The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Linux Against Poverty 2010 - Making a Difference

If I thought the last few days leading up to the 2009 event was hectic...

Well, maybe not being able to see the future is in itself a gift.

Preparation for an event this large and far-reaching is going to be a challenge...anyone going into it thinking otherwise is either delusional or....

Never mind...delusional will define it nicely.

For those who do not know, Linux Against Poverty is an event that couples the Austin Tech Community with businesses and individuals who donate computers to be given to disadvantaged kids in the area.  Our Tech Guys fix 'em and we give them away.  Last year we were donated just over 400 computers by business and individuals.  Of those 400+, 219 were refurbishable or met our specifications.  Those computers were passed to the HeliOS Project in August and by November, they were all in the homes of kids who needed them.

This year, as it was last year, Greg Bodle has graciously given us his Union Park bar on 6th street so the madness can ensue.  Well, the madness was last year.  We are hoping that lessons learned from the mayhem of 2009 will translate to a much smoother and efficient event.  This year we have organized actual teams ahead of time as opposed to people just arriving and jumping in where they were needed.  Our teams are broken down to Intake and Evaluation, Salvage and Parts, E-waste Management, Repair and then Install.  If you would like to see the google group we've designed to harness the chaos, you can visit it here.

Planning for this year's event hasn't been without it's challenges and frustrations.  Be it a flagging economy or a late run at publicity, we are critically short of some needed components and overall machine donations.  It may be that we are specifically asking for P4 or AMD 2200+ machines.

The older machines, while they will run Linux just fine do not build to the specs our kids need to compete.  We disposed of just under 50 percent of the machines donated last year because they weren't usable to us.  Many other organizations were able to use them but the cost of storing and transporting them is an expenditure we just cannot make this year.

Our requests for components such as DDR and DDR2 RAM have yet to be met.  We are also in need of LCD flat panel monitors and hard drives.  CRT's have become a financial and physical liability for both us and the kids that receive them.  Just one of these 80 lb monitors that get pulled over on a child will spell the end of The HeliOS Project.

We're not going to allow that to happen.  We came close once but a pro bono arbitrator was able to make the whole thing go away.  While the child was not injured, it was enough for us to quit the practice of delivering CRT's.

So, as always, when the greater Austin Community cannot or will not respond, we come here to let you know what our needs are.  That's not to say that some have not stepped up.  Our most sincere thanks go to Lionel Felix at Enfatico, the great people at Sicola Martin and Curt Hall at Genesis Today for their generous donations to Linux Against Poverty.  Just a small group of companies are making a huge difference in what we do.  Imagine if a dozen others just like them were aware of what we do.

If you work for a company or organization that might have the machines and components we need, please make them aware of what we are doing.  As always, any equipment donations are tax deductible. Many of our donations come after the event so please don't think it all ends on June 19th  We will gladly do pickups throughout the year. 

This year, Lynn Bender; the organizer of Linux Against Poverty has arranged for some pretty cool prizes to be raffled off to equipment donors.  First prize is a pass to next year's SXSW Interactive event.  Make sure you or your company registers for the drawing....

And thanks folks...thank you for being part of what we do.

All-Righty Then...



Anonymous said...

The older machines, while they will run Linux just fine do not build to the specs our kids need to compete.

I don't mean to rain on what you are doing, I think it's great but doesn't the old adage "beggers cannot be choosers" apply here?

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to rain on your comment, Anonymous, but there are companies out there that have a significant degree of hardware turnover; in one case here in California, the hardware turnover for one tech company I have dealt with in getting hardware for my daughter's school is on a nine-month calendar. These nine-month-old machines would benefit projects like Ken's.

And that's better than having a P4, 2GB RAM, 160MB HD tower filling a landfill.

Great work, Ken. Keep it up.

Larry Cafiero

Anonymous said...

>>>The older machines, while they will run Linux just fine do not build to the specs our kids need to compete.
I think the above comment about "beggers cannot be choosers" is correct. What Linux distro are you using? Have you tried Puppy Linux. I have refurb old 600MHZ computers with 256MB RAM and works wonderfully with Puppy. These machines are then given to different age groups ie 1st to 3rd graders. Puppy have all the basic software needed and I would customise the HTML Welcome screen.

Amenditman said...

@Anonymous (BTW - very creative login ID)

The Helios Project are not beggars.

They SERVE a vital and vast need in our society.

The old advice your Momma tried to teach you should apply double to internet protocol, "If you have'nt got anything constructive to say, say nothing at all."

Next time, sign in with a real ID and think before you criticize what you don't know squat about.

Bob P

Truth Because It's Rare said...

"I don't mean to rain on what you are doing, I think it's great but doesn't the old adage "beggers cannot be choosers" apply here"
I disagree.I spend a large amount of time salvaging OLD machines with great small Linuxes (Like Puppy/Slax and experimentally, for now, Peppermint).

While the older machines will satisfy seniors (I'm 57 Y.O.), they will NOT do for kids.

Kids require machines capable of the Media Rich experiences and gaming.

Beggars really have the right to choose.
Otherwise all the efforts will just end up in the recycling heap, or worse dumped at the side of an obscure road in the boonies.

And THAT would be an e-waste.

J.S. Garrison

Chelle Minkin said...

I had the opportunity to work with The HeliOS Project in 2007 and 2008.

Puppy Linux along with DSL and the other small distros were a Fail. Actually, it was the hardware that failed to meet the needs of the kids. You can dress up a 98 lb weakling in all the pretty workout clothes you want but they still cannot lift 300 lbs. Sure Puppy et al might make an older system run but it won't do anything to make the system do the heavy lifting it needs to do.

There were plenty of organizations who were glad to take the under-powered machines from Ken. If they meet the needs of someone that's fine. They didn't come close to having the horsepower that modern-day students need to complete their assignments.

Saddling a kid with a machine that won't do the work isn't charitable, it's mean.


Amenditman said...

Thanks for that simple, direct explanation, Chelle.

Amenditman said...

I play with a lot of machines The Helios Project can not use.

While fun as a game or toy, I would not want to be saddled with one for my daily work.

We sure don't want to hinder a child's progress with those old dinosaurs.

Paul Sams said...

Ken is just being honest about his needs. When you think about the migration to low cost 64 bit machines, these kids need machines that will keep up. His goal is to help kids advance in today's world. That is the purpose of education. With limited resources he has opened doors for kids who would other wise do without. Be thankful that Ken is providing hope for these kids.
Paul Sams

Anonymous said...

With the amount of machines that are turned over, business and personal, it makes sense for Ken to request nicer hardware. People are getting wide-screen LCD monitors, which makes 4:3 form factor LCD monitors more available. People mothball perfectly good older Dual Core machines for the latest speed demons because their Windoze registry is cloggged up, their driver aren't optimized and they don't know any better.

I don't blame Ken for making a plea for better hardware. Not one bit...

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

What's really being said here is that the kids that Ken serves need to be able to view youtube videos that run on Flash which simply won't run on your 500-800Mhz Pentium IIIs.

You need at least a 1GHz machine for flash and thats just to get the low-end content. All the educational sites I've seen run Flash also.

That Flash isn't the most efficient technology in the world isn't the point either, it's the fact that obsolescence is a huge factor here whether we like it or not. I know Ken doesn't, But at some point, older machines cease to be useful for modern computing.

FelixTheCat said...

From a donator's point of view, they have several choices on where to take their computers. At least once a year, there is a technology recycle event that happens somewhere in the Austin area. Salvation Army and Goodwill will usually take older machines with no fuss. Anything but dropping the computer on the curb so it waits for a landfill is better.

So, if that's true, why saddle a charity that really needs a certain spec in order to meet the needs of the kids it serves? The sentiment doesn't take reality into account.

Wouldn't you want kids to enjoy working with technology instead of merely tolerating it? If you give a kid access to decent technology that keeps their attention and shows them a whole other world, don't you think that would offer them an alternative to simply surviving and existing?

You may enjoy taking old, underpowered machines and making them surf text-only websites (forget any multimedia), but a solid majority of kids won't. Oh, and they still have homework to do!

Amenditman said...


One day, we are going to be able to have you supervise and Live Blog this event only, no heavy lifting and running around making it happen.

Until then, try to remember last year and adjust your physical output accordingly.