The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Day of Discovery

Linux Against Poverty...

No one knew really what to expect.

Some, mostly out of not knowing exactly what to call it, referred to it as an install-fest. Others simply lumped it under the heading of "Charity Event".

It wasn't really either of those things...but it was all of those things and more...

The BrainChild of Linux Against Poverty is Lynn Bender, a local network and database guru. Linux Against Poverty began as a simple idea. Lynn could gain access to a corporate pool of decommissioned computers. He could rally the aid of Linux/Tech professionals in Central Texas.

His purpose? Give kids who would normally never have a computer in the home an even shot at their future.

A level playing field

A bridged Digital Divide

Pick your cliche'...

But regardless of what you call it, the goal of this global project can be found in the one-sentence phrase that defines The HeliOS Project:

"A child's exposure to technology should never be predicated on the ability to afford it."

It seemed that the two organizations shared the same goals.

Lynn could pull the first two things together easily, but he didn't have the network in place to get the computers into the right hands.

That is, until he heard of The HeliOS Project. Once he knew he could get the machines into the homes that needed them, he proceeded to execute his plan. That plan was Linux Against Poverty. In concert with myself and the Directors and volunteers of The HeliOS Project, Lynn put the plan into action.

To gather as many decent computers and hardware components as possible and make them ready for those who really need them.

Initially planned as a global event, it became obvious in a short time that others may not have the experience in organizing such a massive undertaking. The project was quickly tailored to execute in Austin first, document it thoroughly, then pass the documentation along to anyone who wanted to do the same thing.

Linux Against Poverty is unique in the fact that it marries the local tech community to both the municipality and the business community. Only when all of these entities are in step will this particular model be successful.

Saturday, the first day of August, 2009 saw the undeniable success of a well-executed plan. It wasn't flawless and without it's unique challenges and anxieties...but it happened and it happened on the backs of about 43 selfless, giving geeks. And that is what I want to tell you about.

The HeliOS Project works toward a noble cause, but it is not self sufficient. It relies upon the compassion, dedication and willing sacrifice of others.

Not exactly an easy thing to lay hands upon these days...unless you are in Austin Texas.

Arriving about 12 o'clock on Saturday, the volunteers for the project began arriving in groups...there was no "organizational meeting", no pep talks, no motivational speeches...those with an inherent leadership spirit quickly organized the teams that were to fuel this event and they went to work. No fanfare, no pre-event pom-pom waving...

45 people simply began busting their collective asses to get the job done.

I opened the back of the truck that myself, Mark Van Kingsley and Roy Hall had loaded early that morning and without anyone saying a word, a chain formed to move the 53 existing project machines into the staging area. It was already hot and it only took moments for the sweat to start pouring. The computers were neatly stacked and made ready to hit the line.

Before the day ended, over 40 computers were handed over the wall between the street and the outdoor patio of Union Park...the place that was our staging area for machines yet to see triage. These were additional machines brought by either citizens or representatives of local businesses in and around Austin.

Inside, people were quickly assembling tables, stringing cable and checking electrical circuits to get the different stations ready for the day. Most of these people were meeting for the first time but you wouldn't know it. They melded into a focused and purposful single was strangly quiet...everyone moved as if this had been rehearsed often.

It had not been...not at all.

I don't think I've ever seen such a complex and large effort come together so smoothly. And this isn't gracious hyperbole...this was an event that truly took its inspiration from its mission. Women worked quickly along side of men, picking up heavy server units and computers to put them into their places. During the entire day, I did not hear one complaint or gripe. And for those who might want to still refer to women as "the weaker sex...?

You might want to rethink that phrase.

Everyone knew what their work would accomplish and it was probably one of the most humbling moments I have ever experienced, exceptions none. There were major corporate CIO's and Senior Executives like Andy Krell from nFusion and Greg Poole from AMD loading and unloading trucks along side of...well, guys like me. They scraped knuckles on sharp metal edges and lifted computers until their backs ached.

Life-station and position or accomplishment meant nothing for this amazing 6 hour timespan...

It was all about getting computers into the homes of kids, who under any other circumstance, would never have one.

We will talk more about Linux Against Poverty in the next couple of weeks. There is simply too many stories inside of this one amazing story to be told at one time. However I do want to take this time to say something to the people that came together to make this thing happen.

This...event, this singularly astounding convergence of talent, dedication and compassion was successful because of you. No amount of planning or networking can make events like this succeed without people that care to the very core of their being. The fact that you all gave of yourself so completely to make Linux Against Poverty happen is....well, not to over-use the term, but you humble me by your actions. On behalf of The HeliOS Project and our volunteers I want to thank you for the gift you have so freely given the disadvantaged children of this community.

As well, a very special thanks goes out to Mark Van Kingsley of Sidney New York. Mark made the trip on his own dime all the way from the East Coast and was an invaluable help to me personally. Thank you went way above and beyond the call.
As well, I would like to say a special thank you to Roy Hall who went way out of his way to assist me personally when things just too crazy to manage myself.

These kids will however, know that there is a bit of each one of you inside that shiny new computer we give them. We were going to engrave a name on the next 42 computers given out, each one representing a person that took part...but I have a better idea. A roster of your names will be presented to them on an attractive HTML home page, every time they turn on their machines. I think more than 42 kids need to know who you are.

All-Righty Then

These are only a fraction of the photos taken at Linux Against Poverty. Thank you to Nari and Bruce Roberts for the photos taken on this page. Once all the photographers have sent us their pictures, we will make a Linux Against Poverty gallery and post it via the blog of helios.

As well...while we did a fantastic job of collecting and repairing computers, we fell terribly short in gaining any real operating funding for The HeliOS Project. The media coverage we did get came very late in the time frame and people just did not have the exposure to our event they should have. Fact is, it will be pretty hard to get these computers delivered when we simply don't have the money to get there. We would appreciate it if you could click the donate button at the top left of this page and once again....give us a hand. Thank you. - h


robert said...

come pay day I will hit that donate button.

Anonymous said...

Open source the only way to compute.
Linux rocks

Michael said...

The Ubuntu Florida LoCo, along with my personal charity, are having a similar (if smaller) install fest on the 15th. Any advice from this event that you can share would be greatly appreciated.

Event Details:

Unknown said...

Thank you Robert.


Unknown said...


I don't know if we will have our LAP documentation finished by the time you need it. We await input from team leaders and individuals who can give us the data we need. I will try to help you personally via email if that is good for now. contact me helios at fixedbyliinux dott kom.

PV said...

This is why I love Linux so much.

a Linux Mint user since 1 May 2009

Anonymous said...

Ken, I don't quite know what to say. You make me look at myself during times like these and make me realize what a selfish and lazy slug I can be.

You are sure to downplay your role in this because that is your way, but I want you to know that I now know what it is I am supposed to do. I am too old to admit that I have a role model, but if I were to have one; you are the closest thing it would come to.

Thank you again for reminding all of us that there is something greater than "I". This posted story doesn't seem to be getting as much attention as it should but then again, it doesn't present the train wreck of a flame war or a scandal of any sort. I am beginning to think all the good people in our community were with you on Saturday. The rest are busy playing their games or showing off their latest shell scripts.

Just so you know Ken, good works don't always go un-noticed or un-rewarded.

Anonymous said...

Open source the only way to compute. Linux rocks

No, Linux does not "rock". Whether you consider it just a kernel or an OS, it is a tool to use to get a job done, and only one of several that can do the same thing. It may have its merits but it certainly doesn't "rock".

Lynn Bender, Ken Starks and whoever else came together to make Linux Against Poverty happen, it is them who "rock". People who sacrificed an entire day of their time rock. People who spent weeks sweating the details and trying to tie it all together rock. The ones sitting out on that patio in 100-plus degrees of Texas heat rock. People who went home so dog tired that they went straight to bed rock.

Yes I was one of them. I saw what happened and I saw the true giving and loving spirit of close to fifty people make this thing work. I saw guys who make more money in a year than I make in 10, working like day laborers.

Let's keep some perspective on this thing. To give credit for this to some intangible thing is to insult those who accomplished great things in the span of one day.

Unknown said...

Well done, Ken. Well done.

Justin Carnahan said...

Ken, I gotta say, this article was really well written. Like, perhaps you should sling articles to the Chronicle or something...

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun working alongside such a varied and distinguished bunch of folk. I'm glad we got to come together for such a good cause, and I look forward to future events.

Git R Dun!

Anonymous said...

Someone post this to slashdot

Unknown said...

Someone post this to slashdot

Unfortunately, this story does not fit the "formula" that slashdot is looking for. I am hesitant to post my own blogs to places outside of where it is normally accepted to do so. Reddit might be a good place to start though if someone would want to post it there.


Hugo Estrada said...

Man this was a great event and I love to help out around next time you guys have another one.

It was a lot of fun just hanging out and talking geek with a lot of fellow Linux Advocates

Count me in for the next time

I wonder if maybe we can submit this to linux mint team since we used their distro on so many computers mostly due to me only having that iso on my computer

Tip for next time or for Any looking to do something similar


that probably slowed us down the most since we started with a very small number of lve cds and no cds to burn

it took us probably a good hour to get cds and have a nice number of live cds burn and ready to go.

Other than that I think this event went perfectly considering most people were strangers and there really wasnt any one "Leader" everyone did what was needed without needing to be told what to do every1 just stepped up to the plate and did their part.

Also thanks to whoever donated the Red Bull and food it made us work more efficiently without having to leave the scene to get re-energize


Unknown said...


We didn't foresee the need for burned cd's as we had things set up for pxe servers. Unfortunately, most of the isos were not compiled for pxe use and we had to fall back on the old fashioned way. You can bet we will be more prepared. I think our networking team learned a bunch from this as well.


Gavin said...

Excellent work! I can't wait to see the full reports on the event, from raw data down to individual stories. This will be important information for repeat events and will hopefully lead to "collateral damage" down the road. ;)

Although I must admit that after reading and hearing about LAP for months on end, now that it comes down to it I can only think to myself, "How could it be better next year?". Perhaps you fine guys and gals are already on top of that, hmmm?

To give credit for this to some intangible thing is to insult those who accomplished great things in the span of one day.

I can't speak for the original poster, but I don't take it as an insult to posit that Linux is a great thing that has allowed other great things to happen in its wake. Free software and open-source software were indeed a piece of the puzzle of the LAP event. This is a fact, and one that does not need to invalidate all of the effort and other various pieces of the puzzle. Linux is a foundation of what happened on Saturday, as was your time and the time of everyone else involved. We need not single out anyone or anything as taking sole credit for the wonder and hope that poured forth that day, and to discuss anyone or anything alone does not exclude the other ones and things at all. It could not have happened if not for everyone and everything coming together.

Not everyone can devote their time and efforts on a specific Saturday in Austin, Texas. Some people have to contribute in other ways. And I think the time and efforts of those who have taken it upon themselves to develop free and open-source software deserve at least a nod. They may not have been there lifting computers, and they may not have even guessed at the ends that could be accomplished with their time and efforts, but they were there in the puzzle nonetheless. Just as the puzzle of the LAP event would not have been complete without you, it would not have been complete without them.

Linux is not an intangible thing. It is a thing that was created by people. People who have a very similar spirit to yours. They give what is theirs to give. On Saturday (and on other days, I imagine) you did the same.

- Gavin

Unknown said...

Have all the 200 computers been distributed? Can some success stories get posted on the LAP website?

Looking forward to LAP install fest II