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Friday, June 21, 2019

189 Lives Changed - By Linux

I've been at this business of putting Linux-powered computers into the homes of financially disadvantaged kids since 2005, one way or the other. That's 14 years and north of 1670 computers placed. Throughout those years, I've shared with you some of our successes,  and spotlighted the indomitable spirit of the Free Open Source Community and The Linux Community as a whole. I've also shared with you the lowest of the low times for us, and me personally.

But through it all, Reglue has maintained our mission of placing first-time computers into the homes of financially disadvantaged students. By onesies and twosies mostly. A multi-machine learning center here and there, by far the greatest is the Bruno Knaapen Technology Learning Center. And as much of a challenge as that was, we have another project of even greater measure.

If you don't know who Bruno Knaapen is, I suggest you follow the link. Bruno will go down in history as a person who helped more people adapt to Linux than anyone, at any time. Bruno's online contributions are still a treasure trove of Linux knowledge. So much, individuals pay out of their pocket to make sure that information remains available. Going down that list, you will come to understand the tenacity and knowledge that man shared with his community. I was one of those that learned at his elbow.

So, as much work as it was creating the learning center in Bruno's memory, what we have ahead of us now pales that effort. So much, It woke me up at 4:00AM this morning, making me doubt myself as if it could even be done.

Since you are reading this, you can be assured it can and will. After a number of calls and meetings, we've put a plan together that will work. All directors and volunteers are on board to complete the largest single installation project we've ever planned.

In May of this year, I received a call from a teacher from the high school here in Taylor.
We've worked together before in collaborating the placement of computers so her caller ID came as no surprise. What she communicated was. A surprise that is, and it took me a full 30 seconds to respond to her request.

Over the past school year, there was a huge influx of children into this school district and others in the area. By the time the counting was done, she reckoned there were 189 students in Taylor that were not able to afford a computer and to her knowledge, none of these children had ever had a computer in their homes. She asked me if we could accommodate them. I did a quick inventory in my head of what we had at the shop and what might come available and told her yes.

I hung up the phone and began calling directors and volunteers, informing them of the task ahead. On each new ring of the phone, I was prepared for the inevitable, "Are you out of your mind?"

That didn't happen and the project has been officially placed on the priority calendar for the next two months.

Our inventory is decent at this time. While I do not have the full 189 machines at the ready, I do have
the majority of them triaged and stacked in order of their need. Some need RAM, some need a hard drive. etc. But when it's all done and some promised computers do make their way to our door.....

We will make this happen.

Now, that tiny receiver behind my ear is overhearing some of you.  "Really Ken?"  "189 computers are going to change lives?"

"Really?"

You bet they are and I ask you to harken back to the moment when you first sat behind your first computer. Do you think that fantastic moment isn't deserved simply because it's given to them? I should hope not. But let me tell you how it will change lives, in ways most people don't think about.

Every one of those machines will be Linux-powered. This window into their new world will introduce 189 kids to the freedom to do whatever they wish on their computer, not constrained by lock-in or punishing licenses. The door to their new awareness of the world will be unimpeded and simple.

The world of STEM education will be introduced to them via FOSS and the Milky Way Galaxy will come alive for them, as will the mystery of the quantum realm and everything that falls in between.

So, when someone asks me what I did over my summer vacation, I'll just smile.

What's a vacation?

There are numerous ways you can help if so inclined. Email me ken@reglue.org and we'll sort it out.

Oh, and if you are still under the impression that 189 isn't such a big deal, go ahead and do 189 pushups. No, it's all right...

I'll wait.

All-Righty Then.....



Sunday, May 26, 2019

Lodestar

So, were you asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? Bet ya were. I'll also bet that most never saw what was coming either. Neither did I. It took me 50 years to "grow up." A person and a remarkable bit of computer code made it all possible.

There is a saying that many sport coaches share with their teams when trying to motivate them to a higher standard of performance.

There is no "I" in Team.

The obvious meaning that the letter i is not included in the spelling of the word team.

But the broader meaning implied is that one person's skills and accomplishments cannot accomplish nearly as much as an entire team or group of people. That a group of like-minded people can accomplish more than the individual, regardless of how talented or skilled one individual may be. As a younger man, I found that phrase inspirational. As an older man, I see the fallacy of that phrase...riddled with philosophical bullet holes and shallow of meaning in some cases.

That's not to say it's a completely false statement. In the military, the organization and skill of a team is paramount. Not only in accomplishing a given mission, but in keeping you alive or uninjured. In the most harrowing of predicaments, the guy on the right and left of you hold your life in their hands. So yeah, There may be no "I" in team, but never diminish the efforts and accomplishments of one individual. (S)he is capable of shaping history.

It was 4th period in Mr. Kittenger's class. Social studies has been my favorite subject throughout
school. This 7th grade class wasn't much different than most. Primarily kids from farm and ranch households, they were more interested in, well anything other than social studies. I suppose I was the odd guy out.

"Social studies" as an educational class covered a lot of area. In my class, it primarily focused on the impact or influence of groups of people upon society throughout history. That could range from the negotiation of a few beads and baubles (allegedly) traded for what is now greater Manhattan to the nation-wide protests of the Vietnam War and the group dynamics involved between the protesters and those tasked with keeping said protesters under control. I was fascinated with these dynamics, even down to the micro level activity.

Mr. Kittenger's discussion of a particular group that day wasn't what caught my attention. It was the mention of a person, almost in passing; that captured my interest. That interest morphed into obsession and that obsession planted a thought into my mind that would reawaken decades later. I wrote it down, memorized it, and retained it my entire life. At roughly 10:50 on a Thursday morning during early spring in the small farming town of Villa Grove, Illinois, Don Kittenger introduced me to Nikola Tesla.

"If we want to reduce poverty and misery, if we want to give to every deserving individual what is needed for a safe existence of an intelligent being, we want to provide more machinery, more power. Power is our mainstay, the primary source of our many-sided energies."

To this day, when I dwell upon that quote from Tesla, it's not Nicola Tesla who comes to mind. It's Don Kittenger. A simple school teacher with a wife, two kids a 1967 Rivera and a love for history and wild mushroom hunting.

And yeah, that thought didn't occur to me for another 15 years. Who knew?

But my point is this. That nondescript school teacher supplanted Tesla in my mind's eye. He became my Lodestar when it came to shaping my ideas about life and how it can and should be made better. Unfortunately my life's journey didn't allow me to put into practice those words so deeply imbedded into me.

Until they did.

Decades later, sitting in a wheelchair with my head and neck screwed into a halo device, those words with all their implications and possibilities came flying back into my consciousness, slamming together into a coherent, logical pathway that I could walk. A simple question from my 12 year old daughter crystalised the idea based on those words I had memorized so long ago:

"If we want to reduce poverty and misery, if we want to give to every deserving individual what is needed for a safe existence of an intelligent being..."

It was in that fleeting moment that the basic idea for Reglue was born. The idea to empower those whose financial disability cordoned off their ability to share in the tsunami of technology that was bearing down upon us. It only made sense, and if I could have wrest my way out of that chair at that moment, I would have begun immediately.

And eventually I did. So yea me! Right? No. Not at all.

From the universe's perspective all I have done accounts for nothing more than a random neutron speeding through the ether. But to those hundreds of kids served by Reglue, maybe, just maybe I was Mr. Kittenger.

Every young person I encounter during an install, I tell them that someone their age will be the first person to walk on Mars, to cure diabetes, to ensure sustainable energy is the only source of energy used. I tell them how important STEM education is to them and how they can one day make a difference.

So when it all comes down to it. All I want to do, all I want to be is a simple school teacher that implants an idea into a young person's consciousness. And I think if we take our own personal inventory, that's probably the most important thing we can do, regardless of method. There are a lot of things I have been in my life, but the one thing that I want to be more than anything...

is a Lodestar.

I just wish Mr. Kissinger was still around. I'd like to tell him about everything he inspired.

So how did you get started with your career in Linux or computer technology in general? I'm conducting an informal survey and your comments would be greatly appreciated.

All-Righty Then.....






















My thanks to freestock.com for the use of the top graphic in this article

















Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Envelope Please.......

There was a lot of trial and error in constructing our Reglue systems. Not so much in hardware as that is subject to whatever has been donated. What we realized early on is that handing a kid their first computer with no guidance or pathway, would almost assuredly lead them to less productive websites such as Facebook or Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. I mean, let's face it...we're talking about junior high and high school kids here for the most part, so sure, those websites are going to be a strong draw. What we needed to figure out, was a way to counter that draw and point them to more productive content.

Those who have followed Reglue.org over the years know that we place a strong emphasis on STEM topics and education. "STEM" is the given acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Linux is superbly well-tooled for these purposes and every computer we place with a financially disadvantaged student is Linux-powered. Now, that might sound like a steroid-fueled buzzkill to most, but in researching the online STEM subject matter, we found that we could actually make it fun. Yeah. Science....go figure.

The amount of STEM-related online content is massive and there is no shortage of content that is developed for the age group Reglue targets. The challenge was to find the content that captured and held their interest. Kids, right?

Therein lay the challenge.

Just so you know the dynamics involved in presenting these topics to the Reglue kid, we enabled the bookmark bar under the URL bar in Chromium or Firefox. We offer both browsers and allow the student to choose the default. Within that bookmark bar, we place the links to the subject matter we choose for that student, depending on age and aptitude. Our pool of choices is vast, so narrowing it down took a good bit of time, years actually. With feedback from 388 students, we were able to draw down the most popular websites and personalities within the STEM subject matter we wished to provide.

Of course, the Ted Talk website is the first link on the bookmark bar. Of the most popular websites included Isaac Arthur, Naked Science, Joe Scott, Fraser Cain, SciShow, Jill TarterSTEM Education, Vsauce, absolutely anything with Neil Degrasse Tyson's name in it, Debra FischerMax Tegmark and Michio Kaku. There are a great many more that we've cycled in and out of the choices over the years, but according to our survey of 388 Reglue recipients, ranging from high school seniors to Ph.D candidates, the above-mentioned people came out on top.

Keeping in mind, these were submitted by our Reglue recipients ranging as high school seniors to grad students, which of these, which would you think to come out on top, and I mean by a considerable margin. 

Yeah, I got it wrong too.

Joe Scott from Answers with Joe was the winner hands-down. There are a number of reasons this surprised me, the first being that Joe Scott isn't a scientist. He lets this be known early and often. Don't misinterpret this. Joe is brilliant, but to my knowledge; he doesn't have any academic letters tagging along behind his name. Joe is, well....Joe. His presentation of all things STEM wouldn't give you any indication he wasn't a scientist or professor in any given field. I think in watching Joe's channel, the magic is in his presentation. 

He is iced-tea-through-the-nose funny, and can insert the occasional bleeped adult phrase from time to time, but that doesn't take away his thorough and accurate coverage of the topic at hand. For the most part, he keeps his politics and opinions to himself and simply teaches in an entertaining way. If you haven't watched this guy before, I would suggest it highly. Learning while being entertained? Not a bad combination.

For the record, Fraser Cain was the second place choice and the third was Neil Degrasse Tyson. No surprise there. However there was another surprise and it came from enough comments that I thought it to be relevant.

A guy that goes by the name of Pecos Hank was a write-in often. I think if you could ever combine  "West Texas" and "Renaissance Man" in the same sentence, you would be safe by doing it mentioning Hank. Hank is a meteorologist, a professional storm chaser, film maker, an Ophidiologist (a snake expert), and a professional musician. He does thoroughly educate the viewer on the science of tornadoes within his videos. He does so in a way that is understandable to the layman and entertaining to anyone. And he's from Texas, so there's that. a great example of what Hank does and who Hank is can be found in this video. It's 20 minutes well spent.

As mentioned before, this list is dynamic and we add to it all the time. should you have any suggestions, we would gladly consider them. Reglue would not come close to enjoying the success we've experienced if not for you. "You" are the everyday users, the script writers, the beta testers, the application developers and graphic artists. In all, you have come together to make what we do possible, and without you, our work would not exist. Every one of our Reglue Kids are aware of this and they thank you. and for that I thank you. Each and every one of you.

And as Hank would say.....Happy Trails.

All Righty then.





Monday, March 18, 2019

Ten Years After Part III - A Storied Conclusion

Alton Cassius Freedman was a shy, unassuming high school sophomore when Reglue presented him with his first ever computer. Alton's family struggled financially, with only a mother working two jobs and Alton working after school at a local pizza delivery business. Two younger siblings helped their mom keep the house and yard while Alton and her worked.

Alton was a genealogy buff and once he had a computer, he explored his family history, and quite a history it was. His Great XXX grandfather and grandmother were enslaved within the infamous Whitney plantation in Louisiana. Along with four other plantation slaves, they were led through the slave underground railroad. Two of those were captured in Maryland and returned to the Whitney Plantation where they were flogged then drawn and quartered and fed to pigs. The surviving 4 made their way to New York.

Alton's ancestors were named Cassius and Martha. Last names were not commonly given to slaves in
many places and the ones that were, usually took on the names of the plantation owners. It was the plan of Cassius from the beginning to join a colored Union regiment once he gained his freedom. Martha, four months pregnant; would travel on to Canada where Cassius would rejoin her and the baby after the war. When Cassius enlisted, he was given a list of last names to choose from. He chose Freedman.

Unfortunately, that reunion would never take place as Cassius would develop terminal typhus after his part in the battle of New Market Heights during October of 1864 in Virginia. There's no doubt that Alton wears his grandfather's name with pride.

Alton became one with his Linux system. He didn't see differences between the Windows systems at school and his Linux system. He saw opportunity to learn and grow. I think between Alton's family and my organization, we were all surprised by just how much.

Alton mastered the desktop, then went on to study Python, Ruby and C+ and he did so on his own online. When he was admitted to Huston-Tillotson University in Austin Texas, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems. He interned for a year at the security software firm "clear" in Austin then went on to work for Orbital Insight specializing in writing software for geospatial analysis. Specifically he has chosen to write the software that allows the satellites to identify optimum drilling sites for water wells on the African and Asian continents. He then shares that information with organizations such as Well Aware, which travels to those places and drills the actual wells.

I believe Reglue got our money's worth from that old Lenovo T61 laptop. It launched a fantastic career for a fantastic kid.

While Alton's case isn't the norm, it's good to know that he picked up on the Linux desktop without a
lot of drama or angst. However, that too isn't the norm. As promised in the first part of this "Ten Years After" series, I've went over all of the questionnaires and emails and there are only three real "issues" these kids could find to mention, and I mean mentioned in force. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of different types of complaints, but they were, to be honest, nit-picky at best. I don't think anyone will find any surprises here. So here they are.

*Software installation - Yeah, betcha didn't see that one coming, did'ja?

Old habits are indeed hard to break, and especially if you don't really understand the reason why those habits have to change. The idea of a software repository just didn't make sense to most of our Reglue kids at first. I cannot count the times when I went to troubleshoot a problem on a Reglue computer to find the desktop riddled with .exe files of failed installations.

What isn't really surprising is that the kids did eventually pick up the whole installation process on their Linux machines, and mostly came to prefer it. But the parents? Not so much. I wish I had recorded some of the calls I got from irate parents or guardians because they couldn't install XYZ software on the computer. It didn't take me long to make sure to make sure that Mom or Dad were present when I explained that part during the orientation.  At times, I had to remind those adults that the computer and software was engineered for the benefit of the student, not as a household computer.  I mean, get TurboTax on your own machine. It helped some, but still....Adults, right?

*New hardware failure - We've all been there.

These kids are not Luddites, for the most part anyway. Many of them embrace new or new-to-them technology. They get excited about the challenges posed to them in learning said tech and they run with it. However, when your expectations are not met; it can lead to frustration. The simple act of adding a keyboard should be....well, simple. But you remember as well as I do in the Bad Old Days, there were devices as simple as a keyboard and a mouse that needed specific drivers installed in order for them to work. That's when a driver disk became truly a drink coaster. The drivers were meant for Windows machines.

Now, that didn't happen that often, but it happened often enough to have me stock up on headache powder and a fine single malt. It wasn't uncommon for the wireless radios in some of the Reglue laptops to take a dive. Many of our kids knew enough to find a wireless USB receiver and continue to march. Yeah, but about that. Let's all say it together.

Can you say Broadcom chip?  &_*%($%^)%&R&!

I mean, it was a most profound day in my life. Somewhere in the 2.7 kernel development, wireless

went from "wireless sucks in Linux", to "Holy Frickin' Cow, wireless works in Linux". And then there was Broadcom. But still, even then those drivers became a matter of a visit to synaptic or your software manager of choice. I did an article a number of years ago where I wandered from all the Best Buys and Techno-Toylands, to Fry's Electronics and (May it rest in peace) Radio Shack in order to document how many computer peripherals did not have the "works with Linux" printed on the box. I won't insult your intelligence by asking you how many of those devices listed Linux as a supported system.

These days though, it's a lot better than it was. It's no longer uncommon to see Linux included in the supported systems list. And that's the way it should be. Just sayin'.....

*Software that only works on Windows - yeah, this is the big one.

By far the most vocal complaints concerned "needed" software not being available on Linux. We might as well just call out The Terrible Two. Photoshop and Microsoft Office. Now remember, the bulk of my work was done between 2005 and 2009. I never offered any excuses for Photoshop. The Gimp isn't Photoshop, no matter how you twist or turn it and trying to tell someone who uses Photoshop scholastically or professionally that The Gimp can replace Photoshop is a fools errand. Sure it can do a lot of what Photoshop can do but it's those pesky little items that The Gimp lacks that everyone got all bunched up over.

Then the whole "drop in replacement" for Microsoft office, that being OpenOffice/LibreOffice. I can
remember exchanging documents between Windows users and getting a phone call, people screaming that the document I marked up now looked like a bomb went off within it. Students were complaining that their teachers or professors couldn't read the document they turned in on their thumb drive.

So many people using so many iterations of Microsoft Windows, the formatting conflict was inevitable. I should know...I was caught in the middle of my share of those. Fortunately, mostly in my case anyway; a good number of schools began using Google Docs for their homework and term papers and uploading them to the teacher's/Professor's server. I felt like I was literally saved by the bell. That donnybrook went on forever.

So all told, where are we now? Easy Street man...Easy Street. You folks have done all the hard work for me and my crew. You've pimped the Linux Desktop to the point where our Reglue kids turn up their noses when they have to interact with Windows machines at school. But in all that's a good thing. Both Linux and Windows are here to stay, I'm simply glad that there are those who are bilingual, so to speak; when it comes to computer operating systems. Kids like Alton Cassius Freedman.



You've come a long way Tux. I've enjoyed every mile of the ride. Bumps and all.

All-Righty Then











Monday, March 11, 2019

It was just a matter of time.....

I'm not afraid to admit it. When I first started getting flooded with these advertisements, it hacked me off.

Seriously.

I mean to the point of distraction. I was one pi**ed off penguin. Not only on my phone, but on web page pop-ups, pop-unders and even full page pop-overs that took on the feel of Where's Waldo in trying to find the X to close it. Funny that. It changed positions every time it did a full page pop-over. Yeah, the ads annoyed me, but it was the content that seriously chapped my nether regions.


It was an advertisement for a "revolutionary new product" that will change the way you use your computer. Anyone wanna take a guess as to what this "revolutionary new product might be"?

Branding itself as the Xtra-PC, it proclaimed that you no longer had to fight with your stodgy old slow computer. You could implement this product and Voila! You had a fast, secure and stable operating system at your fingertips. Yep, that's right.....

Someone has decided to market the Linux Live USB to the masses.

I'm not sure why it made me so angry at first. Was it the fact that, someone standing on the shoulders of giants decided to take credit for it? 

Or was it the fact that I didn't think of it first? You can probably count on equal amounts of each at play here.

You know. A lot of people have taken the live USB system to market. But the difference here
is something that I have been harping on since 2007. Effective marketing. OSDisk has been selling these devices for as long as I can remember. In fact, I've been a customer from time to time and I've referred dozens of customers their way. but here's the difference. To my knowledge, OSDisk never took their product outside of their known customer base. Nor did any of the other entities selling like devices. You've got an extremely virus/security aware customer base just begging for a solution like this.

And that my good friends is the difference. I've never run across an advertisement for any product from OSDisk, or anyone else for that matter. I used them because they are part of the Linuxsphere. Live local. buy local and all of that.

Now to their credit, Xtra-PC makes it clear from the beginning that the operating system they will soon cherish as their broken-a**ed computer's savior is Linux. It doesn't go into a lot of detail about Linux but I suppose they know as much as I... don't confuse the new customer. Give them just enough reason to purchase your product and let the details become available upon use.

And by golly, slick marketing that it is, I am sure that they will do well with Xtra-PC. They are pouring copious amounts of money into the promotion of their product, and in this age of computer paranoia, they're probably right on time.

Due to the legalities of downloading the video and posting it here, I'll just provide you the link and you can see for yourself how they are presenting this product to the public.

Click here to see their promo.


Now, I've watched more than enough youtube rants about this to know that most of those people are missing the point. Sure you can buy that same USB stick for 20 bucks, but honestly, how many people outside of our little world will take the time to look for a solution like Xtra-PC is offering? That's a redundant question, so yeah. Probably few if that. To the person with a problematic computer, the price ranges for each of these three versions seems reasonable, given that they can't access their files and they need to do so immediately.

So my personal angst aside, this is probably the right time to let the public know about a Linux Live USB stick. Will it translate to people wanting to switch to Linux? Maybe but probably not. Linux has taken front stage on many fronts, some in substantial and important ways; just not in the ways we envisioned it happening.

Either way, Linux gets some street cred and after thinking about it, I guess I'm OK with that...

Maybe.

All-Righty Then...


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Ten Years After - Part 1

2008 was a pivotal year for me. For those who do not know, my project places repaired computers into the homes of financially disadvantaged students.

In 2008, The HeliOS Project was invited to become an affiliate of Software in the Public Interest. That was a huge deal for us in that it allowed us to offer tax receipts for donations. I never fully realized just how important this is until I was able to provide this documentation to donors. It tripled our hardware donations within 90 days of becoming part of SPI.

It was also the year that HeliOS began our work in earnest. We had potentially stacks and stacks of computers then, as opposed to the half dozen or so out in my garage on any given day. With that growth, we were able to get down to business, the way I had always planned this project to grow. In 2008, we places 291 computers into the homes of disadvantaged kids in and around the Austin area.

 2008 was also the time when the seeds began to germinate in the mind of Mr. Lynn Bender.
Lynn would go on to organize a project called Linux Against Poverty (as seen on the right) and Lynn's monumental effort would supply over 500 computers in the next two years for The HeliOS Project.

It was also the year my wife decided that my project would not bring in the money that my previous employment had. If fact, it didn't bring in any income at all. It never has and never will. I drove truck for a third of what I was making prior to my injury. Divorce papers ensued.

Go Figure.

But 2008 was also the year that we presented three computers to people that would go on to earn their PhD,  five people would achieve their Masters Degree, and 129 of those recipients would go on to earn their Bachelor's Degree. Keep in mind we are not able to keep track of all of our computer recipients so those numbers could be higher. These are just the ones that I can verify. 2008 was the year we hit the accelerator and tested out just what this baby could do. Turns out she could do plenty.

I've spent last November and December fighting off and recovering from pneumonia. Twice. While it wasn't pleasant, it gave me a chance to finish a project that I began two years ago. conducting in depth interviews with the students and parents of those who received a Helios/Reglue computer.

When I first gathered the initial volunteers for HeliOS, there were many people, even some who have read this blog for years; that questioned the decision to put Linux on every computer that left our shop. I mean, let's face it. It's a Windows World out there. Business, for the most part, use Windows almost exclusively. Or at least they did when this was getting started. Some said that we'd be wasting our resources by putting a little-known and difficult operating system on our machines.


Let me tell you the exact moment I knew those people were wrong. No, I mean the EXACT moment when I knew. It was June the 9th at 11:42AM. This was as close to a profound revelation as I will ever get.

Back then, one of our revenue means was installing The Linux system on new customer's computers. Sure they weren't exactly kicking the door in, but it helped pay the bills. For the most part, these people were happy with their Linux computers. One of the  more frequent comments was just how free the new linux user felt...minus the constant worry of virus and malware infections. But that wasn't what turned the light on for me.

I was contacted by a small real estate company in Austin that wanted to use Linux in-shop with Windows available just for the specialized MLS real estate software via a program like Virtualbox. The owner asked me to place it on one computer for the time being and they would see how that worked out before we did an entire office roll out.

I had brought a number of installation disks with me, as I always did. If I  had learned anything in 2008, Linux wasn't a one size fits all system. Some computers and hardware took to it, some not so much. The immediate disadvantage is that Microsoft Windows works on most any computer you install it upon, sans the peripheral driver glitches.

The real stinker was going to be the mammoth Ricoh print/copy complex that spanned the entire back wall of that office. I even nicknamed it "The Death Star." Once I saw wall of metal and plastic, in my mind I actually thought this was pretty much the ball game and I'd just be going through the motions before I told my customer we couldn't be of any real service to him.

Printing in Linux in 2008 wasn't exactly great. Fact is, for the most part it sucked. Just the day before, I struggled for hours just to get a Samsung printer visible to my Linux machine. Like right next to it visible. And as I had expected, distro disk after distro disk failed to even see the Ricoh printer. From Debian to Ubuntu to Fedora and others.....I only had one left to try and I almost blew that off. Almost.

Mandriva.

But I had to at least see. I didn't have a lot of faith in anything Mandrake at the time. But up to that point, I had become quite enamored with Connectiva. Seems my mistrust was mis-spent. Not only did Mandriva see this White Whale, it provided me a link to download the software for a more detailed user interface. This was 2008 mind you. I must have sat there slack-jawed for 30 seconds before I got back to pretending to know what I was doing. Mandriva? Really? With an additional print spooler downloaded from the CUPS site, the Ricoh printed perfectly from that computer. And offering features today's distros still lack in printer control.

It was at that moment that it all came into perspective for me. To heck with desktop share percentages and all the sniping and minor warfare those supposed arguments and numbers created. We had been going about those numbers wrong straight out of the gate.

I knew right there and then that Linux would work on a lot more computers than it was given credit for. With some research and due diligence, things would indeed be getting easier. It was simply a matter of knowing what distro would work best with specific hardware sets. And the kerfuffle over formatting issues between LibreOffice and Microsoft Office? Just call your recipient and ask what version of office they are using. Hours of problems were avoided simply by placing one stinking phone call. I worked by trial and error, documenting everything and sharing that information so everyone might benefit from it became one of my priorities.


With the best intentions in mind, many people warned me against pushback. Windows is entrenched in the workplace, in the schools and at home. According to popular belief at that time, People just wouldn't want to invest any more time learning another operating system. To be honest here, I worried about that as well.

Fortunately as it played out, that worry was a waste of emotional energy. Not that there weren't problems in the beginning. There were, but once I was able to show these students a few simple ways to avoid Windows and Linux bumping heads; these kids dug in and began to learn. As it turns out, it wasn't the students I needed to worry about. Others with much more sway were waiting in the wings to undo months of preparation and success. People that, with ill intention or not, could sink the good ship Linux, at least locally on my end. Initially, some of them did quite a bit of damage.

Set your reminders to join us a week from this Monday (January 14th) for part Two of "Ten Years After". I will be introducing you to some astounding people. Folks that achieved their dreams of a PhD, Masters or Bachelor's degree, using Linux to do it. Young people that were inspired to write software, to design games and yes, even go to work for Nvidia, Ebay, Amazon ....and yes, even Microsoft. All of it. From start to finish. Linux computers got these kids through school and into the workforce.. And you are going to hear directly from them how they did it.

All Righty Then...


Monday, October 15, 2018

Exceeding All Expectations

Exceeding all expectations. Pretty much a cliche' any more. But in this case, it's the only string of words I can come up with to describe the last 13 years.

When I began doing the work that is now Reglue, I had no idea where it was going or just how far it would go. I think maybe we were all a bit surprised. Over the years, I have received countless thanks for what I do, but to be fair, that thanks is a bit displaced. It's I who owe a debt of gratitude to those who've assisted me and my team in doing what we do. Hundreds of underprivileged kids have received Linux-based, Free Open Source Software computers due to our efforts. "Our" efforts, meaning you and me. Without you. "Me" would be sitting on a bank drinking beer and fishing instead of the work we've done since 2005.

There's still plenty of time for that. Universe willing. So why am I the lucky guy?

I've spent time with some fairly special people. I've learned that Asperger's Syndrome is a blessing and not a disability. I've gathered with some of the greatest minds within the Linuxsphere while being treated as a peer. I'm not you know. Many of you have forgotten more about Free Open Source Software than I will ever know. Most of you do your work using bash scripts. Not me, I use smash scripts. About the third general parsing error, I smash my monitor. But still I covet your embrace. From sitting Governors to (ahem) school teachers, social workers to police chiefs and all those in between, I've gained a lifetime of insight from those interactions.

But the most memorable, and to me the most precious of those interactions have begun with the people for which I install computers. We've discussed many of them over the years, but I think the one that stays lodged in my memory is one I did a few days ago.

Her name is Lois and she's lived a life that many of us could not comprehend. The most vivid moments of her childhood were spent in London bomb shelters during the German firebombings and V2 rocket attacks. She was not alone. Her mother worked as a nurse in the shelters, trying to save the lives of the burned and injured people around her. Lois assisted her mother in ripping open gauze, fetching morphine injectors and salves for the wounds. By the time she was 8 years old, Lois could perform simple interrupted sutures.

And if that wasn't enough, her father strapped himself into a British Spitfire to intercept the incoming bombers. He has the distinction of flying every iteration of the Spitfire, to include the last one which was built to intercept the V2 rockets. If you are interested, there is a documentary about that plane entitled The Spitfire, The Plane That Saved The World. Contact me privately and I can guide you as to where to watch it. Her father is interviewed briefly in that film.

Lois has two extremely gifted grandchildren and they spend their summers with their grandmother, in
order to attend an advanced placement school here in Taylor during that season. And yes, they attend school 12 years out of the year. They are twin girls who accel in mathematics and music. Lois contacted me through our website, asking of we could be of assistance in placing a computer for her grandchildren during the months spent in Taylor. I was more than happy to oblige. For those curious, I installed a dell quad core with 12GB of RAM so horsepower isn't a problem. I would also like to present each of them with a Dell Latitude E5550, but I'm short hard drives and RAM for those machines at this time.

So yeah, when the counting is done, I'm the one who is grateful for the job I do. Not a job really, since I am not paid to do it but more of a community service. A service I am more than honored to provide. I couldn't count myself more lucky. Well, there's the lottery but let's be real. Maybe a couple of hard drives and some RAM. Maybe. I'll leave a tooth under the pillow and see what happens.

All Righty Then...




Sunday, August 19, 2018

True Believer

True Believer:

"One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person: “a band of true believers bonded together against all those who did not agree with them” ( Theodore Draper )"

I've lost count as to how many times I've been asked the question. When I show new Linux users the advantages and freedoms of the operating system, many inevitably ask:

"Why haven't I heard of this until now?"

A young single mom of four asked this question last Tuesday and it took me back to the time that I asked the same question.

The calendar page had  recently flipped to the new century when I had my own Road To Damascus moment. It was, in the truest sense of the phrase, a profound revelation. It built up in me like an electrical charge. A moment I realized that the monitor in front of me reflected something that was going to not only change my life, but had the potential to change lives of millions.

It was the revelation that I was no longer beholden or bound to an operating system that restricted the way I used my computer. A system that went behind my back and did things I explicitly told it not to do. I didn't have to put up with this on my computer any longer. Not just my computer, but the computers of millions of people around the world. The mind-bending fact that I could run an entire operating system from a single CD. That alone left me in awe. And when it came down to that moment, it manifested itself in the simplest and most elegant form I could imagine.

linux@linux-desktop ~ #


It was that moment I became a member of The global Linuxsphere.

With the fervor of the evangelical, I began to spread the word far and wide. I read incessantly, from Stallman to Torvalds, Searles, Moody, Knaapen, Raymond and Schroder, I learned the history and mechanics of Linux. I read not only of my new freedom but of the restrictions and limitations of other proprietary operating systems. The more I read, both my anger and excitement grew in equal measure. I took it upon myself to join The Movement against anything and anyone who stood in the way of spreading the news. This new way of operating your computer could indeed change the world. The Blog of helios began... 

and so it went. Surely The Year of the Linux Desktop was at hand. Year, after year, after year. and surely. It wore on me year after year, breakthrough after failure, hope dashed by hopelessness. Until the harsh, glaring truth descended upon me like a shipping container full of anvils.....

We never had a prayer. We entered a race with all other contestants miles ahead.

I rattled off a list of names above. Those who have inspired me and in more than one case, probably saved me from something terribly grim. Glyn Moody is one of those names. Glyn has been an inspiration to me since the turn of the century. I've come to count on Glyn for insightful and brutally honest commentary. He's a brilliant writer and wastes no time with hyperbole. But aside from that, Glyn aided me at a time when I thought my life was over. To this day he has no idea, the part he played in turning me away from something horrible. We'll just leave it at that.

Recently, Glyn penned an article for The Linux Journal titled, "Why the Failure to Conquer the Desktop Was Great for GNU/Linux."  Within that article, Moody maps out the evolution of Mark Shuttleworth's understanding of Desktop Linux. Or more aptly, why it was a poor idea to further follow it down the rabbit hole. It's a great read and as usual, Glyn entertains as well as explains his idea. Why the Linux Desktop failed and why that could possibly be the best of all possible outcomes. I won't spoil it for you. It's well worth your time to read.

In my opinion, he nails it.

The climb Desktop Linux faced was insurmountable. Microsoft had all but locked down the enterprise, and as most of us know, what's used at work is most times used at home. With Microsoft Office the de facto office/business suite, getting anyone to disrupt their business by introducing new and strange tools was an uphill slog. It's not hard to find instances where IT departments and other vested interests forced an organization to return to using Microsoft Windows and associated softwares after they declared the FOSS alternatives "unsustainable". Of course, Munich is the most noteworthy of instances, but others aren't difficult to find.

And then comes my much beleaguered topic of marketing. Bringing a new product to market can cost millions of dollars, even billions. My own experiment in running a radio ad for Linux showed just how complicated our landscape is. Couple that with the sometimes confusing terminologies we use and the shear number of Linux distributions available...well, it's no mystery why the public could become confused, if for nothing else, the fact that something this good could be free. Microsoft had billions of dollars in the bank. Their budget for marketing is a rounding error for some small businesses. For those a bit late to the game, Steve Ballmer the then CEO of Microsoft said this about Linux:

"Linux is not in the public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the way that the license works."

And now? Microsoft embraces Linux as part of their Azure cloud-based network system. Cancer, huh?

But when it comes down to it, what exactly did we "lose"?

In the long game, Linux may not be a household name when it comes to computing. It's not even a widely-referred to name within the industries that use it. From Android phones, to the worlds largest super computers, Linux powers unimaginable resources. My home thermostat software is Linux-based. The navigation system in my car operates on Linux. As does the software for my body that controlled chemotherapy and hormone released into my system as needed. SpaceX Falcon and Dragon capsule systems are operated by a specifically modified version of Linux, as are is many of the US military and maritime global navigation systems. And Elon Musk's global spread of satellite broadband? Yep. Linux.

Many of you will say that we're arguing apples and oranges here. And maybe we are, but to say that Linux has "lost" anything is simply a matter of perspective. I can show you over 1600 instances of school kids and college students currently using Linux computers to further their studies. I hope to continue expanding that number in the future.

So the next time someone asks me, "Why haven't I heard of this before...?"

I'm going to tell them that tens of thousands of people have banded together to make their new computer available to them. It would simply take too long to name you all.

All Righty Then...