Decency…it’s what’s for
It wasn’t but a few days ago that I approached the KDE community in Google Plus to ask a question. In asking that question, I included a screenshot to present a graphical representation of my problem. Three community members responded right away. The first two responses were legitimate queries: questions seeking to gather information needed to calculate an effective attack vector. The third response was…well, not so much.
“Stop, I can’t. My eyes are bleeding. x_x “
The remark about “eyes bleeding” was obviously a reaction to a perceived lack of aesthetics in the screenshot. And yeah, it pissed me off. I didn’t seek a critique on my icon set or color scheme. I was asking how to fix my friggin’ frappin’ problem.
With my verbal weapons cache set to full snark, I proceeded to dress the commenter down for the misplaced and unhelpful comment. I trimmed and honed every word so that my obvious displeasure at the opinion would not be mistaken for anything else.
There are specific and discrete techniques that can help you call someone a jerk. I used a method designed so that the target momentarily believes that you are a nice guy, while everyone else in proximity is checking their clothing for blood spatter. I have become a master of this technique. Whether that’s good or bad, I dunno. It is what it is.
That wasn’t the end of it, however.
Two hours later I found myself mentally going over what was said and implied during that exchange. By that time, what I mainly wanted to figure out was why I unloaded both barrels on the guy. My curmudgeonly old skin isn’t any thinner these days – quite the contrary.
In retrospect, the poor guy was probably attempting to interject his sense of humor into the thread. Why I chose to take offense, I couldn’t quite figure…not at that particular moment anyway. I accepted that my Inner Jerk and I had become one and searched for the thread to apologize. Too late…someone had pulled it down. I looked for 30 minutes; it had evaporated…just like my anger.
About that time, it dawned on me. It became clear why I felt the need to do some finger-wagging and looking over my glasses and down my nose at him.
It was my Reglue kids.
I don’t mean “my” Reglue kids as in child support and coaching little league games. I refer to “my” Reglue kids as those whom I have spent hours teaching ways to maximize the use of their new Linux computers. Our installation visits have been measured at three hours on occasion. By the time we leave a kid’s house, (s)he knows how to use the machine to do everything it might be needed to do…and then some.
My aggravation with the KDE commenter was an unconscious response to how some of our Reglue kids have been treated in various distro forums over the years. Some of these kids are tender in age, twelve to fifteen years old, and they have no idea of the vitriol they can experience by simply phrasing a question incorrectly.
For three years, we set our Reglue kids up with accounts for their particular distro’s forums. I even went as far as announcing on the forums that Reglue members would have our logo as an avatar, so that forum users could recognize they were talking to school-aged kids. Sadly, that didn’t hinder many from using rude, abrupt and even hurtful language.
Let me give you some examples I’ve collected since 2008. These two should illustrate my point nicely:
May 23rd, 2009
Reglue kid: “Hi, I was wondering if anyone will tell me the best way to learn how to use the black screen to do stuff. It looks cool.” (Fourteen year old young lady — mathematics prodigy.)
Basement-dweller-with-the-social-skills-of-a-hand-grenade: “What do you mean by ‘black screen?’ Do you mean the terminal or console?”
Reglue kid: “Yeah, I guess that’s what I mean. It has the blinking thing and I want to learn to use it.”
Basement-dweller-with-the-social-skills-of-a-hand-grenade: “Then why don’t you try searching for what you want to do on Google? You should have done that in the first place. Who the hell let you behind a computer anyway? Come back when you get even a fraction of a clue. Expletive moron.”
If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse.
August 8th, 2012
“My name is Rianna and I am new to Linux. I am having trouble finding out how to make an icon for a program appear in my bottom bar. Can anyone help me?”
Slacked-jaw-moron-who-probably-got-beaten-up-for-his-lunch-money-in-grade-school: “Yeah, that’s easy. You just click on the icon you want to put down in the bottom panel, then reboot three times. It’s gotta be three times exactly and you have to do them one right after another real fast. If you wait too long between reboots it won’t work. On the third reboot, it should be there.”
Rianna: – “No, that didn’t seem to work. I’ve tried it several times just like you asked and it didn’t do anything.”
Second-jerk-who-picked-up-on-the-game: “Well, I see what what went wrong. Sidewinder forgot to tell you that you have to unplug the monitor between the second and third time. I can’t believe he didn’t remember to tell you the most important part.”
Rianna: “Pardon me, but I don’t see how any of this can put an icon in my bottom bar. Are you guys fooling with me?”
Slacked-jaw-moron-who-probably-got-beaten-up-for-his-lunch-money-in-grade-school: “Fooling with you? I have more important things to do than wipe a newbie’s snotty nose. Don’t come back here until you can appreciate the time and talent on these boards that are trying to help you.”
Rianna: “I’m sorry, but I’m real new to this Linux stuff. I mean, I like it and everything but it’s just different than I am used to. Thank you for your help.”
Two days inactivity on the thread.
Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “Rianna, someone is having some fun at your expense. Have you gotten the icon to appear in your bottom panel yet? I can help if it’s not fixed yet. If not, let me know which environment you are using in ZorinOS — Windows 7, XP or Gnome.”
Two hour lapse.
Rianna: “They set this up with a Gnome panel, top and bottom.”
Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “Easy enough. Open your menu that shows you all the apps and then put your mouse over the one that you want to move, then by using your left mouse button, drag it down or up to the part of the panel you want it to stay in and let go. Let me know if that helps.”
Rianna: “Wow, that was so easy. I can’t believe I couldn’t figure this out for myself. Thank you so much.”
Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “I’m sending you a private message on your account here and I’ll give you the URL for a Linux help site that is much better. You won’t have to deal with idiots like you did here earlier.”
Rianna: “Thank you again. I can’t tell you how excited I am to use Linux now. It’s really much easier than it was on my Mac.”
Personally, I never run into anyone quite as rude or mean…even since 2005. Then again, I had a pretty good idea when someone was trying to goof at my expense. Since 2012, we have formed a core of seven people at Reglue who take questions from our new Linux kids.
As for Rianna, there’s more to the story.
Rianna entered her second year of college in 2011. She began her undergrad studies with a fantastic Dell Precision M4600 and we expect that quad core with 16 gigs of RAM laptop to get her through undergrad work and into her graduate studies (she’ll be working on a Masters in Social Work).
When Rianna posted a note at the Student Union that she needed tutoring in calculus, a young man, Richard, contacted her and worked with her for two semesters. What’s so cool about that? Richard is the same guy who finally got her set straight on getting the program icon placed in the bottom panel on her computer.
It is indeed a small world.
They are both studying at Texas University in San Marcos and we will be having a get together at Logan’s Steakhouse there in the next couple of weeks. I am amazed at how things can connect us…whether we want it to happen or not.
Absolute creeps like those mentioned above have probably done more damage than most anything else I can think of when it comes to keeping new Linux users on track. Hey…you want to play around and have fun at someone else’s expense, that’s fine. Just go find someone else who is as big of a moron as you. Hopefully, the two of you will stay occupied enough to keep you from causing trouble elsewhere.
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