The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bank of America Rep Responds To No Linux Support

This isn't exactly fresh news but I think some of you might find this interesting.

Before we get into it, a couple of things to keep in mind:

1.  The Bank of America is a Silver member of The Linux Foundation.

2.  Tim Golden -- Senior vice president at Bank of America sits on the
     Linux Foundation Board of Directors.

You might want to take a look at what Mr. Golden has to say in the above link about Linux on the Desktop and in the racks before you go any further.

With that being said...

A couple of months back, Skip Guenter, our Director of System Engineering noticed some disturbing language in an email he received from his bank.

That would be Bank of America.

It dealt with his online banking and it concerned the "Electronic Disclosure Statement" online agreement to which he was being asked to agree.

In a nutshell, it is asking BOA online banking users to agree that they are using specific hardware and software to do said banking.  It isn't giving an option to is asking you to say you are using specific hardware and software...even if you are not.  

As you can see in the graphic above, Linux users are not included.

Go figure...

Skip wasn't comfortable in "agreeing" to this so he began the laborious task of trying to find the person who could change it.

Now, with legal issues in mind here, I am going to walk a fine line in reporting the back-and-forth between the BOA representative and Skip Guenter.  Some of the emails had confidentiality statements attached to them and some did not.

To protect ourselves, I will only post those communications that did not have such agreements.  They tell the story well enough.

Look, we all know that we use a less-common OS.  We can argue the numbers all day but whether we have 1 percent usage or 7 percent usage, we can all agree that some would consider the Linux Operating System "obscure".

Or not...

Skip finally contacted someone who deals with browser support strategy and compatibility.  I will post the text of the most important dialog below:

Guenter:  First off I want to thank you for taking the time to reply.  It's appreciated.

I understand the desktop user base issue (especially here in the US, maybe 1%) and I don't really need or expect you to "support" Linux in any direct manor since you are supporting the Firefox browser.

I am not having any problems using Firefox on Ubuntu to do my on-line banking nor have I over the years I've been doing biz with Bank of America.

My issue is purely that the electronic disclosure statement that I'm being required to sign in order to access my account (Hardware & Software Requirements, which, btw, seems to be completely software) says that I *AM* using the software listed.  Since I am not using this I don't feel right in signing it.  Is there any way some wording could be changed to say that I understand using anything else is "unsupported" instead of asking me to sign something saying that I 'am' using Windows or OS/X  (eg. opt out with... "Yes, I'm a demented geek and understand that BAC will not support issues arising from my use of the Linux OS")?

As it is now I can't even pay my upcoming payment due because I can't get past checking "I agree" to this.  I have talked to customer service and requested to be changed back to paper billing but certainly this can't be the direction you want to drive customers.
I also have an account with Chase.  They use a link to all the legalize at the bottom of each page.   The one that covers roughly the same topic is item #5 in the below.

(note we received the following message when clicking the above-noted url: 
Due to the presence of characters known to be used in Cross Site Scripting attacks, access is forbidden. This web site does not allow Urls which might include embedded HTML tags. )

The only Chase Bank requirements are below:
Hardware and Software Requirements. In order to access, view, and retain electronic Communications that we make available to you, you must have:
  • an up to date Internet browser that we support;
  • sufficient electronic storage capacity on your computer's hard drive or other data storage unit;
  • an e-mail account with an Internet service provider and e-mail software in order to participate in our electronic Communications programs;
  • a personal computer (for PC's: Pentium 120 Hhz or higher; for Macintosh, Power Mac 9500, Power PC 604 processor 120-MHz Base or higher), operating system and telecommunications connections to the Internet capable of receiving, accessing, displaying, and either printing or storing Communications received from us in electronic form via a plain text-formatted e-mail or by access to our web site using one of the browsers specified above.
  • software that enables you to view files in the Portable Document Format ("PDF").

In other words, I am not expecting you to support Firefox/Linux, just don't make me 'sign' saying I'm using Win/OS/x when I'm not, to continue using your on-line banking service.

Thank you very much for your time,


S. R. 'Skip' Guenter

The response from the BOA rep follows:

BOA Rep:  Mr. Guenter, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Our legal team reviewed the language of the disclosure and your concerns and here is what they had to say:

We are required by the Electronic Signatures and Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign) to disclose the hardware and software requirements a customer needs to access any legally required disclosures, such as our transfer and bill pay disclosures contained in the OLB Service Agreement.  The hardware and software requirements disclosed should be based on what the Bank actually tests against to make sure the information is accessible.

If we water down the language by making the hardware and software disclosures more generic or saying that the hardware and software is merely suggested/recommended, we risk a couple of things:

1.  You would be creating an obligation to test every single combination of browser, operating system, and PDF reader in use out there to make sure the information is accessible; and 2.  If you don't test every combination and a customer using an obscure combination can't access legally required disclosures, they could argue that the Bank didn't actually deliver these disclosures in compliance with law.

So, in the end, while we appreciate your concerns, we need to keep the language as stated in order to keep ourselves compliant with the E-Sign act. Basically, how we interpret the language is to say that in order for us to fully support any issues and the security of our customers, we require them to use only certain browser operating system combinations. However, if you CHOOSE to use a different browser or OS, you will not receive that full support and protection. Accepting the terms and conditions merely signifies that you understand and accept this risk. Does that clear things up for you?

To which Skip replied:

Guenter:  I do appreciate the fact that you took the time to respond.  I'm going to have to think about what I do now.

Funny thing -  Last night I was watching a show on and the primary sponsor was your company.  They had a good advert basically showing folks how they could do their banking from their mobile devices, mentioning by name the Android.  I thought, no kidding, I wonder if the legal guys know what "obscure" operating system runs on that!  I'm sure you do and I needn't elaborate my point here.  I wonder what OLB Service agreement the users of those devices are presented with.

Again, Thank you,

S. R. 'Skip' Guenter

So that brings up a number of questions.  Doesn't BOA offer an Android app for  phones and tablets?  This link states that they do.  Is there a different requirement for phones vs. computers? 

And I won't insult your intelligence by asking you what the Android platform is based on...Guenter alludes to that in his response.

And what part, if any will Canonical play in this?  They are the big dogs in the pit so to speak.  If anyone in the Linux or Open Source community has reason to interact with this effort then it would be them.  With their upcoming and somewhat abrupt switch to Unity vs would think.

So once again, we are seeing "Linux Foundation members" doing the same thing that Netflix did recently.  They lay the whole thing on "legal" issues....In the case of Netflix, intertwined with DRM and the DMCA.

It's been fairly evident that The Linux Foundation isn't really concerned with Desktop wants membership from the Enterprise.  Those who use Linux more on the server side.  That's where the money is, at least according to a conversation Tom King and I had with Jim Zemlin at the 2008 Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit.

They want to play in the pool but they don't want to do any of the maintenance.  At least from a Desktop point of view.  Of course, as a Linux Desktop advocate, I would see such things through that filter.  That's not saying it's an accurate observation.

Maybe from a business standpoint, Bank of America is doing what they are legally responsible for...making stockholders happy?  Holding down costs?

I'm not going to make any further judgments...above are the facts.

We can sort it out in the comments.

All-Righty Then

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa's Sleigh is on it's Way

Holy cow, are we gonna be busy.

As noted in a recent blog and reported in the Austin American Statesman blog, St. Jude Medical generously donated 75 laptop computers to The HeliOS Project.  This was impeccable timing as we were completely out of computers for The HeliOS Project. With the Holiday season approaching, we were faced with turning down kids that needed us.

Well, between the brutal weather and an unfortunate administrative error, the shipment of those laptops was delayed by several days.  Instead of receiving them yesterday, we are scheduled to take delivery of them on the 20th.

That gives us 5 days to deliver over two dozen computers.

If you want to track the shipment along with us you can do so at using tracking number 2143499374.

And yes, I do personally work on Christmas Day.  It's no big deal.  I've done it every year since I've started doing this.  I am so blessed to be able to do what I do, that working a few hours on Christmas Day playing Santa is looked forward to.

Problem is...

We are going to have to drive hundreds of miles to get this done and unfortunately we have to have fuel in the vehicle to do so.

We're short on the funds to do it.

We occasionally come to you with requests like this and I am more and more unwilling to do so but in this case, we're against a time clock and it will be a challenge to get this done.  We're only asking for 10 dollar donations as each delivery shouldn't take more than that to complete.

There are several ways to help.  You can go to our SPI donation site to donate.  We also have a paypal solution that will get us the funds quicker and we won't have to wait for them to be sent to us.  If this is your preferred method, please email me at and I can give you the instructions there. can visit our Amazon store and pick from the items we have available for sale there.

I know this is an especially tight Holiday season and for those able to help us out, I want to thank you in advance for helping us do what we do.

All-Righty Then...

Monday, December 13, 2010

AT&T Blocks Linux Configuration

Editor note:  In the first 24 hours this blog has been up, we have had 8 clients inform us that they are canceling their AT&T installs scheduled in the next 2 weeks.  Maybe not a big deal but it's a start. - helios

The Old Saying goes...

Pick your battles.

That's not so much saying we should become inattentive to other issues, but it does mean to focus on those things that you can affect.

...And don't become like Chicken Little and make every little thing a crisis.

Pick your battles?

OK, we will.

How's this?

In the past 45 days, I've done a ton of installs.  Of that bunch, 17 of our clients in that 45 days had chosen AT&T DSL for their provider.

For good reason I think...

They offer a two year contract at 14.95 a month for Internet service.

Pretty good deal, huh?

Not if you are a Linux User.

In the past six months we have done a lot of installs with those who had AT&T come in before we installed the computer.  Sure it was a hassle.  We had to go in and manually configure the modem firmware for PPPOE, manually set up network manager and then, if the stars and planets aligned correctly, we could reset the modem and bingo...

We were connected.

Nowdays, not so much.

Starting about two months ago, we noticed that when we accessed the modem page at 192.168.something.or_another, as soon as we focused the cursor in the first field, we got a popup that asked us to install software to guide us through the configuration.

Of course, the requirements were a Windows Operating System and a Microsoft Explorer browser.  Big ActiveX control.

This has tested true with three different modems that AT&T provides or recommends.  Two Speedstreams and the standard white 2wire modem.

Again, this seems to be a new twist...we've never had this problem before.

Bypassing the popup was least at my level of knowledge.  It stood as a sentry against the configuration page.  No matter what we did, we ended up with the instructions to install the software.

Software that required Microsoft Windows or a Mac system.

From the Comments...

"...the unofficial grumblings I got from the AT&T phone reps are that only pirates use Linux. If that's the case, then this is very likely a high up, corporate wide decision and you are going to need to go high up the food chain to reach anyone with any ability to adjust policy."

As a matter of course, I have established the habit of carrying around a small laptop with Windows XP installed in order to do this.  Doing so is absolutely ridiculous and should be unnecessary,

Of course, unless you go into network manager under your Linux install and do the DSL configuration, you won't connect.  You will show connected but you really are not.

That's just fyi.

But to the point.

Linux has evolved as a viable presence on the desktop.  I can point to 1186 cases on point.  And that's just the Linux installs we've done.  That doesn't touch small and medium business Linux Desktop users we've encountered through HeliOS Solutions service calls.

There are way more than you might think.

The last install I did where the client had AT&T DSL pre-ordered prior to my arrival was to me, the last straw.  I gained the subscription owners name, email address and passwords in order to talk to tech support on the phone.  I made no mistake in telling them that I was a Linux User from the beginning.

That seemed to shorten the call considerably.

"I'm sorry sir, we don't support Linux.  You have to use Microsoft Windows or a Mac before we can connect you"


We went around for a bit until I asked to escalate the call to a tier two support specialist.  Tier one refused and again stated the need for Windows or a Mac system before connection could be established.  A tier two rep wouldn't be able to do anything more for me.

OK, fair enough.

From the comments...

"We have AT&T U-verse here. When first installed, it ran great. That lasted about 3 months. For some reason, our download speed dropped considerably. I called support to see what could be done. The first thing out of the techs mouth was, "Open the Windows Control Panel." I told them that I'm running Linux and I know for a fact that the issue isn't with my laptop. They sent me to Tier 2 support and the tech told me the reason the service has slowed down is because I'm running Linux. He said that Linux doesn't run well on a network. I wish I had recorded that statement because to this day, it makes me laugh and infuriates me all at the same time. Clueless people."

I have begun to ferret out those Management-types in our local area who can discuss this with us.  So far, I've been given the run around but that was on the phone.

Tomorrow I will start making public appearances at the AT&T headquarters and I will find out what we can do.

And yes, I've tried to skirt around this and talk to some of their service techs off the record and see how we can fix this.

So far, no calls or emails have been returned.

From the comments...

"Just the thought of this irks me. My mother is an AT&T retiree!"

We've done the only thing we can do at this point.  We've warned our potential clients of AT&T's reluctance to service them by making an announcement on our website.  The announcement is on the top right of the page under "Bits and Bytes."

The best we can do right now is to warn people away from AT&T....

And maybe find the right people to talk to.  We might not be able to get anything done but we can document their reluctance to recognize Linux as a legitimate operating system.

From the Comments...

"...Seems the "quality control" at AT&T could not care less. I received their confirmation email saying a customer support representative would contact me about my compliant.

That was about 3 weeks ago. We are trying to get out of our contract now and switch to Cricket. Not as cheap but I'm sure it's a whole lot better."

So out of the projected 400 installs we will do next year, approximately 1/3 of them will choose AT&T for their provider based on their cheap level of service entry.  These are financially disadvantaged families

That inexpensive point of service doesn't mean much when the person has to go out and purchase a Windows license.

Of course, there is a part of me that knows versions of XP SP3 are, ahem...


Many of the folks we give computers to know this as well.  Will they be tempted to pirate software in order to connect to the net?  Are we to consider such an option?

This is where I am supposed to guffaw and tell you we wouldn't think of such a thing.


One option is to install an "eternally-validated" and pirated copy of XP SP3 via VirtualBox on each computer, then delete the image when we have established the Windows-dependent connection.

But that increases the time of each machine install by at least 30-40 minutes.

And it entails pirating software...that's not the example we wish to set with our young people.

From the Comments...

"I wanted to switch from Comcast to AT&T because Comcast has a bit too many routing problems. This story certainly quenched the idea. I guess AT&T will not see my business anytime soon."

So whether this week's efforts find us someone in management/tech to help us solve this or they tell us to PUAR...that remains to be seen.

At this point, I would be happy with either one.

We will happily publish the names and positions of those who do either.

All-Righty Then

Thursday, December 09, 2010

St. Nick in the Nick of Time

We recently announced that we were suspending operations for a month.  First off, my thanks to those who inquired as to my health.  Fully realizing that my health in the past has been an issue, I can understand why some might think it was the issue at hand.

If weight gain and retention were to be chosen as an indicator for one's health, by all indications, I am at my peak...

The reason we closed down is simple.  We were out of computers to give away.  We had several on hand but they were scheduled for installs already.  Once we dispatched those, our cupboards were bare.

As if on cue...I got a call from Michael Zagger.

Michael is the Division Vice President of Cardiovascular Sales at St. Jude Medical here in Austin.  Michael had personally donated some laptops and other computer components a few months back.  He also stated that he was going to talk to his Group President about doing a mass donation of laptops in the near future.

Now I know how this goes at times.  When one person might see the need, those above him might not see it as a priority.  Other times their IT department might have policy in place that dictates the decommissioned machines be auctioned or go to specified non profits.

It wouldn't be the first time we were passed over for corporate donations.  Hey, it happens....just move along and do the best you can.

Mike Zagger was persistent.  According to Michael T. Rousseau, Group President, St. Jude Medical... 

Mike Zagger "wouldn't take no for an answer."

On Wednesday, December 8th, we were called to the Austin headquarters of St. Judes.  

It was there that we were presented with 75 laptops.  

That's seven in the tens column, five in the ones column.

75 laptops.

We arranged for the first recipient of these laptops to be present.  Kernetta Owens and her dad, Kirk were able to make the trip to south west Austin for the ceremony.  Kernetta is an A and B student at Connelly High School in Pflugerville Texas where she is an Advanced Placement student and is active in band.  Kirk is a disabled vet and isn't able to give Kernetta the computer she needed for school.
Left to right, Ken from HeliOS, Mike Zagger, Kernetta Owens and Michael T. Rousseau, Group President, St. Jude Medical

These laptops aren't exactly museum pieces.  We received:

45 Vaio VGN-TX770P laptops
30 Dell D610 Laptops. 

Both of these laptop models have proven to be work horses and they should serve our kids well for years to come.

I want to personally thank St. Judes Medical for their generosity and for seeing the importance of small projects such as ours.  We were in a position we had not found ourselves for years.  We were out of computers and with Christmas coming, we had a large number of people requesting computers that would not get one.
 From left to right, Skip Guenter HeliOS Project Director of Systems Engineering, Michael Zagger, Division VP, Cardiovascular Sales, Diane Franklin Records-keeper extraordinaire for HeliOS, Ken Starks. Kernetta Owens, Kirk Owens, Mark Thornburg, HeliOS system-building volunteer, Michael T. Rousseau, Group President, St. Jude Medical and  Paul Bae, VP of Human Resources and IT.

The St. Jude offer came without solicitation or contact from us.

Still, we got what we needed to do our work for this Christmas season and beyond.

Make of it what you will.  

All-Righty Then


Friday, November 26, 2010

New Linux User's Guide to Managing Your Files

When we install computers for our kids at The HeliOS Project, one of the main sources of confusion is the differences between Windows and Linux file systems.  Most Windows users don't know much about their Program Files or Win32 folders but they do know about My Documents.  In most cases, this is where their personal files, pictures, movies and music reside.

Because you are used to doing things one way doesn't mean that an alternative is any more difficult.  In fact, the Linux file system hierarchy is really much simpler once you understand it.  We're not going to worry about the entire file system here.  We will focus on the files you use most...your personal files

It only takes most people a few minutes to understand how the Home Directory in the Linux file system works, and in Linux, your Home Directory is where your personal files are stored.  Let's take a look at what we have.

There's No Place Like Home.

When we set up your computer, we create a "Home" directory.  The Home directory is your main folder.  When we assign a User folder for your computer, we simply name it "linux".  In most cases when you receive a machine from us, your user folder will be named "linux" and it will be inside the Home folder.
Because we use only the Gnome Desktop Environment on our installed computers, we will be focusing on your native file manager and that is called Nautilus.  In Windows, your file system was manipulated in Windows Explorer.  Nautilus is basically the same thing.  It is the tool a user such as yourself uses to view, access and manipulate your files.  There are other file managers available but because Nautilus is the one that comes with your Linux computer, we are going to be working with it here.

First off, how do you access Nautilus?  There are a few ways.

 Click on the picture to the right and you will see a picture of my desktop.  Depending on your desktop, you will have three drop-down menus at the top left of your computer or at the bottom left.  In my case, it is at the top left.  It reads:

Applications  Places  System

As you can see above, I have clicked on the "Places" drop-down and exposed the file systems on my computer. The top folders are the same ones available to me in my home directory.  Many of you won't be concerned with multiple hard drives so don't let that confuse you.  For right now, I just want you to look at the top third of that drop-down.

You will see the basic folders in your home directory.  They are:

Home Folder

These are the basic folders that are already in your Linux Home Directory.   As you use your system, you can create folders as you need them.  Say you have a school project that requires you to research the Apollo Space Program.  To keep things organized, you would right click a blank spot inside Nautilus, click "create folder" then name it so you can recognize it as your project folder and store anything you do for that project in that folder.

As you can see from my Home Folder, I have created many folders for my use.  As well, some programs or applications you install will automatically create folders for their specific data.  For example, if you were to install the file sharing program Frostwire, the installation process will place a folder called Frostwire in your home directory and store anything you download within it.

  Back to the drop-down menu mentioned above...If you were to click on the "Home Folder" link in that drop-down, Nautilus would open, showing you the exact same folders.  Linux gives you a way to access these folders individually using the drop-down instead of opening your home folder then opening the folder you want.  Why do in two clicks what you can do in one?

Another way to access your home folder is to open Nautilus and hold-left-click your home folder and drag it onto your desktop.  While it is good to have a shortcut to your home folder on your desktop, it isn't always the handiest way get to it.  Most often you already have stuff opened on your computer and it can be a hassle to drop everything down just to get to your files.

A better way is to place a shortcut of your favorite folders in your panel.  As you can see from the first picture I offer, I have two at the top and one at the bottom.  If you have a small screen, you might want to consider only using one but in my case, I have a large monitor and screen real estate is plentiful.

The Gnome panels are the little strips you see at the top and bottom of my screen and they hold file and program icons.  You can add and remove things from your panel to suite your needs.  In my case, I find it best to create panel shortcuts for the most-used applications and places on my computer.  Click on the picture below to see an example of my top panel.

You can easily create a shortcut to any number of folders from your home folder by opening Nautilus, hold-left-click the folder and drag it to the panel.  You can then right click the folder, click "move" and then position it where you want it.  To make things easier and to make sure it doesn't "float"  right click it again and click "Lock to Panel".  I've chosen to place my home folder shortcut in the middle of the panel so I don't have to look for it among the other icons.

Getting Organized

There will come a time when you will want a file or folder inside another folder.  Lets say you downloaded a picture of your Aunt Cecilia and it ended up in your download folder (Firefox does this automatically but you can change that folder destination if you want).

The problem is, you don't want it in your download folder, you want it in your picture folder.  There are several ways to do that as well.

Note that the major folders in your home directory are listed on the left panel in Nautilus.  I find it simple to hold-left-click the picture and then slide it to the left panel and place it on the picture folder.  Once the picture is over the picture file folder, it will show lines on the top and bottom of that folder, indicating that it has been targeted. (see example to the right)  Let go of the left mouse button and bingo...the picture moves from your download folder into your picture folder.

You can also do it the old fashioned way if you want.  Maybe you want to work with several files in your download folder and move them into your picture folder.  You might find it easier to drag multiple files all at one time into your target folder.

 In this case, you can open two instances of Nautilus and get a better idea of what is being moved where.  You can right click any folder in Nautilus and see the options available to you (picture left).  The top options are to either open the folder in a new tab or a new window.  In this case, you would click open in a new window.

When you have two Nautilus windows open, you can choose the files you want to move.  Doing them one at a time can be time consuming, depending on how many you want to move.  If you want to move multiple pictures or files from one folder to another, you can choose them by holding down the control button on your keyboard (ctrl) and while holding the ctrl button, click the files one at a time until you have all of them chosen.  You can then left-click one of the chosen files and drag them to the target folder.  That will move all of them into the folder in the other Nautilus.


If you don't want to open two instances of Nautilus, you can simply open one instance, press the F3 button and that will create a "split view" window.  Each of the split views have individual navigation tools so you can choose different directories or file folders in each one.  Thanks for the anonymous poster who brought this to our attention.

Let your fingers do the walking

Sometimes, moving your hand between the keyboard and mouse can be a time waster.  Many of the commands available to you on a right click of the mouse are also available to you in keyboard shortcuts.  In some cases, using keyboard shortcuts can be invaluable, especially if you are moving a lot of files or text lines from one place to another.  Let's start with the copy command.

Ctrl-c  Ctrl-v and Ctrl-x and Ctrl-a

These are some of the handiest shortcuts you will use.  Ctrl-c is used to copy a file to your clipboard (think of it as short term memory) and allow you to paste it elsewhere.  While we will be using it here to copy and paste files between Nautilus windows, remember it can also be used to copy lines or complete pages of text.

If you have multiple files to copy, simply highlight them by holding your ctrl button down and clicking on them until all the files you want to copy are chosen.  If you want to choose all the files in a folder to copy, click Ctrl-a and it will highlight all the files in that folder.

Then simply press ctrl and the letter "c" at the same time.  Then you can open the folder you want to copy the files to.  You can also use your keyboard to paste them.  You still have your hands next to the keyboard, right?  Why move them back to the mouse to right click and choose paste.  Simply use the ctrl button and the "v" button at the same time and it will paste those copied files where you want them.

An important note here though.  If you have two Nautilus windows open, you need to make sure that the target window is "focused".  Most often, when you open a new Nautilus window, the focus of the mouse or keyboard will be on the new window.  You need to make sure the focus is on the file folder you want the files to copy to.  If not, you will get copies of the files in the same window you copied them from.  That can be frustrating.  Usually, the best way to insure that the focus is in the right window is to simply click your mouse on an open part of the window.

Maybe you don't want to copy the files from one folder to another...maybe you want to physically move them.  In this case, you can hold down the Ctrl button and choose the files you want to move then once chosen, press the Ctrl button and the "x" button at the same time.  This will "cut" the files from the folder they are in.  You can then open or choose the folder you want the files moved to and press Ctrl-v.  That will then move those files into your target folder.

An important note, in your file system, when you press the Ctrl-x keys, the files you chose to move will not "disappear" from your folder until you actually paste them with the Ctrl-v keys.  They stay highlighted until the actual moving of the files.  Sometimes, if there are large files, your desktop will show a bar that represents the files being moved, how many are being moved and how long it will take.  Moving large files across folders or hard drives can take some time so be patient and don't interrupt the process until it is finished.

This has been an extremely simple tutorial on how best to move or copy files on your Linux computer.  Many expert Linux users read and contribute to this blog so its a good idea to follow the comments made by our readers.  Sometimes they have better or more efficient ways of doing things so watch the comments below.

If you have any questions or if we can be of any assistance, please email us by going to and clicking the "contact us" button.

All-Righty Then

Friday, November 19, 2010

How We Choose Political Candidates and Software.

Many of us who are well "seasoned" will remember the first Kennedy/Nixon presidential political debate.  Not so much for the debate itself, but for the fact that it was the first nationally televised political debate of any kind.

While the use of this medium was inevitable, it changed the way we look at our political candidates and ultimately, the way we vote and choose our leaders.

As a college student, I took a political science class just because I needed to offset my less than stellar performance in algebra.  GPA matters.   Of course in that era, there was no Youtube...the internet did not exist, so we had to use printed transcripts of the debate to study the event itself.

You can see for yourself here.  While Nixon seemingly had a better grasp and overall understanding of the issues, he bounced between obvious discomfort and outright aggression or defensive posture during the debate.  Kennedy on the other hand looked composed, comfortable and was the obvious more attractive candidate on stage.

Did that matter?  The attractive part?

Apparently so.

A poll after the debate was taken between Television viewers and radio listeners.  As the link above will state, those who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon to be the obvious winner.  Those who viewed the debate on television chose Kennedy.

Let's look at part of a recap from that debate:

"Perhaps the most crucial aspect of Kennedy’s victory, however, was his superior handling of the new medium of television. Having spent the first part of September campaigning in sunny California, the already handsome, athletic Kennedy entered the debate looking especially vivacious and fit. Nixon, by contrast, had lost weight during an extended hospital stay, refused studio makeup, sweated visibly, and appeared altogether less healthy and appealing. As historians and commentators have pointed out, many of those who listened to the debate on the radio, only hearing the voices of the candidates, thought Nixon was the victor, with his authoritative speech and mature voice. But unfortunately for Nixon, the debate was televised, and Kennedy’s calm, attractive demeanor and expectation-defying performance won the day. "

So, do we choose our leaders based simply on how they look?

It's looking that way

In the past 5 months, I've been doing some polling of my own.  Of course it's not on a national or global level.  In fact, it's been an extremely small sampling, but the outcome of this experiment have led me to some conclusions that I think are important enough to share.

We do between 300 and 400 computer installs for disadvantaged kids in the Austin Texas area a year.  During that time, I have the undivided attention of both the parents and the kids.  When I see that I have a friendly and open audience, I ask those over 17 to take a 10 minute poll of sorts.

I have to date a sampling of 78 people.

Hardly a large number, but it's what I have.

I ask them what software they are used to using, how often they use a computer and in what environment they use it. 

I then explain to them that I am going to show them picture-sets of 3 different applications.  We've found that the most-used apps are the browser, the word processor and the music/MP3 programs.

Let me state that this is no where near a controlled or scientific endeavor...I simply choose participants on their willingness to do this.

 The Browser...A virtual Wash.

The results here were pretty much split down the middle.  Both of the shown screenshots were taken in VirtualBox in order to maintain font and consistency.
37 people chose Internet Explorer 8 while the remainder of the people chose Firefox.  Please note, my observations show that besides some icon theming, the two browsers render themselves almost identical in these screenshots.

Theming seems to be the key here in many of the things we discovered.  We did not discuss much about the different browsers except that Microsoft Explorer comes "bundled" with Windows and Firefox is a stand-alone browser that can be installed in most any recognized Operating System.

In A Word...

The Microsoft Office component, Word got the nod from 53 people in contrast to the 25 who chose the OpenOffice offering of Writer.  Very little was explained to the viewers except that Word, bundled in the latest Microsoft Office offering could cost them in excess of $200.00 US while OpenOffice was free to use and modify.

It didn't seem to make much difference.

 Cosmetically, one could see why people chose Word over Writer at 2-1.  It has a pretty blue theme contrasted by the rather stark and blocky presentation of Writer.  But again, to a point this is more of a theming issue I believe.   Some interesting things happened when we moved on to the music apps.

Music makes the world go around...

Consistently, whether it's a teenager or an adult,  our experience shows few applications on a computer share use as much as music programs.  Of course, Windows dominance prevails in this area as well.  Most people we talk to define their computer music experience as being dominated by Windows Media Player.

 But we cannot definitively say that it's because it is a superior application.

 It seems that looks matter here as well.

We played with this a bit, simply because a direct comparison between one open source application against WMP didn't tell the whole story.

First we showed them the default music player in Ubuntu,  Rhythmbox.  Then we showed them the default WMP application (above).  64 people out of the 78 polled immediately chose WMP over the open source offering.  When asked why, 71 percent of them said that it looked better.  Many of that number asked why one had "pictures" on it and the other did not.

They were of course talking about the album art that showed up in WMP.  That app automatically queries the net for the appropriate album cover while Ryhthmbox needs configuration in order to do so.

71 percent based their choice on how the application looked.

When we went further to explain the the open source offering did not encumber their experience with (explained) DRM, that number improved by another 9 percent.  We then showed these folks the default picture of Ryhthmbox  along side of the differently themed version with album art enabled and told them it was the exact same application.  We explained to them that Linux allowed them to change themes with a couple of clicks.

The majority of them showed various degrees of surprise or disbelief until I actually re-themed their Linux boxes on the fly.

Then they understood.

Now where things got interesting is when we did a comparison between WMP and Amorok.

Amorok won that contest 56 to 22.

When we asked why they thought that Amorok was a better application, the majority of people said that it offered some cool features and that it looked good.

All of this was done of course in a Gnome environment, on our customized version of Ubuntu 10.4.

I'm not sure any of this bears significance except to note that some computer users are first drawn to an application from physical appearance.

But then again, apparently this is how many of us choose our political leaders and most likely our spouses.

No real surprises here.

Maybe some of the battles can be won with a simple default makeover.

Maybe not.

All-Righty Then

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Temporarily Suspending our Activities

The HeliOS Project has suspended operations for a 30 day period.  We will be honoring all outstanding installs.  We hope to resume work in time for the Holiday season if funding allows.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Getting Linux Into The Right Hands...


That's the number so far.

As of today, that is the number of Linux-based computers The HeliOS Project has placed in the homes of disadvantaged Austin kids.

That number will reach 1168 as this weekend comes to a close.

From a relative point of view, I suppose that might represent the proverbial drop in the bucket.

Until you consider what forming that drop entailed.

Each of those machines represents at least 4 man hours.  From the time we receive a machine until the time we walk out of a fresh computer install, we've invested a substantial amount of time into it.

That doesn't touch on the fuel and parts costs involved in making it happen.

So in the larger scope of things, yeah...I suppose it is a drop in the bucket.

But try telling that any of the people we've served.

And as a brief aside...that raging argument about Linux not being a drop-in replacement for any other desktop OS?

Let it die here.

It's worked for our kids, and it works for the majority of people who use it.  You can nitpick the small details all you want.  The fact remains that our kids have been able to successfully use Linux as their Desktop from elementary school up through graduate school.

Granted, there are times when our kids do need a specific MS application and for that we try to find a legitimate copy of XP SP3 to run in VirtualBox.  Unfortunately, Microsoft's best offer to us comes with a price tag of $50.00 per license.  We are on pace to consistently place 400 computers annually.  The math is simple...we cannot come close to meeting that cost.  In a way, this has been a good thing.  It has led us to explore viable Open Source alternatives to these MS-specific apps and for the most part, we've been successful.  

We announced recently that I-Tech Electronics is sponsoring a computer drive for The HeliOS Project on December 11th.

We are out of computers to fix and give away.  The holiday season brings us dozens of requests to be filled from the middle of November right up to Christmas day.

We've submitted PSA's to the major radio stations and have even invited AISD to get involved.  So far, quite a few people have dropped off early donations for that event.  We've gotten some fairly good stuff.

Unfortunately, many of these donations are laptops that are either missing power adapters, have depleted batteries or have 256 megs of RAM.

We're not talking dinosaurs least from a usability perspective.  We have HP and Dells with large single core chips up to core duo's.  These are machines well worth fixing or upgrading.

But we need some help getting them serviceable. 

We've needed to spend some money recently in getting our new vehicle registered, past an emissions test and inspected in order to get it legal and on the road.  Unfortunately, that's left us little to work with.  I wanted to make a point in letting you know about our computer drive and that we could use a hand in getting these donated computers up and running so we can deliver them during the Holiday Seasons.

If you are interested in helping, simply click the HeliOS icon at the middle left column of this page or just click here.  We have also set up a HeliOS Project storefront on Amazon.  We have offerings on ebay as well.  Picture to the right shows our offerings there so if interested, email me for details.   We might have something you want and your purchases go to support what we do.

We will be spending money this year primarily on batteries and  DDR 400 SODIMM RAM in 512 sticks or above.  If you have any laying around, you can ship it directly to us.  You can find our contact information here.

As well, if you'd like to help with the drive or just come hang out with us, let me know.  This won't be anything but a computer gathering event so no L337 skillz needed.  We'll just hang out and have a good time.

I am looking forward to it.

All-Righty Then

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

It Doesn't Take a Zealot...

Most of us have our pet causes...

Things we have a deep need to assist or support.

Outside of my obvious conjunction, I try to contribute annually to an organization working to find the cure for cancer.

Why a cure and not treatment?

I personally believe that there is too much money already corrupting this process.  Call me cynical but I believe that the major players in this drama have rigged the game.  I believe that the money is in "treating" cancer.

Not curing it.  There are those who see the financial benefit in treatment...finding a cure isn't in their best interests.

That would bring their gravy train to a tablecloth-staining end.  Entire University departments and research corporates would lose their funding.  They are not concerned with finding the cure...let's treat the disease and all make a superb living doing so.

Or so thinks me.

Of course I would think this way.  I am to this point a cancer survivor so my bias is clear.  The means to treat my cancer has been in use for 30 years.  Nothing new...nothing in my case, billions have been given and spent for what...?

Blindly giving money and time for something may make us feel better about ourselves but I think we need, from time to time, to check in on the progress of that thing.

There will always be those who work or give to something simply because they think it's doing some good...regardless of the reality.  

But there is always an exception...there is always someone who sees a cause or an effort and steps up to help because they know their immediate action will have immediate results.

And they don't always have to be aligned with that particular cause.

Just over a year ago, we purchased a Jeep Grand Cherokee for The HeliOS Project.  It was mostly due to one particular donor that we were able to do so.
It was something we badly needed at the time and we were (and still are) exceptionally grateful.

But it didn't take long to find out that our "great deal" wasn't so great.

Problems, and I mean large, expensive problems began to manifest themselves.  The bottom end of the motor developed an ominous knock.  The transmission started to slip and the steering box became unstable.

When the vehicle became unsafe and unreliable, we took it back to the person who sold it to us and for almost a year, that person provided us a loaner car to do our work.  He began looking for something to replace the jeep...and he was doing so out of his own pocket.

But it never happened.  He was happy to "loan" us a running vehicle and seemingly forgot his promise to get us another.  As the date on the state inspection sticker came closer and closer to expiration, I got a bit nervous.

I foresaw a problem looming...and one that we were in no position to fix.

That's when Adam Schneckloth stepped in.

Adam doesn't have any real affiliation with The HeliOS Project, The Linux Community or FOSS in general.  He works in the mortgage industry and is pretty much an everyday kind of guy.

Except for one thing...

He steps in to help when he believes the cause is right.

Adam heard about our problem through a friend of a friend.  Adam had a 96 Ford Explorer he purchased as a "project car".  The vehicle had been sitting on blocks, in mothballs since 2006.  It had relatively low miles and was in superb shape.  It runs great.  It has the 5.0 8 cylinder engine,  intact leather upholstery and full electronic controls throughout the vehicle.

It was, in a phrase..."a find".

And after hearing of our problem, Adam Schneckloth gave us the Explorer.

No tax receipts

No caveats

No conditions.

He signed over the title and solved a huge problem for us.

Of course, Adam is someone who will help anyone or anything in need of his help.

Some will think this a bit sappy, but bear with accentuates what kind of a man Adam Schneckloth is.

He and his co-workers were out behind his building taking a smoke break this last year.  They commented to themselves that they were hearing a "bleating" sound.  That wouldn't be uncommon.  Behind their office building was a large expanse of undeveloped forest with its array of wildlife.

Between civilization and that forest was a large concrete irrigation ditch.  it was 4 feet deep and shaped in a "V".  While the others in his group dismissed the sound, Adam went to investigate.

He jumped down into the concrete ditch and walked toward the sound.  About 200 feet from his building was a small, and obviously helpless fawn.  She had tried to jump the ditch and failed to negotiate the jump.  The V-shape of the ditch would not allow her to escape.

Adam approached the fawn, gathered it into his arms and crawled on his backside to solid ground.  Some of his friends had followed to find Adam and when they caught up with him, they found him holding that fawn.

With the mother nowhere in site, Adam set the animal free on the forest side of the ditch and watched it scamper and disappear into the trees.

So sappy?  Maybe, but then again, how many of us would ignore the sounds of the forest, even though one of them might have been a sounding call for help...?

Or how many of us would give of themselves something worth thousands of dollars simply because we know it would be the right thing to do.

Adam Schneckloth did, and we are eternally grateful.

All-Righty then,

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Be Teh G33k of Teh W33k

The Blog of helios has been in existence, in one blog format or another since 2005.  Now in general timelines, that isn't much.  In the blogging world though, it's a moderate success.

Success being relative.

I've often stated to you my reasons for writing this blog.  It isn't to bestow upon you my opinion...

It's because I want to learn from yours.

Many of you have concluded that I am some geek extraordinaire, laboring at this machine for hours, squinting at 4 open terminals and writing scripts to cure heartburn and the occasional nasty bout of gout.

As much as I would like to take a bow for doing so, nothing could be further from the truth...

You think I got the nickname "General Parsing Error" on a whim?

The comments on this blog hold intellectual gold.  People like Carla Schroder, Derrick Devine, Richard Stallman, Joe Brockmeier, Caitlyn Martin, Robbie Williamson and Glyn Moody have left insightful and well thought-out comments here.

They don't always agree with my point of view, but isn't that the point?

We're supposed to grow beyond our limited perspectives.

So starting a week from today, The Blog of helios will publish Teh Geek of Teh Week - Your Name Here...

And stop it...I've already cycled through all the jokes mentally.  None of them end well.

If you have something insightful, interesting or moderately pertinent to say, let me know and I will submit it on the following Tuesday.

That's the day for Teh Geek of Teh Week.

Batter up.

And oh...speaking of opinionated people with excellent writing skills and a long-suffering, tortured soul...

Congratulations to Larry Cafiero and his World Champion San Fransisco Giants.  If there were ever an example of second effort and tenacity, they are a textbook case.

Never give up.

They did the damn-near impossible and they did it with style.

All-Writey then...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Of Distros and Donnybrooks

We're all aware of the Distro Wars.

Some of us are bloodied warriors....

Others sit on the sidelines experiencing mixed degrees of amusement.

I've been both, but more the latter these days.

The emergence of Ubuntu and it's propelled status to the number one downloaded distro has quelled many of the skirmishes.


There are those who want to carry the war forward.

The HeliOS Project has been a long-time user of Mint...and not for any other reason than it fits our needs.

As my friend Eric Johnson says:

"Operating Systems are tools, not religions."

It wouldn't take me long to drill down into an MS Eula and find points to disagree with Eric, but the truth is, most "average" computer users don't care about their "freedom"....and when we preach to them, many of us come off as fanatics.

Trust me, I know. 

Lately though we've been working with tools to shorten the install and tweak process on our installed computers.  We're coming close to averaging 400 computers a year now and we have to find a way to maximize our efforts.

We've had great and generous volunteers do various respins of the Mint distro for us but their time availability isn't always in sync with important changes we make in our remixes.

Truthfully, some of the methods used to create these respins is above my pay grade or the time available I have to work with them.

Of course, when we look for a base distro to work from, we choose the Ubuntu/Mint types of debian-based distros.

There's a lot to be said for working with the most popular products.  Tools to do the respins, specifically the application UCK, seems to only work on Ubuntu.  The ease and speed that UCK allows one to do a custom distro is fantastic.

But it is, unfortunately, Ubuntu-centric.

I've taken the long way around to get to my point.

Recently, I burned the ISO file for Super OS.  We've used Super OS in the past and found it to our liking for one simple reason.  It makes available some of the codecs and "restricted" goodies that the regular Ubuntu install does not.

Let's say W32 Codecs, Nvidia and ATI prop drivers, libdvdcss and the Oracle/Sun version of Java 6.

Yeah, I know, I know...iced tea this and iced tea that.....openjdk-6-jdk and openjdk-6-jre...I appreciate the effort.  Many times they just don't work.

They have serious limitations in many banking and secure just doesn't get the job done for many online least for the time being.

So we needed a base distro to build to and we began to work with Super OS.

I made mention of this in an email to a friend.

Holy crap, you would have thought I spit on a statue of The Virgin Mary.


Not only did I get the full Stallmanista rant, I was told because of my unrepentant use of proprietary and closed drivers and applications, that I didn't really have a place in the "Linux Community"

Oh really?

First off, I don't think anyone have a higher regard for the courage and tenacity of Richard Stallman then me.

But as I said in a recent comment on a forum concerning the same topic:

Sometimes dogma has to give way to pragmatism.

And as far as anyone not "having a place" in the Linux Community...?

Let's embrace freedom.

As long as freedom fits your particular idea of what freedom is.

No prop drivers or codecs.


Then you are truly free.

Not to mention that your bank won't start a session without Sun-Java6.

Or that your 3D games won't play because the Nvidia card you have in your computer won't work.

Or that your DVD optical drive thinks the DVD you just put into it is a glazed doughnut. of the biggest problems we have as Linux Advocates is that we hand someone the latest Ubuntu CD and walk away...thinking we've done the right thing.

No we haven't.

Peek in on the Live CD user as he tries to get Hulu or to play.  Watch his frustration as complains about no flash.

The pop up Adobe flash install fails on a live CD by the way.  Hell, the pop up Adobe flash install fails on many hard drive installs...even when it reports itself to be the correct Linux version.

So what we have is a pissed off user who ejects the CD, throws it in his newly-made coaster pile and joins The Army of Linux Sucks.

Just a suggestion...when you give out live CD's for people to use, don't let your fanboi-ism get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what many of us are doing.

And when the New User complains that it didn't work for them, we write them off as computer illiterate and completely undeserving of our efforts.

The worst part is that many of us know there are distros out there that address these problems but we won't give them out due to our distro allegiances. 

That's a damned shame.

I'm just sayin'...

All-Righty Then.