I’ve been friends with Nicholas Knight for 33 years. We met at Fort Lewis, Washington where we were both stationed. Even back then Nick was involved with computers, helping set up and administer the new computer system the US Army was adopting for their personnel centers. Me, being a dumb ol’ combat engineer…well, I didn’t breathe the rarefied air that Nick did.
After the army, we visited each other from time to time. Our families even took a cruise together in 1999. Nick was working for AOL, tending their servers and watching the dot com bubble turn billionaires into millionaires and millionaires into working class stiffs. Fortunately, Nick hung on and came out of it relatively unscathed.
Since both of us had become divorced over the years, we really hadn’t kept in touch. So imagine my surprise when I got an email from him last September, telling me that he had gotten a job with AMD and was moving to Austin.
Then I got a call from him two weeks ago and he didn’t sound happy.
“Kenny, if I have to fix my dad’s computer one more time I’m gonna lose it.”
Nick’s dad had moved in with him when he was no longer able to live unassisted. Nick would not let him go to a home.
This wasn’t the first time he had problems with his dad and his dad’s computer. It’s been a running gun battle between the two for quite a while. Nick is a Linux guy, but even with his dual degrees and six figure job, he can’t talk his dad into switching from Windows. He has put every safeguard on the computer he could and his dad still finds a way to mess it up. Mostly it’s from “games of chance” sites that he seems to enjoy visiting.
“Kenny, is there any way you can bring a Linux box with you? Nothing fancy. An old single core with two gigs of RAM is fine. I told my dad that his computer hardware is shot and I was going to have another one brought over.”
There wasn’t a thing wrong with his dad’s computer. He was just sick of having to straighten it out every week.
So I got there. We had a beer and played catch up for all the time that had passed for us. I had met Nick’s dad, who is 84 years old, a few years ago and he remembered me. Eventually, I went to the car and brought the computer into the house, where I found both Nicks in the home office.
Nick’s dad watched as we pulled the old Windows Vista computer out and started to hook up the new one.
He wasn’t to be trifled with.
“What the hell are you saying that you have to whisper?”
We were both under the desk and we looked at each other for a second.
“Dad it’s nothing. There’s just no sense in talking out loud when we’re only a foot apart.”
“That’s fine by me, but don’t go tryin’ to put that Lumpis or whatever you call it on there. If that’s what you brought, you can just take it out right now.”
I winked at Nick. We crawled out from behind the desk and he sat at the computer to turn it on. His dad stood right beside him, making sure “Lumpis” wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity. Taking a cue from Nick, I had grabbed a ZorinOS machine that was ready to go. With a bit of cosmetic magic and the renaming of a few shortcuts, anybody would be hard pressed to tell it was Linux…at first glance anyway.
As the computer started, I glanced at Nick who was holding his breath as the machine booted. When the desktop loaded, he stood and moved away to let his dad sit down. There on the desktop was the familiar blue “e” icon labeled “Internet” and a Yahoo smiley labeled “email.”
I went to get another beer as Nick saw to it that his dad was happy. By the time I left, he was. He complained that the menu looked more fancy and that the pages were a bit bright for him, but beyond that, he had no idea he was running Linux.
Was that underhanded and dishonest? Probably. But my buddy Nick won’t be running full antivirus scans twice a day and reinstalling every 4 to 6 months when the system gets kludged up.
As far as I know, that doesn’t happen with Lumpis.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue