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Ken Starks to Keynote At Ohio LinuxFest

Holy moley! Our Ken Starks is going to keynote at Ohio LinuxFest (OLF) and I almost forgot.

Ken had mentioned this in a email a few months back, I believe, but I’d put it on a back burner, where it fell off and landed hidden behind the stove. If Larry Cafiero, better known as the free software and CrunchBang guy, hadn’t made mention of the fact on Google+ the other day, I probably wouldn’t’ve remembered until it was way too late.

ken_starksAs most FOSS Force readers probably already know, Ken’s articles here and on his own Blog of Helios are only a small part of what he does. He’s one of those too rare people who works to make a difference in this world and he does so by leveraging the power of Linux and free and open source software for the greater good.

As the founder of the Reglue project (originally called Helios), he’s responsible for putting refurbished computers in the hands of financially challenged students in and around the Austin, Texas area where he resides. Over the years there have been thousands of these students and many of them, given Reglue computers while in middle or high school, have gone on to not only earn undergraduate degrees, but to attend graduate school as well — often studying computer science.

It’s his work at Reglue, of course, that’s responsible for Ken being invited to OLF. Wanting to know more, I fired off a list of questions in an email in the form of an interview. As usual, Ken was very giving of his time and put much thought into his answers.

What will you be talking about at Ohio LinuxFest?

What we do at Reglue doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I get a lot of credit for doing what I do and I am deeply appreciative, but I’m just a chapter in the story of Linux desktop adaptation. Everyone who submits a kernel patch, everyone who writes a system call to fix a broken link, everyone who answers a question in a Linux forum, everyone who creates the artwork that makes desktop Linux shine…at the end of that line we, as users, are direct beneficiaries of those efforts. I visualize this as a river, rolling along and adding things as it makes its way to ultimately empty into a much larger sea. A sea of knowledge that wouldn’t exist without the river; a sea of knowledge from which we benefit.

I don’t think people who participate in all levels of the desktop Linux experience know just how important they are. I’m speaking at OLF this year to show them how their efforts make my job an absolute pleasure. “Pleasure” isn’t really accurate. I think “privilege” is more fitting.

This isn’t the first time you’ve been a speaker at open source conferences. How did you get started? What was the first conference where you spoke and how did that come about?

My first speaking engagements didn’t occur in the Linuxsphere. They began as a series of talks given to various real estate conferences about how implementing Linux and free open source software could lower operating costs and streamline work flow.

That was back in 2007 through 2010. My audience attendance was anywhere from 15 to 400 and again, it was more fun than work. I didn’t accept any payment for those talks. I didn’t want or need any money from them. They took care of my travel arrangements and lodging if their insistence was louder than my protests.

My first Linux-based speaking engagement was the keynote for Texas Linux Fest 2011. To be honest, it was undoubtedly my worst presentation to date. I was only five weeks away from being diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. My airway was 80 percent blocked and if you listen to a recording of that keynote you can hear me struggle for breath. I cringe now when I listen to it. In fact, toward the end I was getting “black sparkles” in front of my eyes. I considered taking a knee for a few seconds or finding a way to sit down without anyone knowing I wasn’t well. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.

But as it is said, what is written is written. I was absent from work for a year, recovering from redline radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Because the cancer was so aggressive and so advanced, I received treatment that is usually only given to people with a probable terminal prognosis. Most of my presentations now are only twenty minutes or so in length as my voice fails shortly after. Some may wryly comment that my speech limitation is probably for the better.

Have you already made your “wish list” for presentations you want to attend at Ohio LinuxFest? Could you offer some examples and let us know why they interest you?

“Love your Music and Movies again with Linux.” This is a must-attend for me, for personal reasons. With a Roku that is simply refusing to see my wireless connection and missteps with Chromecast and Allcast, I have to figure out what I am doing wrong. I spend more time futzing with things than enjoying them on the screen. I aim to gather the information necessary to come home and begin round two with my living room entertainment center. I’ll probably come back here and report how that went on FOSS Force, or else I’ll be replacing the glass in my living room window.

“Get children creating, sharing and programing with Scratch.” A lot of people have concluded that giving a child a computer in their household will just be wasted on Facebook. I don’t doubt that this is often the case, but they don’t see what I see. They don’t see the emails and phone calls from kids who want to delve deeper into their system. They want to know what “lib” files are. They want an explanation concerning “hidden files.” This shows us that kids are indeed exploring their systems and wanting to know more about them.

We’ve pointed our Reglue kids in several directions, leading to entry level scripting or python coding, but it’s not been a consistent stream of the same information on our part. I want to take home something more stable in structure and I hope this session will help me do that.

“Unleash Wireless Access Point Power with Linux Based Firmware.” The Asus wireless hardware disaster made me re-examine how we set up our Reglue installs as it pertains to wireless routers. As our Prometheus project sets some of our most financially-challenged kids up with their first 90 days of Internet access, we want to make sure that their wireless security is truly secure. Onboard firmware has proven to be less than secure so I’m attending this session to get a leg up on how we can secure our devices.

Why would you recommend Ohio LinuxFest?

Aside from the Linux rock stars who attend annually?

Christine, they are bringing me to OHF to keynote. I’m going because there will be at least eight people there who breath the rarefied air of Linuxdom. It will be an honor just to be in the same room with some of these people. At a symposium in 2008, I sat across from Jon Hall at an informal closing dinner and drank beer with him. He probably doesn’t remember but I most certainly do and I always will. Being included in this group of history changers is an honor and it humbles me.

But seriously…Ohio Linux Fest is the largest and most popular Linux event in all of America’s heartland. If you were ever to get a chance to attend, I don’t think there is any other event in that area which will give you a sense of just how big and supportive the Linux community can be. So, yeah, if you get a chance to go, do so by all means. I can’t really describe to you the excitement I feel about attending this year.


Ohio LinuxFest 2014 will be held October 24th through the 26th at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Admission is free for those who register online or $5.00 at the door.

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