The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Monday, September 22, 2008

What Can We Do To Help?

Recently, a blog from this space made some waves in places outside the Linux spectrum. It was that attention that brought floods of support and comments from those outside our community. Over and over, the same question was asked.

"What can we do to help?"

Tom King, an active member of the HeliOS Solutions/HeliOS Project organization has written a small guide that suggests answers to that question. I want to thank Tom King for his contributions to our efforts.

The FOSS community depends almost entirely on volunteerism, freely giving of people's talent, time, and effort in order to keep projects going and thriving. Granted, there are things like Google's Summer of Code that pays students to participate and companies that pay employees to help develop, but the overall need is for people to volunteer. There are a lot of great people that want to do something but don't know what; we want to contribute back to FOSS in some way to help prop it up and keep it moving forward at a good pace, to give back since most of us get FOSS on our computers for gratis.

Ah, but many of us cannot code. I can script some but nothing extraordinary. Beyond that and some basic Hello World, that's about the extent of my programming prowess. So how do the rest of us contribute?

I recently began helping at an animal shelter near Austin, and one of the ideas they planted is that there is always something to do. Give the volunteer coordinator even just 15 minutes and she'll find something useful that needs to be done. The first day I walked in, the coordinator was on the phone with one hand and a mop in the other. I grabbed the mop and swabbed the floors while she was trying to deal with the phone call. Now I assist by taking pictures of adoptable animals and do minor photo editing in GIMP before uploading the pictures.

The point is most projects can use some help, even if it is a few minutes at a time, and all kinds of talents can find a place to help somewhere in this community. If you can code, oh yes, you'll definitely find some place. If you can't, how about helping with documentation? Well, that does take people that are intimately familiar with the application they are documenting. If that's not you, let's explore a few other options.

One of the most obvious ways to help is money. Yep, I can hear some of you running screaming for the door right now, but hold on a second. We aren't talking about hundreds or thousands of dollars from one person. We aren't all Shuttleworths! Rather, pick three or four of your favorite FOSS projects, find their website, and look for a donation link. Give them each $5, $10, even $25. Would that little bit hurt too much? Being a hobby DJ, my own favorite lately has been Mixxx, so I've dropped a few coins in their coffer.

Here is a unique idea: help build a voice database for FOSS speech recognition software! Head over to VoxForge and look over the procedure. From their site, "...Free and Open Source ('FOSS') projects are required to purchase large speech corpora with restrictive licensing. Although there are a few instances of small FOSS speech corpora that could be used to create acoustic models, the vast majority of corpora (especially large corpora best suited to building good acoustic models) must be purchased under restrictive licenses." Hence, they tap into the community to build up an open voice database instead. That's where you and I come in.

How about running your own Lindependence event? A bit of a warning, though - this requires the ability to create miracles out of no money, herd cats, and work 25 hours a day while still getting sleep! Seriously, any smart effort getting FOSS in front of the eyes of others is a good thing. Even helping with an install fest and making sure new users are comfortable with GNU/Linux is a very important task.

Can you edit video using Kino, or are you adept enough to learn? How about helping The Digital Tipping Point to rough-edit clips? If you can't rough edit, you can help transcribe videos - there is a lot of opportunity here.

Have you set up some particular service on your computer that's rather unique? Write a tutorial or improve an existing one. Take a look at for some ideas on how to document a tutorial. If there is an existing tutorial, try improving it or even make a screen capture video while you run through a setup.

For those of us politically minded, try writing to your elected officials and keep FOSS on their minds. Here is a good site with some information on writing to your representative or congressman. Just don't expect a sudden FOSS-friendly bill to be passed; this is basically an erosion of decades-old corporate lobbying from proprietary companies that have little on their minds concerning the actual good of the community.

Are you really motivated and good with research? How about researching patents for obviously bad awards? How about supporting patent reform? Is there something you can do to help support the Software Freedom Law Center?

There are tons of opportunity to contribute to FOSS, and a good deal of it doesn't require coding or technical-writing knowledge. Depending on your talents and motivation, there is always something you can do to help. It does take some initiative since seldom will you get someone knocking at your door asking you to help, and it does take some motivation and stamina...and some thick skin at times.


einfeldt said...


Thanks for mentioning the Digital Tipping Point! In addition to rough video editing, we have a need for someone to give loving direction to our wiki. Our wiki got savaged by spam, and we are looking for someone to take the lead on recovering data that we lost when our database crashed. If you are interested in helping out with the Digital Tipping Point, please email Christian Einfeldt at einfeldt at g mail dot com.

The Digital Tipping Point is _your_ movie after all. We are releasing all of our footage under a Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike license; we are using all FOSS tools; and our story is about how we, the FOSS community, are teaching the world about the power of sharing. So dive in, have fun, tweak the video anyway you want.

Thanks again for mentioning the DTP!

Christian Einfeldt,
Producer, The Digital Tipping Point

Unknown said...


Your project has huge ramifications for this community and NOT to mention it would be neglegence. Let me see if I can get some things going for you. I just got Tom a 300 Gig hard drive for editing, (donated by a wonderful friend). Since Tom is an officer in HeliOS Project, he knows more than most the part you and DTP play in the overall scheme of FOSS.

My hat is off to you my friend. I stand in awe of what you've accomplished.


Anonymous said...

Thick skin he says you need...

More like titanium-lined skivvies. This is the only group of like-minded people I've ever met that will attempt to destroy one of their own kind over some silly philosophical differences. It's a wonder we've accomplished anything at all.

Anonymous said...

helios, are you still working on getting Linux marketed? I really want to hear Linux commercials on Drive Time Radio.

John Mayer

FelixTheCat said...


My pleasure. There is a treasure trove of information in those videos! It's neat to see one of Maddog's speeches when I haven't been able to see him in action before.

@Anonymous re: advertising

Sorry Ken, I'm going to step on your feet here. ;)

Ken was able to get a voiceover professional to record an ad, and the plan is to plug some music into it and get funds together for a radio ad spot. Just the voiceover sounds really good! I'm going to give it a shot using Audacity and some royalty-free music to see if we can get it ready to submit. I'll plan on posting it to the Linux marketing YouTube group once we get started.

Unknown said...

No problem Tom, wearing my steel toes today.

Yes, Greg has done a magnificent job on that voice ad. I am uber impressed with his work. I am looking forward to your edits. We need to talk about making the proper cuts and inserting the helios solutions blurbs.

btw, a fabulous soul has donated us a 300 gig hard drive and I need to pass that off to you for those dv footage edits.


Anonymous said...

I am surprised, yet glad, that you did not mention writing music as a way to contribute. I thought it would be easy to find a Free Software project that needs music written.

I was wrong.

I looked for a long time, but was unable to find any. Looked on the sites, and when appropriate, asked on the mailing list. I had a few false leads, but overall, there is not really a way for a composer without much experience (unless that composer is lucky and finds a project in its infancy) to compose for Free Software projects. Wesnoth and a few other larger games are accepting music, but a look on their forums shows how little of the submitted music they are really accepting.

If someone were in the mood for getting a small orchestra together to record some music, though, I think that person would have some better luck with finding takers! :)

(I should mention, however, that I did get the opportunity to complete a GHOP project involving music composition, but I highly doubt something like that will pop up again...)