I like living here. “Here” is a low-cost, no maintenance condo-type neighborhood for us folks who are 55 or older or have a disability. A good friend of mine, a bit older than me, told me that since I live here now, I need to start acting my age.
Well pass the Ensure and bingo cards Gladys …I’ll get right on that.
The same good friend also described me once as the oldest juvenile delinquent he has ever met.
But there’s really no getting away from the fact that I’ve reached the stage of life when grandchildren are finally accepted and I no longer wince when one of my grand babies address me as “grandpa.” Yeah, it took me almost a decade to be comfortable with the fact that I am indeed a grandpa.
A medley of aches, pains and cramps often remind me that I can’t do stuff as fast and for as long as I used to. These days, my life consists of blazing my way through my work day then hobbling to my comfy sofa, moaning my regret for all that day’s blazing.
This is a nice place to which to come home. One of the great things about living here is how close the residents are…and not in just proximity. We lived in a fairly nice home prior to moving here and in the three years we stayed there I couldn’t tell you the last names of the people living next door or across the street from us. In less than a week here, almost every neighbor had stopped by to say “hi” or to bring various house warming baked goods.
This past Thanksgiving, Diane and I went to the pot luck community gathering at the community center. To be honest, I really didn’t want to go. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I had promised a computer to the kids of a single mom, but while installing it, gremlins found their way into the machine. The computer that worked perfectly on the workbench suddenly decided that a kernel panic was in order. I needed Thanksgiving evening to myself so I could get another system ready, but a long, chilly look from Diane was enough to forestall that mission…for a couple of hours anyway.
These are some great people here. I talked with a Korean war veteran who lost his right foot to frostbite in the battle for the Chosin River Valley. I spent time with two ladies who travel to Austin when the weather gets cold to distribute coats, scarves, gloves and shoes to the homeless. They gather them throughout the year and then give them to people who might not survive without them.
So yeah, I like the place and the people here. Of course, when you are tagged as “the neighborhood computer guy,” that news travels faster than the crashing North Korean Internet. Even those neighbors you haven’t yet met…they seem to find their way to your door with no difficulty whatsoever. Like Jacob, for instance, who doesn’t have a wheelchair…he has a mobility chair. He says wheel chairs are for people who are disabled.
Actually, he’s a disabled veteran who was paralyzed while serving during the Vietnam War. His motorized chair is complete with an American flag on a whip antenna, flames on the sides of the chair and a bumper sticker that reads, “No thanks, I don’t heed your help.” Apparently the sticker doesn’t include not needing help with his computer.
I met Jake a while back while out walking Astro and we hit it off fairly well. We have a lot of shared geography and history, even if we didn’t know each other all those years ago. Jake has a two year old Asus laptop which had slowed to a crawl. I asked him how he came to have eleven toolbars on his Internet Explorer browser. He just shrugged and told me “They just showed up.”
Jake thought he had a broken computer. I told him his computer was fine; it was his system that was broken. I asked him if he was in a hurry and he informed me that he was not. I made us both coffee and then pulled up a chair next to his mobility chair. It took me twenty minutes to get him to the point where he pretty much understood the problems he faced and the relatively easy fix.
I booted the computer with my Linux flash drive and we went through the files he wanted to keep and the files that could go away. On another drive, I backed up two gigs of music and pictures. Once I had unmounted the flash drive and verified the stability of the files on the saved drive, I proceeded to install the new system on his computer.
Did I tell him it was Linux? Did I give him the party line on freedom-as-in-beer-and-code? No. I didn’t tell him anything except I was going to fix his computer.
When the install was done, I imported his IE bookmarks into Firefox and loaded his music and pictures into the appropriate directories. I did not set him up with multiple desktops, nor did I blingify his desktop. He wanted to play his online games with his friends, he wanted to check his bank account from time to time and he wanted to access his Yahoo email account. That’s all. Oh…and he wanted to play World of Goo. It’s his new and favorite obsession.
It took me all of one and a half hours to get him fixed and out the door.
In the years I’ve been doing this, it’s only been recently that I’ve learned an extremely important lesson. Not everyone needs to be saved from one entity and changed to another. Not everyone wants or needs to know the important philosophical truths about free open source software. Sometimes, people just want their computers to do what they tell them to do and in the shortest and most simple way possible. The end result was a happy friend and a neighborhood computer I will not have to fix for a long time.
I watched Jacob motor down the sidewalk to the end of the block where he lives…flag waving in the breeze and that huge bumper sticker proclaiming that he didn’t need anyone’s help. I didn’t help Jake, I educated him. If that’s what he needs to keep his spirit independent, then I was glad to help teach him.
Considering the number of people I talked to during our Thanksgiving gathering, I’m sure he won’t be the last.
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