The Greatest Generation. Those who blitzed the beaches of Normandy and faced their own death with nothing but the rifles they carried and the cast-in-stone conviction that they were our last hope to save the world. They embodied the heroism of a generation who protected us from the most vile of villains: Jack-booted thugs who would force their ideas of a perfect world upon us.
Those rifles and convictions ultimately saved our way of life.
That kind of bravery can’t be quantified or even verbally expressed. They were our moms and dads, our aunts and uncles, and our grandfathers and grandmothers. The Greatest Generation lived their lives based on ultimate truths and values. A handshake was a bond and the guy on the radio or TV was to be believed.
And that’s the problem. The Greatest Generation ultimately fell victim to their own honor and social beliefs.
I quit supporting Windows computers in 2010. For free that is… I quit supporting them for friends and family for free.
I was the computer guy for our family. Aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins…they might not send me a Christmas card or write a letter to me, but they sure as hell knew my phone number and email address when their computers went down.
I simply got sick of being the family computer guy. In a two month span of time, I contacted everyone I could and told them that I was no longer in the gratis computer repair business. If they shipped their laptop or computer to me for repair, the initial fee of 75 dollars was to be included in the package. The howls of outrage were almost non-stop, but I was free of the duty of being the family computer guy.
However, there are times when you might want to step back and re-evaluate your own rules. Sometimes someone needs your help in the worst way and those pleas are hard to ignore.
Like Jack, for instance, who lives across the street from me.
The retirement community where I live is a comfortable place for us older folks. It’s quiet. I don’t have to listen to LL-Cool-Iced-Tea-Willy-Vanilli thump and bump their way down the street…the kind of thump and bump that makes you wonder if the vehicle’s structure is strong enough to withstand that level of sonic abuse.
Jack caught me outside walking Astro and asked if I had a few minutes. He hemmed and hawed around the fact that he might have done something wrong to his computer and would I take a look at it to see if it could be fixed…
The computer was a three-year-old Dell running Windows 7 Home Premium. Jack told me it had gotten so slow that he had to do something to fix it. A couple of days later came a late-night commercial touting “WinCleaner” as the key to opening the door of renewed computer speed. It was offered as a thumb drive, preloaded with the very same tools that can be found in CCleaner and other Windows malady cure-alls that have been around for years, but without the flashy GUI inside an even more flashy flash drive.
After following the “simple instructions,” Jack found himself faced with a blue screen and cryptic white letters. He didn’t understand what was being said but he figured out is wasn’t good.
Long story a bit more tolerable: I booted into my Linux flash drive and began pulling his pictures and documents into a separate partition. Once he gave me the nod, I wiped his Windows 7 partition out of existence and installed Linux. I then put his pictures and documents in the appropriate folders and left him to discover his new system.
The next day I found a Home Depot box at my front door and in it was a Makita cordless drill like the one I had coveted from his work bench, accompanied with a short note. “Thanks for taking the time to help me out. I was on the verge of buying a new computer, but now the one I have is as good as the day I first got it. Come on over later today. Mary made a strudel.”
So even the Greatest Generation can use some help.
Their tools are not computers and smartphones, they are shovels, picks, circuit testers…and sometimes rifles. They are the Greatest Generation of our time and probably many others.
I was happy to break my rule for Jack. And maybe a bit proud as well.
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