Advocating for a Linux advocate

HeliOS Project founder Ken Starks is fighting his own end-of-life

Ken Starks can drive me crazy sometimes.

It's been a while since I have spoken with him. After leaving Linux Today and working for the Linux Foundation, I found myself falling out of touch with various members of the Linux community, and unfortunately Ken was one of them.

If you've never heard of Ken, I'll give you the synopsis if you don't want to Google it: there has never been a more tireless and fierce advocate for Linux. Ever.

Ken has worked hard for years on the HeliOS Project, a non-profit that works to put Linux computers in the hands of needy families and students throughout central Texas. It is estimated that he has managed to donate thousands of machines, working to refurbish or build them on his own or through massive installfests.

In June of this year, the HeliOS Project merged with the non-profit Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Used for Education (REGLUE), which had a very similar mission in place, making sense for the two organizations to join up.

Ken has done a lot more for the Linux community. A champion in the fight against DRM, he once tried to raise money for a trip to meet with Washington lawmakers on the issue and, even after the money raised fell far short of its goal, used what little he had raised plus his own money to put better tires on his old truck and drive from Texas to DC. He didn't have money for a hotel or food, so he slept in his truck and ate meals at a local Salvation Army.

Right after that trip, Ken was hospitalized. What no one knew before he left was that he had lung cancer; and a trip that would have kicked a healthy person's ass just about put Ken in the grave.

Here is why Ken drives me crazy: the Indianapolis 500.

In 2007, after the discovery of his cancer, Ken threw himself into the Tux500 Project, which raised money to get a Linux sponsorship on one of the cars in the Indianapolis 500 race. And, by God, it worked. In a time when Linux was not much of a household name (and yeah, that could be now, too), Ken and his team managed to do something crazy and a little bit fun. I should know: I was, along with LXer editor Don Parris, one of the independent auditors of the project.

While doing my job of monitoring the money on the project, I had a lot of opportunities to talk to Ken, who kept me updated on all the other philanthropic projects he had going on at the time. The man was passionately devoted to helping others and promoting Linux.

And as we would catch up, I would be thinking that this was a guy who had cancer, doing more for his causes--plural--than I had even done for a single thing outside my family and my job. Ken drove me crazy because he made me realize I wasn't doing enough to help those around me and be a more active part of the community.

Looking back, I have to wonder now if Ken's example was what spurred me to leave journalism for a while and work for the Linux Foundation. Or start building homes in the summer with Habitat for Humanity. I had my own reasons, but I suspect that Ken's example may have been more of an influence than I realized.

The cancer is still there, though, and now Ken needs some help of his own. It's in his lymph nodes now, and he needs surgery soon. But Ken's financial and health care status means he will need to come up with part of the money on his own. An IndieGoGo campaign has been put in place to raise the $5,000 he needs.

If you can help, please help. People like Ken need to stick around for a while, even if they drive us crazy.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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