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


neonblue2 said...

Kids that aren't too ingrained in a particular OS will pick up others like a magnet. Especially now that Linux and OS X have greater market share more and more kids understand the concept of doing something on a computer rather than just knowing how to do it (unlike high school these days...). Want to browse the web? An adult might first think to go to Internet Explorer* whereas a child might hunt around for the program that best resembles a web browser in appearance and language.

Unfortunately I rarely get to see this in action.

*You wouldn't believe the amount of forum threads I've seen where a recent Mac switcher is asking about Internet Explorer for Mac. It's now almost six years old and PowerPC only.

Sam Weston said...

Glad to hear of such a success. I occasionally aquire peoples old computers, and when I do I make every effort to give them to people who will make good use of them.

Unfortunately on occasion there is somebody who takes a system and then either doesn't use it or..does something else.

For example I gave away my old pc (Athlon XP 2000+, 512mb ram etc) to a guy I vaguely knew from college under the impression it was a replacement for his gran's aging system. I wiped the hard disk, did a clean install of XP (because it had a licence and that's what he wanted on it) and loaded it up with openoffice, avg antivirus etc.

However I'm now told by someone who knows him that soon after I gave it to him he took a sledge hammer to it...for have no idea how angry that made me :(

On the upside I've given away around 5 computers and the rest of them have been used as intended and made their new owners very happy.

Nick B. said...

Following your blog with interest in the UK, ever since it hit all my major newsfeeds with the school issue. It's always good to see computers recycled to new (and deserving) homes, even better if it raises people's awareness that there are alternatives to M$. The open-source community have put in a lot of hard work over the last few years to make the desktop usable to the non-geeks out there, particularly with Ubuntu.

On the flip side, I'm surprised the ladies never commented that the CD and DVD bezels weren't colour coordinated with the rest of the base unit ;)

Hoping you build on your success for 2009!

Anonymous said...

You did a very noble job. From what you mention about the 2 girls I am sure they will have you in their prayers as the guy who first installed a computer in their house. Especially Linux ;).
Keep up the good work.

Amenditman said...


Good job, man.

You should have told us you can still write the old way, we could put that talent to good use. :-)

Seriously, really nice report.


Anonymous said...

> "Does that mean we have Internet?"

I think that says it all. The computer will be used as intended, and in ways none of us could even dream of. :)

Good work, Ken.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry to hear about the pawn shop problems, good to hear you recover them.

You, my friend, are further evidence the human race isnt entirely made up of greed.

Happy new year.

Christopher Myer said...

I must say I truly admire you for what you do. Well done.

I started following your blog with the Linux don't hold our kids back post and I've kept up with it, hope to hear more stories like this.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you were able to help a family. Too bad you seem to think it's important to point out they were all female.

Nick - since the blog is supposed to be child friendly, all I can say is your comment about the bezels is not funny. Your little winky doesn't change anything.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your story very much. I am a hardware tech, I live in PR, I'm sure that there are lots of similar stories down here. IF I get the chance, I would happily do the exact same thing you did for some deserving family. And this is exactly the right time of year for these moments.
God bless, and continue being the nice person you are.

PS: I'm an Ubuntu user and fan.

Anonymous said...

"Glad to hear you were able to help a family. Too bad you seem to think it's important to point out they were all female."

I believe that the author laid down that track in his opening paragraph, but let's look at again for those that missed it.

The Linux subsection of our tech world, or heck, even our tech world in general is male-dominated. There is no way that can be correctly disputed. The author found it refreshing that two young girls took the initiative to learn something instead of wringing their hands and looking doe-eyed at the first mail and asking for help.

Bravo helios. You made your point well, despite some people's obvious problem with the premise.

Anonymous said...

Well done!

However, I do have a concern about the identity of these girls and their mother being released, even with their permission. They don't know or understand the risk of having their first and last name known, their city or metro area, their photographs and their ages posted.

But you do.

And it is possible that you, or HeliOS Project and HeliOS Solutions, are at risk for violating COPPA as defined here:
(IANAL, so I'm not sure how much danger to you or the project there is.)

Naturally, my concern is for the children. Please, consider anonymizing the names or at least consider removing the last name to help prevent any sinister events.

In Peace,

Unknown said...


Look at 2-B under section 1302. Note that it doesn't appear to include non-profit entities, such as the HeliOS Project, at least in my opinion.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your concern, but give me credit for at least knowing what we're doing here. We have signed release forms from the mother and she actually asked that the pictures be published with names.

We have donors that need to see what we do. There are those detractors that go as far as say that the HeliOS Project doesn't exist and is less than honorable. That's sad really...I consider each family we donate a computer to a sharp stick in the ribs of such individuals.

Our attorney has checked all statutes on all levels and we are covered well. Besides, it makes the young ladies "famous" at least for a while.

The children's names are different from the mother's anyway....

Please do not misinterpret my tone. I truly appreciate and respect your concern. We would do nothing to hurt our kids.


Anonymous said...

I think this is great that you were able to help this family. I have donated a few PCs myself, and preconfigured with EduBuntu.
What I wish wasn't the case though, is that you're right in stating Myspace will have 2 more users. It's great that they can socially interact online, but I'd rather see them fire up some Childsplay educational games for the youngest girl, or be glad they can use the 'net to help with homework. Either way though, it is great to see them excited about using the computer, and having no problems finding their way around Linux. Really surprised that they found out how to sync the Ipod with Songbird that quick, since it's not a well known piece of software yet. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Good work. I was wondering what I should do with my P4 3Ghz system. It uses too much electricity to run as a server. Now I know what to do. I just really hope I find a grateful user. So many people I have give PCs to in the past, trashed them and then complained. I think it's because they didn't have to pay for it. However, I think I need to try giving to someone younger who will probably appreciate it more.

And to the hyper-sensitive anonymous poster, get over yourself. In case you didn't realize, we men are happy to see females getting involved in tech. That is why the details were pointed out.

OK, you can go and cry now. :P

Anonymous said...

Nonsense. This 11 year old girl did not previously know about Songbird and K3b.

It is great that you are helping people, but do act like these are common applications that everyone has heard of.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken. Well, I am another minion writing to praise you. Well, that is what my friend penguinpete tell me. If you get curious, visit his site and read the comments at the bottom of the comments of "Why I am not a Linux Advocate". I didn't write anything about you that you don't already know. However, the response I got was evidence of someone seriously full of paranoia and badly needing an enima. After learning that I was one of your minions sent to tell him he is obsessed with you, I did have to laugh a bit before regaining my composure.
Ken, you bite off a lot. You often bite off more than you can chew, you misjudge and you have to live with the consequences. You are pig headed and you sometimes speak before you think and you end up apologizing. The same is true for Pete, but he apologizes to no one. He is too perfect within himself. Still, I do wonder what these scandals and demands are that he speaks of. I followed your efforts for a while and I remember TUX500 well. I just don't remember any demands. I remember you trying to goad and spur people into action. Hmmm, my friend pete attempts to goad and spur people into action. He is also the purveyor of "subtle" sarcasm and downputting. I suppose he is also omniscient, seeing as to how you didn't know I was you minion. Heck, I didn't know it either seeing as to how I don't seek your guidance or permission for anything.
Yeah, you're right. Pete answered my serious comments with his sophisticated level of attack and I was too sensitive and too hurt by it. Alas, such is my downfall. If you do the same, I suppose I'll go cry to Pete about you.
In the mean time, Pete is "in it for the money" and I wish him well.
You are, despite his omniscient demented claims, in it for other than the money. You are "tilting at windmills". Keep dreaming "the impossible dream".
I hope you and Pete will continue to be your pigheaded selves and that both of you will remain this side of court action.

Ken Holmes

Unknown said...

Well darn, I wish you would have given this more thought before you posted:

"Nonsense. This 11 year old girl did not previously know about Songbird and K3b."

In the remastered distros we use, we've included several applications together to work in concert with those who use an ipod for listening to their music. The first menu item is in large hard-to-miss lettering:


All one has to do is click that menu item and even the dimmest among us can figure out that one application is meant to work with another.

Applications don't have to be "well known" in order to be readily available and easy to use.

Of course being one who often jumps to get a pass. A suggestion though, you might phrase your doubt in a less adversarial way...people aren't as quick to want to make you look dumb when they respond to you.

Anonymous said...

@ Ken Holmes,

Starks could cure Cancer and this guy would lambast him for destroying tens of thousands of research and development jobs in the fight against Cancer.

He's obviously obsessed. I've worked with Ken for over a year now, on and off and I actually discovered him via this guy's blog. I fully intended to "out" Ken for being the shyster he said Ken was but after a few days, I discovered this is a really good guy.

Too bad people dig themselves so deep into their hatred and misconceptions that they have to stay there in order to appear rational.

Drew Magnus

Anonymous said...

sims - I'm hardly hypersensitive. I'm just tired of living and working in a world where it's pointed out almost every time "Look what the the awesome gurlz did." Yes, the original post did point out the Linux world is a Boys Club. I want a world where it's not an anomaly.

Paying lip service to "We are happy to see more women in tech" followed by the stereotypical comment in your last line about crying points out just how far we still have to go. Oh wait - I'm supposed to get a sense of humor because you added an emoticon.

Anonymous said...

@ Andrew Mangus

I fully regret that Pete finds it necessary to disparage you rather than put his bias aside and objectively examine the evidence.
Pete is still waiting for the local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies to raid Ken.
I suppose I will be waiting for Pete to experience an epiphany someday.

Ken Holmes

Unknown said...

@Ken Holmes

It won't happen. The individual in question clearly holds a grudge against helios. Maybe it's jealousy. Maybe they were made to look stupid and they want revenge. Perhaps they see their own make believe world falling apart, because something they like is being made too popular. No matter the reason, the Iowan in question will not likely change their mind about helios, and all attempts to do so will be like ramming your head into a brick wall.

With that being said, I do appreciate the fact that a few more people will enjoy the wonders of having a computer. I think it was pretty darn cool considering the fact that I myself was surrounded by two females (my mother and my sister) for a good number of years. Overall, the story was pretty darn cool.

Anonymous said...

@ *nixed

Your are quite correct on all counts. Not only is it great that these families and these young ones get a computer...I am still in awe of Ken and friends helping senior citizens get their aging and ailing computers back into functional tools. My first Helios posting was about Ken helping someone named Betty. Later, Betty returned the favor by recommending him to her son. Ken had not helped Betty for anything in return except her being able to do what she wanted to with her computer. My friend Pete must be terribly offended by this kind of behavior. After all, by his own admission he is in it for the money. I don't begrudge him that, we must all work for our supper. But he would do well to follow the example of Helios. I regret that he is unlikely to.

P. S. There is no telling how the two sisters might succeed, all because some unnamed person felt strongly they would benefit from having a computer of their own.

Ken Holmes

Anonymous said...

It's great to see girls interacting with a computer and of course with Linux in such a natural way.
I myself first installed Linux when I was about 16 and all my male friends were mocking me, saying that I would never be able to cope with it. But guess WHAT? Today I am an E-Learning specialist/developer and I think that you acutally CAN change something in an existing system and that you are able to create the things you can imagine, is what Linux made me realize.
Still my profession is a male territory, but I would love to see these girls (and of course, generally MORE girls) growing up having great computer skills and maybe choosing a profession in that field, as well.

Unknown said...

@ Julia

I think I love you. Are you single?


Unknown said...

Last year I sent my daughter a new laptop that had Vista Basic on it. On purpose I wiped it off and removed the key code from the bottom.

installed Kubuntu 7.10 with my modifications on it and along with a laptop cooler pad, a new case, micro mouse, card reader and mini USB hub shipped it off to her as a beleated birthday and Christmas present combined.

My daughter was absolutely elated when it arrived. Unfortunately that didn't last long.

Her brother (not my son TG) immediately proclaimed that the laptop was a used one. He also made her upset about the fact that it was running Linux and not Windows.

He then wiped the system thus destroying all the work I had done specifically removing all the useful programs I had installed and put in a base Ubuntu install only and he never set it up to get on the Internet. (I had the Broadcom wireless drivers installed in the original setup)

He turned what was a wonderful opportunity for my daughter to learn something new and easy into a disaster. Her laptop now sits there rarely used because it can't do much. Oh yes I am peeved.

The point is adults and over opionated people take advantage of those (like you said Ken) whom they can. In your case by hocking the systems you gave their kids, in mine by purposely making the system I setup useless.

Unknown said...

If this sounds overly-familiar, rest assured that Shaun and I are friends and we've spent hours swilling too-expensive coffee at a too-expensive Austin "Oh-look-at-us-aint-we-hip-because-we're-here" coffee bistro.

Right across from Whole foods if that sets the ambiance for you...

Shaun, this is far from rare within our ranks and it's the distro-elitism at work in most cases. Speaking of cases...

I don't mean to step on any toes or cause any hurt feelings but I probably will. At a recent event, I installed Mandriva on a computer for a brand new user. Her machine had some specific hardware that was a Nightmare in 3D to get working under Linux but I picked Mandriva because it is one of the only distros that has worked with this vendor to resolve some of the issues. The code has been released under gpl so why others don't incorporate it is beyond me.

It probably has more to do with Kernel Developer politics than pragmatic decision=making.

At any rate, I got the basic install done and told the person I had to go assist someone for a bit and I would be back. When I did come back, the drive had been wiped and Ubuntu was put on in place of the Mandriva install I had put there. Why?

The others that had stepped in "weren't comfortable" with the package management system that wasn't Ubuntu.

Shaun, they spent hours and hours trying to get that machine to work. Finally, one of the most brilliant men I've ever met was able to hack through the problems and get it to boot.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. It's my understanding that when she updated the machine like it said to do, it totally fouled up the scripts and other magic he had used to make it work. We've lost touch with that person and I am assuming she's went back to windows instead of hassling with getting her Linux Box back up again. That box would still be running a Mandriva install successfully today.

This Distro Elitism may be our downfall. If not our downfall, it's going to impede our growth badly.

In the same light, a particular distro just lost potentially thousands of new users because people in their forums decided to pig-pile on someone before they had any idea what they were saying. Now how does that person go into those forums or send his clients into those forums when that kind of libel has been spewed?

No longer will there be computers with "please donate here" on the desktop for that developer to benefit from. His users, who probably don't send in a dime to him just lost him a ton of revenue. Just one more example of distro elitism doing more harm than good...and people running their mouths when they shouldn't


Anonymous said...

lol @ helios

As a matter of fact I am.
And you can't imagine the look on most guy's faces when I tell them what I do.
Unfortunately most of the programs I work with or I help constructing are made for Windows, since it's still the most common OS in European offices.

But I am fighting for Linux. ;)
Even though I also have Windows installed for professional reasons, EVERY time I teach or present something (usually via laptop and beamer) I use Linux on purpose and in 100% of the cases the trainees or students ask me about it and I am pleased to show them and answer all the questions :o)

Unknown said...

Ken you and I have discussed this in length. No one distro works on every machine. There are even some machines (older laptops especially) that are downright Linux unfriendly. Some distros support and work some hardware combinations better than others. Though I will admit between the top four (Redhat Fedora, SuSE, Mandriva and Ubuntu) you are bound to find one that works. However I would have chosen PCLOS over Mandriva. They are essentially the same but PCLOS uses an APT RPM system over URPMI which though ground breaking when it came out is pretty much behind the times.

Texstar (also someone I have talked to a lot) does a heck of a job putting PCLOS together. I no longer use it because I am committed to my Ubuntu systems now. Since both my laptop and Home Brew desktop seem to prefer it.

The only thing I never cared for in Mandriva or PCLOS is the menu editing system. Think it would have been much better to leave that alone. Other than that pretty rock solid.

Oh and I have just put together a really nice looking Ubuntu Based live CD system you maybe interested in. This isn't your typical Gnome based layout.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome trully inspirational and something that should appear on more than one news source. HeliOS you really bring joy to many.

Sometimes I wish that more people had the passion you had to make this change.

Unknown said...

This is too cool. Good work!

Last summer I was able to pick up a couple of decent used notebooks for my daughters. I brought them home reloaded Windoze XP, updated the systems, moved their personal files over from their shared out of date PC and thought they would be happy after about 8 hours of work on both machines...

A few weeks later both machines started to act up after doing critical MS updates. So on a whim I asked them if they wanted to try something a little different. Ubuntu Linux. They both agreed and I had them up and running on Ubuntu in less than an hour. Moved all their backed up files from a memory stick back to the fresh machines and they have been happy campers ever since. No problems ever. They surf the internet, chat with their friends, do e-mail, all their homework, print, use their mp3 players (Ipod's) and explore the educational packages available with the click of a few buttons.


Anonymous said...

Hi Helios... just a quick comment... loving your work but if you want to make some sense, no that's not quite the right word for it, but anyway what your doing for these people... they've made a film of just such a 'situation' if >thats< the right word any how just go to and watch a free film on there called 'the man who planted trees', it's only about 30 mins long... you be amazed at the similarity/metafor!!

Anonymous said...

Hi. Great to see what you do. :) Being something of a computer and Linux geek myself, I occasionally set up computers with Linux for people. I was just wondering what distro(s) you generally install, and what kind of pre-talk you give people about their new computers (the stuff like why you don't download .exe files and what package management is, etc). Any wisdom your experience has gained you would be most appreciated. :)

If you like, you can e-mail me at digitalpioneer at gmail. Thanks! :)

Atrus said...

I found this blog after the small episode with the Teacher. And I want to say that I'm happy that there are good people who do nice things to people that deserve them, and make their lives better. Kudos ^^

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Anonymous said...

Wait, so... she already had an *iPod*, but not a computer? How was she even using the iPod, and why didn't they spend that money on a computer instead?

Unknown said...

The mom won the ipod in a local radio promotion (KLBJ FM) and gave the long straw draw to the winning daughter.

Look pal, I've been assessing family needs for our machines for 4 years and I have a pretty good sense as to who qualifies and who doesn't. This mom works two jobs and produces less than 25K year before taxes.

I would suggest that if you suspect my ability to glean who deserves a computer and who does not, come spend a week with me to see how it's done.

So come on....come see how the poverty line lives. Work with me for a week.

You will come away with a pretty good idea of just how much the lives of these people suck.

And you can even bring your ipod.