. She insinuated that I may had done something illegal. We build/refurbish computers for kids who are financially disadvantaged. We also build and present computers to kids of high achievement. To even hint that I am involved in anything that approaches breaking the law is not only silly, it evokes emotion better left un-evoked. I've worked for years to bring the level of success, however limited, we have now. The last thing I need is to lose it all for something silly.

So instead of crafting a measured, count-for-count personal response, I chose to share her obvious ignorance with members of the Linux Community. It was meant to illustrate the maddening ignorance and bias a Linux Advocate faces in a Microsoft Windows world. It was also meant to digitally spank the hand of the offender. It was a good direction to go I thought.

Things pretty much turned to fecal flakes from there.

Look, I write this little back-water blog to document what we do at the HeliOS Project and to advocate Linux in general. One of our main focuses is to see to it that Linux begins gaining a foothold in the computing public's awareness. And no, my goal isn't to convince you to switch to Linux.

That's my desire.

My goal is to make you aware that you have a choice in how you operate your computers. And yes, a bias exists on the Linux side of the ledger.

Ya think? People don't realize they are prisoners in their own computers when they use Microsoft Windows. If they ever read the EULA, they'd understand quickly.

So boasting a stunning readership in the dozens, I go about my business writing about things that happen in our day to day operations. Every now and then, something or someone does or says something that I believe needs attention.

Holy Crap!

Well, we got attention. When I published a part of the email this Teacher sent me, it experienced something known as "The Slashdot Effect." Slashdot is a website devoted to the tech/internet world and is read by hundreds of thousands an hour.

Yeah...hundreds of thousands an hour. My article scolding this teacher ended up on the front page of Slashdot.

For whatever reason, this story took on a life of its own. By 10:30 AM, I had to turn my cell phone off. Poeple were getting my number from my business website and calling me with their comments and reactions.

Not all of them were particularly on my side.

I received calls from South Africa, The Netherlands, Croatia, The Land Down Under and Russia.

It's the one from New Zealand that bothered me the most.

The caller identified himself and then further identified himself as an editor for a well known magazine published in the UK. He was extremely to-the-point with his call.

He would donate $1000.00 immediately to The HeliOS Project if I would give him the name of the Teacher I blogged about.

I hung up the phone.

"This is madness." I thought to myself. What is the big friggin' deal here? This is a non-story.

And my phone buzzed again but it wasn't with the incoming call was a text message being received. I cued the caller ID and it returned as "unavailable".

I pushed "read message" and waited for the text to appear on my screen.

"Can I call you?"

I pulled the truck over into a parking lot and answered:

"I guess. Who r u?"

The inactivity was so long that I started the truck and began to put it into gear and re-enter traffic when the buzz came again. I pushed the read button.


It was my turn to hesitate. Finally, I toggled Reply and typed in one character.


She didn't call right away. It took her about 15 minutes to finally call me. When she did she didn't say anything for the first 15 seconds. When she finally did speak, it was obvious she was crying.

"Why did you throw me to the wolves like that?"

I didn't even have to think of the reply.

"I didn't throw you to the wolves Karen, I threw ignorance to the wolves. Let me ask you something. If I had not emailed you a link to my blog, would you have even known about this?"

Again she hesitated. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that if you didn't know I had written that blog, would you have known about all these comments? Has anyone called you or bothered you about this? Have your co-workers mentioned it?"


"Then the wolves didn't touch you Karen. If I had included your last name or email address, then yes, you could ask me that question but as it stands, you are just a nameless school teacher that evoked a public response from me."

She didn't say anything for several seconds. When she did, it was a quiet and simple:

"Thank you".

Yeah...thank you. Like I deserve that. Let me share a couple things with you here. First off, I want to sincerely apologize for some things I did say, things that were way off base and even if they were situationally true, they didn't add anything of value to the conversation.

I want to apologize to all the hard-working and honest NEA members. My statements were based on an isolated but nasty experience two years ago, and, while I developed a nasty dislike for the people in that situation, it was both unfair and short-sighted to say the things I did. The teachers that we entrust our kids with on a daily basis do us a service that is under-appreciated, under-paid and over-criticized. My mini tirade didn't add anything of value to the situation and only served to inflame an already volatile area of debate. You have my sincere apology for slapping you all with such a wide brush.

Karen isn't alone in her ignorance. I have sat in a PhD's office...a PhD that happened to be a principal of a school. She told me that according to her "tech staff", it was illegal to remove Microsoft Windows from their school computers. So who is ignorant here? The "tech staffer" afraid of losing his MCSE position or the Dr. of Education that didn't bother to check into such a statement. Ignorance isn't the sole possession of this particular school teacher.

Karen and I have talked on the phone now for a couple of hours, here and there. We've come to understand each other more and had she said some of the things in her email that she said during our phone conversations...this black ink on white digital paper probably wouldn't exist.

And neither would over 2000 comments that were less than kind on one end of it and absolutely brutal on the other.

The student did get his Linux disks back after the class. The lad was being disruptive, but that wasn't mentioned. Neither was the obvious fact that when she saw a gaggle of giggling 8th grade boys gathered around a laptop, the last thing she expected to see on that screen was a spinning cube.

She didn't know what was on those disks he was handing out. It could have been porn, viral .exe's...any number of things for all she knew. When she heard that an adult had given him some of the disks to hand out, her spidey-senses started tingling. Coupled with the fact that she truly was ignorant of honest-to-goodness Free Software, and you have some fairly impressive conclusion-jumping.

In a couple of ways, I am guilty of it too.

Karen seems to be a good teacher, and as she stated to me today, she has learned more about the tech world in a few days than she's learned in five years.

That's because she's trapped in a world of Windows. Most people are.

I have contacted the technology department of AISD and have discovered it has a rich technology environment that uses open source software in all aspects of instruction, operation, and administration. The District has over 36,000 desktop and laptop computers. While about 24,000 of those computers run some version of Windows, AISD is anything but a Windows shop. Their current standard teacher/student image includes both Open Office and Firefox on all Windows computers, and recently has added Open Office to the Apple OS image. Other open source software on both images include audacity and lame, and other free software such as Google Earth, iTunes, Adobe and many plug-ins. They also are members of the world community grid; their 36,000 computers are providing many hours of spare processing time (during the work day) to organizations trying to solve major world problems such as energy, cancer, and AIDS. Additionally, they are running more than 100 Linux servers. Other Open Source and Free Software AISD uses include:

apache for web servers
samba for file sharing
nagios for server monitoring
mySQL and postgreSQL for some databases
sendmail for email services
ISC DHCP and bind for DHCP services
moodle for course management
tomcat and jboss for web based applications
perl and php to build in-house applications

As an Austin citizen I am proud to see that AISD is a solid supporter of the open source community and is not blindly following a Microsoft centric architecture. In fact because they are reasonably agnostic they make an overt attempt to find applications that are multi-platform and save money. Also, it is not unreasonable that an organization with approximately 6,000 teachers representing a cross section of America with many different teaching specialties, that there will be some individuals that are not totally aware of current technology trends.

Now to the meat of the matter. Many, many of you have pushed for the identification of this teacher.

I cannot or will not relinquish that. Read the comments from slashdot alone or the hundreds on my blog to understand why!

There isn't any amount of money I will accept to throw a human being into that cement mixer.

The fact that I did it to a profession is bad enough.

All Righty Then

Monday, December 08, 2008

Linux - Stop holding our kids back

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

"...observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..."

Karen xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx Middle School


I suppose I should, before anything else, thank you. You have given me the opportunity to show others just what a battle we face in what we do. "We" being those who advocate, support and use Free Open Source Software and Linux in particular.

If you find my following words terse or less than cordial, take a breath and prepare yourself...what I have to say to you are soft strokes to your hair in comparison to what you are about to experience.

First off, if there was even the slightest chance that I was doing something illegal, it would not have been done. To think that I would involve my kids in my "illegal" activities is an insult far beyond outrage. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting into print such none sense.

And please...investigate to your heart's content. You are about to have your eyes opened, that is if you actually investigate anything at all. Linux is a free as-in-cost and free as-in-license operating system. It was designed specifically for those purposes. Linux is used to free people from Microsoft. The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line. Microsoft has pumped tens of millions of dollars into your union. Of course you are going to "recommend" Microsoft Windows". To do otherwise would probably get you reprimanded at the least and fired at the worst. You are only doing what you've been instructed to do.

You've been trained well.

I don't know when you attended college Karen but the Linux of even two years ago pales in feature and ability to what there is available now...and that in turn will pale in a year's time. linux is superior to MS windows in so many ways, they are too numerous to mention here...I am weary of enumerating them. Unlike Microsoft who meters their "improvements" and then shovels them to you every five years or so for purchase; Linux releases their improvements upon their completion. We receive the newest and the best of the system when it is tested to be usable and stable. Karen, you have no idea the slavery you work under...but you don't know any better. The shame of it is, you are trapped with millions of other teachers in obeying the NEA and preaching the goodness of Windows and Microsoft. A superior, free and absolutely entertaining method of operating your computer is within reach and you are unable to grasp it.

The most disturbing part of this resides in the fact that the AISD purchases millions of dollars of Microsoft Software in a year's time when that money could be better spent on educating our children. A dedicated School Teacher would recognize that fact and lobby for the change to Free Open Source Software and let the money formally spent on MS bindware be used on our kids.

A teacher who cared about her students would do that.

That is sad past my ability to express it to you. Don't shackle your students in your prison Karen.

Now. You give that boy his disks back. Aaron is a brilliant kid and he's learned more using Linux than he ever did using Windows. Those disks and their distribution are perfectly legal and even if he was "disruptive", you cannot keep his property. I have placed a call to the AISD Superintendent and cc'd him a complete copy of your email. It looks like we will get to meet in his office when School starts again after the holiday. I am anxious to meet a person who is this uninformed and still holds a position of authority and learnedness over our children.

Ken Starks
HeliOS Solutions

All-Righty Then

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Computer Prize Draws computing Fans To Raffle

Being that times are a bit tough, it's proving increasingly difficult to meet the challenges of the Christmas Season for The HeliOS Project. As you may know, The HeliOS Project builds and gives Linux computers to disadvantaged or exceptionally promising students. Their new non profit application has been submitted and Directors have been recently named.

Welcome to the first annual HeliOS Project Christmas Raffle. We have found that people are most inclined to support an effort when we do things like this. What a great way to support a project that both aids the Linux Community and the greater community as a whole.

To date this year, we have built and placed 315 Linux computers with kids that normally would not have been able to afford a computer for their school work. Add this effort to our Linux Labs and you have a well-rounded effort that benefits everyone. Our HeliOS Project has inspired others to do the same thing in other communities and we're proud to help them any way we can.

So, what are the goodies for this year's drawing? Let's take a look.

Grand Prize

A Compaq SR5505F with Lightscribe burner and a 64 bit dual core AMD 2.2 gigger that drives the machine. It comes with one gig of ram and as you can see, it ain't too rough on the eyes. It houses a 160 gig hard drive which isn't too shabby since most of these come with half that storage. But the best part isn't what comes with the computer.

You get the privilege of utterly destroying the uber-virus known as Windows Vista (home Edition wouldn't you know...those cheap so-and-so's)

However, we do have folks entering the drawing that are not particularly Linux fans. You are more than welcome to leave Vista on there...we don't know why you would but hey...we aren't here to judge, we're here to raise money for our kids. We will be happy to include a live linux cd for your use's our pleasure.

Here are the complete specs on this machine if you want to give them a look. Scroll down about 1/3 of the page to see them. Not too bad for a "low end machine".

Second Place Prize

You can't have too many dvd/cd rom/burners in and on your computer, but you often have one too few. The lucky second place winner of this raffle will receive a Sony DRX-720UL for their troubles, or their ten bucks. Now this IS a refurbished device but I've personally used it to make sure it works and to be honest, it's hard to let is a sweet drive. Fast, sure and produces few if any coasters. I personally like this drive as much as I like the Compaq.

One disclaimer...the picture shows a side mounting stand and that isn't part of this package. I never quite trusted a cd burning device on its side just ain't right...kind of like hot fudge on a hot dog.

Third Place Prizes

So as to give more people a chance to win, we are going to initially offer 11 third place prizes. Five of those third place prizes will be a 4 gig thumb drive with a professionally-pressed Mandriva 2009 disk included. This way, you can make thumb drive systems for your pocket or purse and impress your friends with your own portable Linux system. Your technical prowess will stun them into silence, as will the beauty of this Operating System. Making this portable thumb drive has become so easy even I can do it. Mandriva has made it just that easy.

But wait, there's more. Uh, let's see...Eleven minus five equals...uh. eleven fingers showing, drop five of them down....Ok, I got it...

6 Other third place winners will receive an Autographed Copy of Carla Schroeder's fantastic Networking Bible, The Linux Networking Cookbook. Look, I'm a slobbering networking idiot and Carla's book goes on every service call I make. YOU may know I'm networking dummy, but our customers don't...This is a fantastic book that can make even the dimmest of networking bulbs shine brightly. Many thanks to Carla for making this book available.

Entry for the first Annual HeliOS Project Christmas Raffle is 10 dollars. You can enter as many times as you like but you must reside in the US to receive the prizes due to the prohibitive price of shipping overseas and possible technology restrictions to some countries. The rules on shipping certain technologies in both AMD and Intel chips is cloudy at best and we are choosing to hesitate on the side of safety...being a non profit changes the way you look at everything. It is extremely easy to lose non profit status and we have fought too hard to gain ours. Our sincere apologies for me, it hurts us by not being able to include everyone; financially and other wise.

Directors of The HeliOS Project and their families are not eligible for this drawing.

If you know someone or maybe a Linux-based company that would like to add to our prize list, please contact me at helios at fixedbylinux dott kom. We will contact them immediately to make the arrangements. Any company who donates products for prize offerings will receive a year of banners on Blog of helios and a link in the HeliOS Solutions Store at no cost.

This is obviously for a great cause and we've worked hard to get these computers in the right hands. With your help, we will be able to meet the crushing requests we've received for this holiday season. Hey, ten bucks for a chance at a new computer? Not bad.

You can enter for the drawing by clicking the donate button at the top left of this page. All 10 dollar donations will be processed with the unique transaction number and that number will be emailed to you. The Drawing will be on the 20th of December, time to be announced. Hopefully, this will be a short web cast event and we may even have a Linux celebrity do the drawing for us.

All-righty Then


I would guess that if Steve Ballmer had his way and he could "un-say" any three public statements he's made, one of them would be this one.

He said that Linux was a Cancer.

Now, there are going to be a handful of people who will want to publicly chide me for carrying the cancer metaphor forward.

If anyone gets a pass for using the analogy in less than apologetic terms, I do. I've wrestled the monster to the ground three times now.

But if we are to understand metastasis, then we know it's the spread of cancer throughout the host. Ballmer had no idea how right he was to use this term.

Unrelenting, untiring, unstoppable and destructive.

Fortunately, the only thing being harmed by this metastasis is Microsoft's business model.

I'm going to share with you bits and pieces of an amazing three day period. Let me show you "metastasis".

It was outside of the parts department of the Austin Lexus Dealership. I was bringing them some equipment and as I stood on the back of the truck, I began a conversation with the person accepting the freight.

I brought the conversation around to Linux.

As I asked him questions, I found that he had pretty much ignored his home computer for two months. It was so laden with viruses and spyware that it wouldn't even load a browser window anymore. I asked him how he would like to have a system that never had those problems. He was of course receptive. I began to tell him about Linux and the different environments and types. I was about twenty seconds into explaining distros when a third person joined the conversation.

" didn't mention Ubuntu."

I looked over at a young man in a manager's jacket. He nodded as I glanced at him.

"I've been using Ubuntu for over a year now and I haven't had to reboot my computer. Try that with Windows."

The original guy looked over to me and I nodded to him.

"Yeah...that's about don't have to reboot even after a normal application install, just open your menu, find the new program and go to work."

That started a 20 minute discussion. Mostly it was the first guy asking questions and me and the Ubuntu user answering them. Sum Total of the effort?

As of the day before Thanksgiving, he's no longer fighting his virus-prone computer. He booted into that computer for the first time that day with a fresh install of Linux.

And the mystery guy that chimed in about Ubuntu? Just a Linux user that happened to be in the area to hear the conversation and add his 2 cents. Now think about that just for a minute.

Another Linux user that happened to be in the area. Used to be, you couldn't find two Linux users in the same zip code. His name is Scott by the way. This was his first stab at advocacy...he just needed someone to show him how. HE got the other guy the disk and HE helped him install it. I didn't have anything to do with it. It's happening all over the world this way.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was answering an inquiry via HeliOS Solutions. It was in the Outlet Mall in Round Rock, at a store called American Apparel. As I entered through the back door, I was met by two absolutely stunningly pretty young ladies, Jennifer and Theresa. I got the chance to 'splain what I was there for and had the opportunity to visit with them for a while. Although that conversation didn't lead to any real conversions, it did produce a photo op that I will probably never get again.

They too have had their battles with Windows and are plainly sick of fighting things they shouldn't have to fight. Businesses like theirs depend on speed and reliability. When the morning's first boot fails and all the cash registers remain locked while lines of customers form one behind another, it doesn't take long for a business owner or Manager to realize they have to do something different. Linux is quickly becoming that difference. Their Employees are making them aware of it.

I made 17 cold calls that day...just walked into businesses and chatted with them about their computer needs. 4 of them are now evaluating Linux as an alternative to the Windows system they use now. 1 of them is running a server I set up on the spot for them so they could exchange sales data between stores by drag and drop. To my surprise, two of those 17 were already using Linux on at least one desktop.

One eating establishment in particular showed a keen interest in Linux. They had been fighting their current XP system for 6 months. The popups and spyware invasions had become constant to the point that they left their computers off until they needed them. Some employees were bringing their laptops in to do their work because the desktops were all but useless. They are evaluating live cd's now to see which ones meet their needs best.

I've fielded 5 phone calls from them since our meeting, answering questions and explaining things that were not clear to them. The fact that they are calling me asking these questions is encouraging...they aren't rebooting into Windows again just because something is different than what they are used to. They are asking questions because they see the potential in what they are working with. Speaking of difference...and this has absolutely nothing to do with Linux. I had to make sure I was finished laughing so I could take the picture, and that alone took about 5 minutes.

It is said that suggestive advertising works. I guess it does, you be the judge. Can you imagine the conversation of the photographers and ad designers as they sat up this shot for the ad on the restaurant wall?

The pinnacle of the three day period actually came on Thanksgiving.

I was deeply honored to be asked to share Thanksgiving day dinner with some Firemen from a Pflugerville Fire Station. I know one of them well and I will introduce him to you at a later date. This particular person knows that I am a "computer guy." When the conversation turned to laptops, one after another complained about the various ills their machines exhibited.

David mentioned to them that I "fixed" his computer and the computers that run his personal business. It wasn't long before I had a stack of laptops in front of me. For two hours, these heroes gathered around and watched as their data was saved and their buggy, hacked and virus-ridden machines morphed into functional and beautiful systems.

So Mr. Ballmer, there is your "Cancer". Being what it does what it spreads. In this case, and for the betterment of the world, that's a good thing. Even if you are able to buy your way into some places, there isn't enough money or advertising genius to stop what is happening world wide.

The metastasis is raging at a furious pace now Mr. Ballmer, but in place of destructive cells, there is hope for a computing world that is awakening to that hope.

One car mechanic or four Blessed heroes at a time.

All-Righty Then...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

2008 State Of The Penguin Report - Part 1

Blog of helios is happy to publish their findings after over 1000 separate Linux installs. This will be the first part of a three part weekly series. We hope there is something for all of us to learn within.

I hear it coming before it's even asked.

"Who are you to give the state of Linux?"

In the course of the past two years, I've successfully built and operated a Linux-centered company. In this time, I've done in excess of 1100 individual Linux System installs. I've seen our sparkling successes, our failures and mostly, I've seen first-hand how new users react to Linux and what problems they have with it.

In this area, I believe I am qualified to make some observations and suggestions. And no, this is by no means a complete report on the State of's simply my observations and suggestions, given the exposure I've had.

If in your opinion, that does not qualify me to write this article, you are kindly invited to amass this level of data and pass it along to the rest of us. There is no such thing as too much pertinent data. This report is based on the above-mentioned experiences and observations.

Unquestionably Entwined

The computer user and the operating system are melded into one, once he or she sits down at the machine. It is the user that makes an operating system successful or not. If you care to disagree, let's take a look at general public opinion concerning Vista. As unkind as it may seem to many of you, there are some stark realities we must face in going forward.

The "everyday" computer user doesn't "use" the computer at all in most cases. Fact is, if the computer is a moving automobile, the "everyday" user is simply a passenger in the front seat, twisting on radio knobs and fooling around with various switches on the dash board....and only the few switches and knobs he knows to fiddle with.

Let's be honest here.

Many computer users we deal with are functionally illiterate when it comes to their machines. They've learned to click this and click that by pure habit and with nothing that vaguely resembles an understanding what they are doing. I've witnessed these people get totally flustered when something as simple as a dialog window pops up in a different place than they expect it. Fact is, I had one person swear I had put a virus on her computer because she had inadvertently drug her panel to the side of the screen and couldn't understand the telephonic instructions on how to drag it back into place. Even the most inconsequential variant in their routine will screw them up.

These people aren't really even computer users...they are application users who tolerate the computer housing it for them.

Are we to shoulder the responsibility for computer users who refuse to learn anything beyond a handful of mouse clicks to get their jobs done?

Absolutely not. However let me illustrate how we can assist those who might show an inkling of interest in their new computing environment. There are some simple things we can do that will make a world of difference.

During the month of June this year, I presented this situation to 61 different New Linux Users. These were people for whom I was installing Linux and in the process of showing them how their machines worked. Having seen this situation before, I wanted to see how "normal" computer users handled this specific situation.

I opened a dialog box for them and asked each person to complete a task. Now, I knew ahead of time there was going to be a problem. See, the task I assigned them necessitated they click "Administrator Mode" in order to do it. In several Debian variants and at least three rpm distros, it often happened that when you clicked the link to open the dialog, the dialog box did open but the "Administrator Mode" button was concealed by a graphic that was not opened enough to see it.

No big deal, right? Just move your mouse down to the bottom of the box until you get the "spreader cursor" and drag it down...what's the big deal?

I assigned each person presented this "task", three minutes to complete it. Out of 61 people, 48 gave up in frustration, stating there was no way to become administrator.

In the box to the right, you can plainly see the "Administrator Mode" button but on several distros, that button is not visible until you physically extend the box with your mouse.

To many of us, this sounds like a silly little nit being picked but to almost 50 people, it became an issue of frustration. If we can clean up these seemingly small things, I believe we will find that the big issues will lessen quickly. Problems like this to the new user often results in a general report to their friends..."Linux Sucks".

The problem it seems, has been to get someone to just go in and fix it. Having been reported to 4 different distros, I am seeing this "short box" pop up in 3 of the distros as of this week. Mint it is good to note, seems to have fixed it.

It's All About The Tools Kid...

Habits are hard to break, especially when you've spent a great deal of time perfecting that habit. I suspect some of the tools our developers use in putting together the distros are no different. I've seen some phenomenal improvement in wireless performance this past year, and I don't use the word phenomenal with a casual bend. It honestly has been amazing to see the growth and improvement in driver support. However, in several distros, there is a failure that repeats itself with maddening regularity.

Much has been reported lately on the improvement of "Network-Manager". The mainstay of wireless tools has historically been problematic. While there have been improvements, we've noticed an almost religious failure of the app on the second upgrade of many distros. So it comes...

"I haven't had a bit of problem with it."

Congratulations. Thousands others have and it only takes about 5 minutes and a google page to see it plainly. If it is working for you in a mature install, consider yourself fortunate. We have tested it time and again and the second upgrade failure is constant.

Some distros have recognized the problem and just cut the use of Network-Manager out completely and opted for a little-known but superior alternative called "wicd". It is the first tool I implement when I install new distros that will require heavy wireless use. The problem is that many distros will not allow both tools to exist on the same install so you must uninstall network-manager in order to get wicd to work.

So far, I have yet to have wicd fail and I would encourage some of the distros that are getting complaints about Network-Manager to take a look at wicd. It has solved a lot of problems for us and it's good to see some distros using it out of the box. Still, Network-Manager has some of the more polished functions that we want in a manager such as this and I hope they get this issue dealt with. It's obvious that Kernel upgrades are more than likely the culprit...regardless, a "fix" would be both in order and welcomed. It promises to be a fantastic tool.

Oh, and a word about "Managers". Because I work primarily in KDE, many readers may not ever encounter the problems reported or discussed here. One of the tools I held great hope for was KnetworkManager. While it does have some "management" capabilities buried in the dialog links, I have yet to have it act as a connection tool for my wireless. It fairly sits there and does nothing after I've typed in the appropriate commands. While it serves as a great monitoring tool, it has failed us consistently as a method to connect to our wireless sources. Out of the box, it has failed to pick up a wireless connection 5 feet away.

One suggestion would be to not flood the menus with wireless tools. What I have witnessed new users do is to open synaptic or yum and install every wireless tool they can find in hopes of finding one that will work. Several distros include 3 or 4 of them by default anyway. After a while, the new user has no idea which one worked and which one didn't...they simply rely on the one that did work to remember the settings and connect on the next boot...which is often the case. Wifi Radar has also been a good tool to connect with when others have failed....but one tool should be able to do the job without having to fall back on others.

In next weeks segment, we are going to talk about the habits of the New Linux User and especially focus on our observations of them in the business environment. Linux has become such a drop-dead easy replacement for Windows, even Microsoft recognizes the problem and is even copying some of our features into their systems. There are some simple ways we can not only make it easier for everyone, we can teach people finally that a computer is not an appliance but a tool that needs maintenance as well as knowledge to work correctly.

All Righty Then...

The Universe Throws Us A Bone

If you don't read anything else all week, make sure this makes the list.

His name is Gustavo Campanelli and he may have just hit on a phenomenal way to get Linux the attention it both deserves and has earned.

As often happens, this situation isn't something of our is one of those cosmic breaks we sometimes get in life...a roll of the dice...a situation that pops up and defies one to ignore it. I am doing nothing but giving you the opportunity to look at this. And I will bet one thing...if you are of a "we are the Universe" mindset...

You will laugh yourself silly at the implications and the possibilities.

All of which we had absolutely nothing to do with. Now go take a look...this is fantastic.

All-Righty Then

Linux Community to Redmond - Do The Right Thing.

once again, our thanks goes to HeliOS Project Director Bob P. for bringing this to us. - h

" you can see from the dedicated ip's, you are on their LBOI list. I can't say for sure that Ballmer views your site but someone at CR (castle Redmond) has been assigned to monitor several blogs and Linux news sites, It's obvious that you are on "the List". Congrats or condolences, depending on any future outcomes..."

LBOI = Linux Blogs of Interest.

We've known for a while now that Microsoft, or someone at Microsoft buzzes our blog and website from time to time. And yes...we have a mole...did you expect anything different from us?

They've also spent some time at the Lindependence site. Gratifying but ultimately, not really a big deal. Not for one silly little website.

But when you have several sites banging the same drum and that drumbeat begins to resound with echoes that are impossible to ignore, you get results.

Results like this.

It would be the height of arrogance to think that we accomplished this by ourselves...and as much as a few would like you to believe, we at boh are not delusional...not on a dangerous level anyway.

But we can read...We've hammered on this issue for two years.

And we assimilate simple information that leads to one obvious conclusion.

Microsoft IS paying attention to what the Linux Community's come to a point where they can no longer ignore the obvious. With their stockholders on the verge of revolt and their numbers falling quickly, to do otherwise would be financial suicide.

So congrats took the Red Pill...

Now comes the bad news...
Unfortunately, doing what you've done only makes the question come out stronger. You haven't killed a valid point against using Windows, you've brought the real issue to the front of the argument. You've sharpened the stake to a flesh-piercing point...

And from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Why should anyone have to use anti virus protection in the first place? And for those who are going to trot out the "security through obscurity" theory. Please don't embarrass yourself.

You'll be laughed out of the room faster than helios at a Chippendale's audition.

Thanks've finally given us what we need.

But in it all, you still didn't give your customers the full protection your buggy, insecure software needs. Half measures again. You have however, validated and exposed publicly your Achilles heel to the world. Allow us to help spread the word.

And no, it's our pleasure...really it is.

And oh by the way...viruses not withstanding, when Windows can produce this kind of athstetics and functionality without third-party software and do it with 3-4 clicks of the might be onto something. As mentioned have quietly released a "feature" that allows for multiple desktops...wonder where that brainstorm originated?

What innovation! What's next?


All-Righty Then...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In response to some of your emails

First off, I want to thank the large number of you who have emailed me on this matter. I am flattered and humbled by your friendship and help. Many of you have inquired as to what they should do for us this Christmas.

That's easy.

Just do what you've been doing. I have everything I could ever want right now...I mean aside from a temporary living situation that should change soon, I want for nothing. So for those who were going to purchase Christmas gifts for us this season, I would ask that you instead donate those resources to the HeliOS Project. This has already proven itself to be a challenging season for us as we began getting Christmas requests the last week of October. That being the case, we will surly need some assistance to meet those needs.

Thank you again one and all for your concern and friendship. You've turned what should be labor into an absolute joy. I'll sign this with the names of the computer builders that make our gifts to the kids possible.

Ken, Ryan (in absentia) and Drew.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Linux Community's unoffical mascot taken by Microsoft

OK group...let's see a show of hands...

How many people believe that the current way Linux markets itself is sufficient? That would be the combination of apathy, inertia and a smattering of guerrilla marketing.

Good, Good....yeah, that's a majority all right. Thanks for taking your hand out of the Cheeto's bag long enough to be inconvenienced. You might want to wipe it against your t-shirt before you begin your flaming response.

Which is unlikely. If you are reading this blog or any publication that might post this blog, you more than likely don't fit into this group

Now, how many of you think that we need to get the word out to the everyday computer user and let them know they have a choice in the way they operate their computers?

Oops...Well, that was expected as well. Now you know what it's like to be a Ron Paul Supporter. more question then we'll wrap this up.

How many of you feel comfortable that Linux has a firm hold on the penguin as an unofficial trademark of Linux?

My goodness. There is a veritable sea of hands in the air. That's a good thing. Well, at least we agree on something.

Now let me show you how a consensus of opinion is as reliable as an unbooted Windows server. Not to mention those that hold said opinion.

Many of you in the first group I queried can take pride in this. Congratulations to everyone who made this possible.

Excuse the poor photograph. This billboard picture was taken on IH 35 in Austin from the upper deck in a car doing 70 mph. Stopping on the upper deck for any reason is almost certain catastrophe. It's good enough however to make the point.

Microsoft has now successfully claimed the penguin as their "symbol". Yep, I see it coming..."What's the big deal helios? So they use a flock of penguins to advertise." If those words come out of your mouth, I would make certain they weren't heard too loudly. Ask yourself this. Why penguins? How many tens of thousands of other animals could they have chosen?

Why penguins? It's obvious if you just spend a few minutes thinking about it.

These billboards are going up all over the United States. I've called Microsoft numerous times Friday to get a statement but they've yet to respond.

By the way, the rest of the text from that sign reads "Life Without Walls".

That is funny in itself. Microsoft trying to equate itself with freedom. They better hope people continue to ignore their EULA.

So...let's keep on handing out cd's, holding our Lindependence events, flooding You Tube with Cube videos ad nauseum and anything else we can think of that reaches hundreds of people in a months time. Microsoft is reaching millions a day.

And their doing it with your penguin.

Guerrilla that's effective. Instead of getting the community organized into some sort of legitimate promotional entity, and Heaven knows we've tried... we've screwed around and let Microsoft take the one thing we thought they could never touch. Don't forget...Linus chose the penguin himself as our mascot/symbol.

Congratulations to all who made this possible.

All-Righty Then

In Twenty Four Hours...

I'm not a fan of teasers. If I have something I want to discuss with you, I post it and we'll rock and roll from there. In this case though, I want to give you advance warning...

If you are a true believer in Linux, and within that belief structure, you hold that Microsoft is indeed less than a friend of Linux...

Watch this space.

I am either going to enrage you or cause you to question my priorities.

My money is on the first one, given the majority of this audience.

Stay say that this may get interesting will be one of my most profound understatements...

And as some of you have less than kindly noted, I'm not prone to understatements.

All-righty Then...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Darned Shame

Well, I made the mistake of thinking we could all be bigger than our politics.

That's what I get for thinking when I'm not used to it.

I'll not make that kind of assumption again.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Refueling the Effort

It is close enough to the end of the year for me to say that it has definitely been good. For those who aren't quite sick of me saying it, we surpassed our total number of computers donated this year with our last project.

We built and gave away 300 machines so far in 2008 and the year isn't over.

Things however, have gotten to the point where our organization needs to be...well, just a bit more organized. Now that my personal situation is a bit more clarified, I am able to expand The HeliOS Project and bring some people on board that can not only give me a hand with the day to day stuff, but bring some real talent to what we do. Allow this to serve as official public notice for the new Directors of HeliOS Project. Aside from myself, they are:

Larry Cafiero - Larry of course is my counter-part to Lindependence. He is an Editor with the Santa Cruz Sentinel and an active FOSS advocate. Larry has some unique talents that can give The HeliOS Project not only added exposure, he also acts as necessary ballast to an excellent organization. Larry resides with his wife and daughter in Scotts Valley California.

Tom King - Tom is a Server Analyst with Dell. Tom has been a stabilizing factor for us now for over a year. His talents in Networking and Network Administration will aid us in those tricky network situations where my abilities are far from adequate. He will also administer the books for HeliOS Project and shoulder the responsibility for our legal obligations for open disclosure as described by Texas and Federal Laws. Tom is also a consultant and will be an employee of HeliOS Solutions. Obviously, Tom resides here in Austin with his wife Cindy.

Bob Pianka - Bob has been invaluable to our efforts for over a year now. He isn't interested in any recompense for his duties as Outreach Director for HeliOS Project. He just wants the fancy title and a cheezy T-shirt to wear when he does our fund raising. We can do that Bob. Seriously, Bob has been the "face" of a few of our projects and he has been responsible for getting the word out about what we are doing at various times. Bob spends his days lazing as a gentleman of leisure in the gentle breezes of Valrico Florida. Life is so hard for him...

There is one other Director pending. There are some issues however in his actual identity being known. Since all Directors of a nonprofit must have their identities and places of residence as a matter of record, we are looking at ways to bring this person on without divulging his personal data. He has worked in the past for a certain Software company and there may be problems by identifying him due to some of his work since. We are looking into that now and should we either get the go ahead to publish his name or find a way to protect him, we will do so then.

These people will round out the nonprofit efforts of HeliOS Project and make what we do not only better, things will happen faster and hopefully, more often.

So...What ARE we doing?

Glad you asked.

"The Season" is upon us and as every holiday season, the requests we get for machines jumps two-fold. We are fortunate enough to have a friend by the name of Mark Van Kingsley. Mark in turn has friends at the University of Pennsylvania - the IT department no less. Mark has introduced me to the people that gather, store and keep watch over the excess computer equipment the University accumulates.


I am now in negotiations with the University to lay hands on as many as 25 of their "excess" P4 machines. The great thing about them is that they are, for the most part, Dimension 2400's. They will survive a head-on nuclear strike and parts for them are as abundant as my opinions.

While the University will happily give us the computers, they will not, and understandably so, foot the bill for shipping. We're looking at just short of 800 dollars to have these machines picked up and shipped so we are coming to our community to let them know that we could use some help. HeliOS Solutions sales traditionally take a nose-dive from the middle of November until about the same period in January. Unfortunately this is the time period where we are the busiest and we would graciously accept any assistance you could give us to get these machines here.

Now...should this for any reason fall through, we have a backup plan. Not quite as good but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. Tom King, and oh did I mention the fact that he works for Dell...? He informed me that Dell was having a clearance of their refurbs. These are refurbished after lease returns and we are gettiing 18 month old Optiplex units for about 170 per unit. These are loaded units with between 1 and 2 gigs of ram, either no OS or WinXP, 80 gig drives, either onboad intel video chips or Nvidia chipsets and they are again, refurbished.

So that's an option as well but we are really looking toward the University as the first choice, for obvious reasons. Should you want to help us meet our holiday needs, you can do so by clicking the donation button at the top of this page.

Thanks again for being part of what we do. Without many of you folks, these things wouldn't be happening and from all of us here at HeliOS Solutions/HeliOS Project, Thank You.

"So helios, where does all this happen? Do you have some magic workshop with dwarves and magic dust?"

Nope...but I'll show you where it happens...or at least where it's happened for the past couple of months. Here is a picture of our workshop and testing bench. Note the machine on the right. That's the Larado Quadrado we are testing and fixin' to review for Issac and Young Computer Company. Stay tooned.

All-righty then...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Kicking the Beast

There are times when you simply have to bring an ongoing situation to its conclusion.

Often, that happens as a consequence of another action.

And so it is with The Austin Live CD Initiative.

In an effort to help proliferate the Linux Desktop, HeliOS Solutions has contacted a number of Big Box stores and smaller businesses throughout the Austin Metro Area and asked them if we could set up professional and attractive displays for Linux Live CD's.

The response has been surprisingly positive...and I'm talking about some really BIG big box stores.

However, one of those stores asked me to meet with them and discuss some of the anticipated ramifications of them doing so.

They are concerned about Microsoft engaging them legally.

They are worried about Steve Ballmer coming in with a figurative ball bat and legally demolishing the displays....and then suing them amidst the rubble.

On what grounds?

Violating Microsoft's Intellectual Property.

We tend to think of this farce as being a part of the tech world. We don't often associate this issue spilling outside of our geeky, tech community confines.

Big Box does, and Big Box doesn't want to Kick The Beast.

I think it's time we laced up our size 12's and booted him dead square in his ass.

Ballmer and Company have shook this in our faces for a long time now. I have personally seen it erode into the opportunities the Enterprise would normally embrace.

But Ballmer did an outstanding job of putting the fear of Microsoft into them.

It's time for this to come to a conclusion...and maybe, possibly not but maybe, this could be the way to get it done. MAKE them show us the code. Make them come after Linux Et Al and put this ridiculous issue to bed once and for all.

It's really getting in our way.

We'll see if those of us wearing the "Sue Me First Steve" T-shirts take them off quickly when it starts to get interesting.

Now...I'm not necessarily the sharpest light bulb in the lumber pile. There may be some good reasons that this shouldn't happen. Reasons I'm not seeing...reasons you might see with a clarity that would be obvious to most.

That's why I am bringing it to you. I don't write these blogs because I think what I have to say is important. The jewels of wisdom lie in the comments underneath my ramblings.

We have amassed a fairly impressive number of people who are willing to devote time and talent to The Austin Live CD Initiative. We intend to place a huge number of CD's with excellent support documentation through out the Greater Austin Area. It could make a big difference...

And it could be just another ho-hum effort...time will tell.

My question to you is this. Do we Kick The Beast now.....?

Or do we passively wait to be eaten at his leisure?

All Righty Then,