The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HeliOS Project Brings Linux Technology to the East Side

It's called Space12.

What was once a place that only the bravest would tread, is now a place where you can find good things.

Safe things.

Sam Lee, the driving force behind Space12 has allowed The HeliOS Project to start a bold initiative within these Walls Of Hope. Space12 goes beyond a "community center". It is a place for all to come and find things that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in this area. A place of laughter, of learning and of safety.

It hasn't always been an area conducive to safety and security.

Sam Lee being interviewed by Ryan Mlynarczyk while Tom King runs cat5 cable.

Fact is, whether merited or not, East Austin is notorious for its violence.

Recent efforts to stabilize the area East of I-35 in Austin have been encouraging. The replacing of Chester's Nightclub with Space12 is just one such change that is morphing this part of town into something other than a cliche'.

Our announcement of intent earlier this month has evolved into action. This past Sunday, Tom King and I arrived at 3121 E. 12th Street with 4 Pentium 4 computers, monitors and all the cabling and network gear to begin our installation of the Thomas M. Edwards Technology Learning Center. The remaining 12 will be installed after the April Linux Against Poverty event where we will be the recipient of computers needed to finish the project.

But this Sunday wasn't business as usual for Tom and's not like we were doing anything different than we normally do on any given evening or weekend.

We had company.

Ryan Mlynarczyk and Mandy Creighton are doing something amazing of their own. They are biking across the United States and filming a documentary about sustainable communities. The name of their project is Within Reach and you can see their website at

Their work is published under the Creative Commons License, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States.

Christian Einfeldt, producer of The Digital Tipping Point had recommended that the filming duo catch up with The HeliOS Project while they were in Austin and film some of their work.

"At first, we balked a bit about putting any effort into filming The HeliOS Project", said Ryan. "It didn't fit into the mold of what we thought sustainable communities are. We were thinking in a linear manner, stuff like growing one's own food for the community, barn raising's for the commune/community...things like that. But once we saw that these guys were truly building a sustainable technology community, it changed our outlook on the matter and we were eager to work with them."

With Ryan and Mandy filming and still-shooting our efforts, Tom, Sam and I went about our business of making these first 4 machines work. They are all P4's but some had specialized memory that we could not obtain for upgrades...the distros varied from a full Ubuntu Ultimate install down to an AntiX installation on a machine with only 256 meg of hard-to-find RAM.

Tom King has a special place in the Directorship of HeliOS Solutions. As a Server Engineer for Dell, Tom brings a wealth of knowledge to the effort...which is good because left to the efforts of helios, the best his networks could achieve would be akin to tin cans and string. Working with a D-link 4 port wireless router, we began the task of getting cat5 cable fitted with rj45 connectors and running the wire. Tom reset the router and had the entire system networked and seeing each other in moments. He began the updates on one Ubuntu Box while I got the OpenSuse machine updated and YAST fine-tuned.

The 4 distros for this particular install were Ubuntu Ulitimate, OpenSuse, Mint and AntiX. The main room center will more than likely be uniform installs of Linux Mint. That will make teaching classes a bit easier and lessen confusion.

This first installation found its home in the roomy office section of the center. Each machine has its own desk and chair and plenty of room for books or other study materials. The main part of the Learning Center will be built in a 9x15 room with long tables along each wall. We have some special needs for the main part as we will need to employ LCD flatscreen monitors there. There just won't be room for the bulky CRTs we are used to installing. Hopefully, the Linux Against Poverty event will net those for us in April.

That larger room will be the facility where Directors of The HeliOS Project will conduct weekly classes on general Linux/computer use, the use of OpenOffice and much to the surprise of many...a class on programming. Tom King will be conducting weekly classes using the Open Source application "Alice".

"Kids are hungry for this kind of education." Tom stated as he ran a script to set up the router. "Often, the ones that really want to learn stuff like this don't know where to go or who to contact. It doesn't matter what side of town a kid lives on...if they want to learn, we are going to teach them. There's no law that says tomorrow's programmers have to have a Westlake Hills mailing address."


The HeliOS Project will first concentrate their efforts to fill seats from the community housing sections right down the street from Space12. They are currently looking for volunteers that are fluent in Spanish to help them with some of the classes. The need for bi-lingual instructors is a given in this environment.

The big push here though isn't the actual installation of the Technology Learning Center. This center will be the hub for a wireless "guerilla-network" that will provide those without the means to afford broadband access a way to connect to a fast, secure internet connection.

It's not like we haven't almost begged Time Warner and others to give us a hand here. We've presented plans to help local residents budget themselves into full subscription plans...all we asked for is a reduced rate to start with.

They didn't have the courtesy to write us a PUAR letter or return a phone call.

Ken answers Mandy's questions during the interview.

That's fine...we'll get it done our will simply take some time. We will deploy at least 20 percent of our computer installs in this area and work our way outward until we can start building our network. A free internet access network.

Access to technology should never be predicated on an ability to pay for it.

And now some of that time, for many of the kids in this East Austin neighborhood, doesn't have to be spent on the streets. Thanks to Sam Lee and the organization that gives him support, they can come and play foosball, read, study, talk or even learn how to use a computer.

Linux Computers.

It's what sustainable community is all about.

All Righty then

Special thanks to Ryan and Mandy. All photos posted were taken by Mandy Creighton.
You can follow their travels at

You can also donate to their project and insure they eat more than Pb&J's on their trip. We were happy to donate them a laptop but last time I checked...they were really rough on the digestive system.


Open and airy...The first 4 computers for the Thomas M. Edwards Technology Learning Center are staged for install

Ken, Sam and Tom pose under the Space12 sign

Mandy, Ryan, Ken and Tom grab something to eat after the install...Tom of course is taking the picture.

local community members are encouraged to sharpen
their photography skills and exhibit/sell their work at


JZA said...

Looks like a cool place. Besides the past history it looks like a moody and cosy place for youth.

gagy said...

Very impressive. Hope other equipment will find its way there.
Congratulation for this great endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Ken, when can we hope to see some or all of the footage shot while you guys were doing the install?

Christopher Myer said...

Well done, a fantastic job. I hope the lab, and Space 12 grows into it's full potential and beyond.

FelixTheCat said...

Ryan and Mandy release their footage under Creative Commons. Once they've uploaded it to their site, it should be free to view and download. I'm hoping they'll have a direct link fairly soon but they are still doing a LOT of filming right now.

There are also way too many pictures of me in the this blog! heh

Anonymous said...

IMHO, based on reading the TimeWarner site, my guess is you might want to check with one of these folks at corporate about getting "sponsored" Internet. The generic email for any of them is:

Lisa Quiroz, Senior VP
Corporate Responsibility

Dan Osheyack, VP
Philanthropic Initiatives

Michele Sacconaghi, VP
Corporate Citizenship

I can't tell who might be an equivalent in your local area. When I was working on getting a small private school free Internet from Comcast under the "Cable in the Classroom" (CIC) consortium all cable companies are part of, I never found a local switchboard operator or manager who had heard of CIC or had any concept of who to call. One call to a VP at corporate netted the name.

How likely TimeWarner has a "program" that would allow them to provide places like Space 12 with free Internet is a whole "nuther" question. I checked DirectTV's site and they basically say "dont call us, we'll call you". :/

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the links. I have sent Ms. Quiroz certified letters, emailed her, called her and did everything but show up at her door.

She refuses to even speak with me...

That's the problem in telling people what you want to talk to them about prior to talking to them about it.
they know who to avoid. She is a good VP of avoidance if nothing else.


Ryan Mlynarczyk said...

Our link didn't find it in this's

also, just an FYI, we took the pics in the blog too (except the one at dinner that was noted to be taken by Tom). Our creative commons liscense asks that we be credited (website and name) when using our media. Thanks!

Thanks Kenneth and Tom and Sam. What ya'll are doing is increadible.

-Ryan Mlynarczyk
Within Reach Movie

Ryan Mlynarczyk said...

also, we are not going to be able to post out media anytime soon most likely.

We are working hard this year biking and acquiring the media for our feature legnth documentary. when we have a stable homebase and blazing fast internet connection next year when we return that is most likely when the footage will be posted on our end.

However WE DID GIVE IT TO THE HELIOS FOLKS, as well as the digital tipping point folks. Ask them if you would like to see it, and maybe they can post it for all to see and enjoy.


Anonymous said...

either ken or ryan (don't know which one is which) looks a whole damn lot like george carlin

Anonymous said...

The Alice lessons are a fantastic idea.

Multo kudos, Helios.

Ken Roberts said...

Hello Ken from another Ken -

Out of curiosity, shouldn't "...they eat more than PJ&J's on their trip."


"they eat more than PB&J's on their trip."?

I've heard of PB&J, but not PJ&J :)

- Ken
Slackin- since 1993

Anonymous said...

As usual Ken,well done.

A minor point of grammar but one that is really staring to irk me.

But this Sunday wasn't business as usual for Tom and I

**It's Tom and me.**

You would not that it wasn't business for Tom and it wasn't business for I

Good work!

Anonymous said...

either ken or ryan (don't know which one is which) looks a whole damn lot like george carlin".

That would be Ken, although I think he barely has a leg up on looks due to one of them having assumed ambient temperature now.

I personally think there is a striking resemblance to Howard Hessman myself, but only at certain angles.


Anthony said...

Looks like a grea lab, i wish i could be there. lol.