Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Time For the Linux Community to Rally Around One of Our Own

As some of you have undoubtedly seen, I published a piece this morning on O'Reilly Broadcast about the unfortunate situation Ken Starks and Diane Franklin of the Helios Project find themselves in. Diane had a stroke, the main arteries which deliver blood to her brain are largely blocked, and she needs surgery which may very well be the difference between life and death. If you haven't already please follow the link and read the piece I wrote.

Anyway, I wanted to write about it again, this time from a more personal perspective. This post is unusually long, even for me, and I have been known to get long winded now and again. Please bear with me and read it through.

Diane, Ken's partner, is 64, retired, and living on Social Security alone. She isn't eligible for Medicare yet and her puny $1,200 per month income is too much for her to qualify for Medicaid in the great state of Texas. Diane has worked as the Helios Project's Logistics and Planning Director for the past year without renumeration. She gave her time freely to help underprivileged kids. As is all too often the case in our great American society, no good deed goes unpunished.

As you might guess she can barely make ends meet at all on that income and she surely cannot afford health insurance. I know what health insurance costs for single coverage for a woman in her 50s very well, since that is my situation. It's prohibitively expensive. I can only imagine what it would cost for a woman of 64. I'll save the obvious political rant for later. I don't want politics to distract from what is at stake here.

I've never met Diane or Ken. Heck, I spoke to Ken for the very first time on the phone last night. My own history with Ken, as some of you may remember, got off to an inauspicious start. To say he rubbed me the wrong way would be an understatement and a half. For those who may have missed the little incident from 2008 let me tell you about it.

Ken was deeply involved in something called Lindependence. Part of the idea was to get an entire town to switch from Windows to Linux. OK, it was a small town in California, but still, getting an entire town to agree on anything takes some doing. Ken's style back then was confrontational. Heck, he even blogged about a physical confrontation he got into later over his Linux advocacy, but that's besides the point. Anyway, I was writing for O'Reilly quite a bit back then and Ken wanted publicity. He e-mailed me.

Ken is, to say the least, very passionate about Linux. I read his website, his blog, his comparison of running Windows to a "ball and chain" and found it full of zealotry and way, way , way over the top. I wrote a very formal, business like response to "Mr. Starks" declining to cover his story. I wasn't alone. Most of the tech press had pretty much decided to ignore him en masse. Well, my e-mail rubbed Ken the wrong way every bit as much as his writing had done to me. I was the blogger Ken called a "coward" in this 2008 post from his blog.

I have no idea if my e-mail had an impact or not. I don't know if others found a more effective way to critique his work. I do know that Ken's once overly long, wordy and sometimes difficult to follow prose became crisper and more precise. The confrontational attitude slowly disappeared. Thankfully the passion never dissipated and Ken became a very, very effective advocate for Linux.

His Helios Project, which recycles old computers for kids who otherwise cannot afford them and successfully solicits fund to make sure these kids get Internet connectivity to go with it undoubtedly helped. The mellower Ken won awards for his public service and earned praise for his selfless and, I should add, full-time efforts to help those in need in his community. Ken also does some Linux consulting work but, based on what I've read, his income is scarcely better than Diane's. Neither of them can afford much. Their reward comes in what they do for others. Oh, and yeah, somewhere along the line I earned Ken's respect as well, as evidenced by this 2010 blog post.

In contrast to Ken's very public persona, both as a Linux advocate and community activist, is Diane's very much behind the scenes contribution. Ken described her work in the Helios Project to me as "critical." From what I gather she has made serious improvements in the gathering and allocation of resources, making the Project all the more effective. Now the Project is on hold as Ken scrambles to find help for Diane.

In a few short years Ken Starks has become one of the best advocates for Linux I know of. There was a time I never imagined I would say such a thing. Now it simply is true. His work for the less fortunate people of his Austin, Texas community is a great example of one of what the first President Bush called "a thousand points of light." Let's make sure that light is neither dimmed nor extinguished. All of us in the Linux community need to gather around and help a little.

There are tens of millions of Linux users around the world. If 10,000 of us gave just $10 to fund Diane's surgery it would be paid for. It really doesn't take much. The Linux community, the public, non-corporate face of who we are, will be well served in Ken and Diane can get back to doing what they love to do.

Ken has setup a PayPal account to allow those who would like to contribute to do so. Contributions should be made to dianekfranklin@hotmail.com. For those without a credit/debit card or a PayPal account contributions can be sent to the address found here. I run a small consulting business that recently lost it's largest customer. Add some slow payers and I am not exactly having an easy time of it right now. Despite that, I am expecting some checks to come in this week and I will do my small part. I am asking you to do the same.

There is one other thing I am going to ask: the major Linux portal sites are not covering this story. One has a prohibition against fund raising. I don't know what excuse the others have. This needs to be a grass roots effort within the community to get the word out. If you have a blog, a Facebook page, anything at all related to Linux or helping needy kids or whatever then, please, share Ken and Diane's story. It can still have a happy ending.

1 comment:

Cap'n Kernel said...

Dear Caitlyn, I got here from your post on Distrowatch. Stallman makes a big fuss about how free software is about community first and software second, and I have slowly come around to seeing things his way. I do not live in the US, but I shall send what support I can. I have a friend who is in hospital right now, and she's got no insurance to cover her expenses. So I have some idea how it feels. Thanks for calling our attention to this.