Time to Help an Open Source Hero (Updated)

by Glyn Moody

People contribute to free software in many ways. Some write the stuff; some write *about* the stuff, spreading the word; and some actually spread open source directly by giving away systems to those who need them. We hear a lot about the stars of first group, and the second group make a lot of noise on their own. But too often we take the third group for granted. I want to talk about one of the unsung heroes of open source – someone who has helped many, and now needs a little help from us.

His name is Ken Starks, although he's better known as Helios. Here's what he does with a few like-minded people:

The HeliOS Project is a non-profit organization that obtains old or repairable computers, refurbishes them and then gives them to disadvantaged kids in the Central Texas area. We have delivered our machines as far away as Wichita Falls Texas. Some of our laptop machines have been donated to people going on missions in Tonga, Eastern Europe and Africa.

To this date, we should install our 1000th computer by November 2009.

Even if you've never come across Helios and the HeliOS Project, you probably read about Helios' run-in last December with a teacher who was somewhat sceptical about whether software could ever be free:

The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful.

This gives an indication of the depth of ignorance that still exists in some parts of the educational system – and why the HeliOS Project is still so important.

Last week, the indefatigable Helios was hard at work:

Two months ago, Christina Collazo contacted me and asked if I was up to a challenge. She had been tasked with putting together an East Austin Computer Learning Center and didn't really know how to do it.

We do...

And we did.


With the temperature already in the mid-90's, we arrived at the back entrance of the Cristo Rey Catholic Church...this is the wonderful place that houses the Learning Center. Carrying in huge CRT monitors, computer boxes and various and asundry fixtures, this team went to work transforming a barren room into a place of learning and hope.

A place powered by the will of a global community.

A place powered by Linux.

There's not a lot to tell about the process...a lot of heavy labor, younger knees than mine crawling under tables to connect cat 5 to the adjoining sockets...testing, adjusting, testing, replacing, testing...and ultimately...


Actually, there was one more thing to “tell about the process” - something that the ever-modest Sparks was clearly reluctant to bother people with:

yesterday I collapsed while carrying a computer uspstairs. Lost complete consciousness and was transported to the nearest hospital where I was admitted for tests.

Diagonis was extreme exhaustion and dehydration. I am home now with orders to stay either in bed or in my home as quietly as possible. I am still very weak...who knew...?

But it gets worse:

I do have a problem though. My copay for the stay is 300 dollars and I just don't have it. That's not counting the ambulance ride, which is outrageous I hear.

I have never come to the community and asked for personal donations, but being a non profit I cannot stand for any delinquent payments or bills. If you can see your way clear to give me a hand, I would sure consider it at 180 day loan.

How could we refuse? Here is a man who is almost killing himself to get open source into the hands of people who could benefit, someone who has selflessly and tirelessly given, and who finds himself in need of a hand.

There's a Donate button in the left-hand column of the blog of Helios; a comment to the above post indicates that money sent to that general HeliOS Project account can be used for Starks' emergency needs, and this seems the easiest way to get money to him.

I've given $10, which may not be much, but if just a few dozen Linux Journal readers did the same, his hospital bills would be covered, and there might even be some money left over for the HeliOS Project too.

Oh, and BTW, Helios, I *don't* consider it a 180 day loan: keep it – you certainly deserve it.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter and identi.ca.

Update: Ken has asked me to post the following as his response to the generosity of Linux Journal readers:

Even as a Linux Advocate, there was a time I denied your existence...

The "Linux Community".

In fact, I have been quoted more than once as saying:

"There is no Linux Community. The best we've achieved is in forming warring factions that use the vast real estate of the Internet to wage bloody war against each other."

Recent events, prior to my illness have changed my mind and I publicly apologized for such foolish thoughts.

But this...this outpouring of Love and Concern and Compassion. It has driven me both to tears and to my knees in thanks...in gratitude and in humility. As much as I profess to being a writer, there are no words, no means of expression to convey my thanks to the hundreds of people that helped me. And trust me...it was needed.

The very best I can hope for is that whoever looks over you, place a gentle hand on your shoulder and gives you a loving squeeze.

I am so indebted to you, so thankful for the Linux Community, all I can do to repay you is to make sure that I live up to the expectations you have for me.

I give you my solemn oath that I will do so.

Ken Starks - aka helios

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