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When the Greatest Generation Can Use Our Help

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.

The greatest generationThat 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.

Like newLong 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.


  1. Ben Lloyd Pearson Ben Lloyd Pearson January 13, 2015

    This is a great story Ken. I set my grandmother up with Linux Mint after she got a virus on her Windows XP laptop that was nowhere near valuable enough to justify purchasing Windows 7 for. I gave new life to her old laptop, and have yet to have her contact me with any problems.

    I recently moved to the Austin area, and I’m just now beginning to get out and get involved with the community. I’m sure we’ll cross paths soon.

  2. Thomas Holbrook II Thomas Holbrook II January 13, 2015

    Stories like these warm my heart. You got a drill out of it too, so that was a bonus. 😀

  3. Kb0hae Kb0hae January 13, 2015

    Hi Ken. This is not a story that invlves Linux, but of helping my elderly mother. She passed away in November of 2013 at the age of 88. In 2006, I gave my mother an old Compaq laptop and a printer. She had always wanted to write the story of how she and dad came to adopt my brother and I. With some help from me, she eventually got the story written.

    A cousin who worked for the same adoption agency that had placed my brother and I with mom and dad learned about mom’s “book”, and brought it to the attention of the adoption agency. After the cousin did the proofreading and corrected some spelling and gramatical errors, she submitted a copy (with mom’s permission) to the adoption agency.

    They had it printed for their own use, and sent mom quite a few coppies, which she shared with family and friends. My mother started out wanting to simply write down the story for my brother and I. I helped make itpossible for her to do so, and she was happy to share that story. She often thanked me for the computer and printer that helped her to get the story written. She never really learned to do much else but play solitaire, but that and getting her story written (as she had always wanted to do) made her happy, so it was worth it to me, even when she called with questions, and had a hard time understanding the answers.

    My mother and father were indeed from the greatest generation. Dad served as a Machinist Mate First Class on the USS Florence Nightengale, and my mom worked at the Iowa Ordinance Plant as it was called in those days. I am proud of them and greatful to them both for adopting my brother and I, and their service to their country. I am greatful to all of those who served, and those who continue to do so.

  4. Al Al January 13, 2015

    Ken, what distribution did you, do you install?

  5. terry jacks terry jacks January 14, 2015

    >Jack-booted thugs who would force their ideas of a perfect
    >world upon us.

    Wonder how theyd feel knowing that after their sacrifice their country would bomb about 45 countries until today and overthrow and undermine (hola Chilenitos!) or destroy another 100 countries or so? There is no other country within light years of this despicable feat and earn the right to be called jack-booted thugs.

    Most of what you wrote about family and supporting windows sounds like exactly what my last 8-9yrs have been like and for many Linux friends as well.

    PCLinuxOS2007 was when I started switching some family and friends because Windows free support (95% was the same crap all the time) was taking too much of my time.
    KDE was and is still predominantly used (unless old hardware in which case XCFE) because it made switching to Linux easier for them and it is by far the most customizable.
    I also had switched them earlier to free software like Firefox, Thunderbird, VLC, OO>LO which made switching easier.

    Since then Ive done many switchovers and have installed Linux for over a dozen seniors including my parents, inlaws and aunts who are in their 80s. 6 of them never used a computer.
    With rolling releases distros or a even Kubuntu LTS that I put on auto update and do an LTS update every 2yrs, Ive rarely had anything to do the past few years. Compared to 2006, Im probably spending 98% less time on support. KDRC means I can even do it at distance.

    Linux too hard for elders? BS.
    Customizable to how my elder family needs it? Definitely.

    My buddy Don came to town for Xmas and asked me to look at his laptop and since I owe him a lot, I did an exception. But we also agreed to install a Linux dual boot so he has at least a running laptop when things go south. We Skyped yesterday and he says he’s tried Linux a few times and hasnt really felt the need to go back (hes a meat-potatoes user) because it doenst lag like his Win side.
    Doing a full switch can be scary for some people which is why Ive always been pro dualboots (and Ubuntu was always the most embarassing distro for that. the ‘friendly’ distro always thought, maybe its changed now, that having a black-white DOS like interface is a good idea. many a times I installed it for friends and theyd say “Oh no! What happened?” when they saw it.)

    The biggest problem is that after a while the OS becomes an afterthought. You forget what you are using because it works.

    Next, Im going to team up with some local high school kids where a friend teaches science and does the robotics club to recycle old computers and install Linux for a community center and a retirement home next door. We’re probably going to be able to salvage 10 computers but we are experimenting with thin clients so we can have more seats.

    Again, we will prove that old people CAN use computers if given proper training (for total newbies, I like for them to play card games so they learn to click and drag.) and that Linux is very user friendly.

    Oh yeah, old people LOVE single click over doubleclicking a mouse since the newbs often move their mouse between the two clicks.

  6. Uncle Ed Uncle Ed January 14, 2015

    Many of you know that Ken was going in for surgery. Today was the day and so far it’s looking reasonably good. Diane is his lady/partner.
    9:00 PM. Diane called me and said the surgery went essentially as expected. I believe she said the surgery was “over” about 4:30 and that he didn’t wake up in the recovery room. He is still doing heavy medication (Diane says he’s probably chasing young cowgirls in his dreams) and she was pleased he opened his eyes for a moment when they let her in to see him.

    He will be going to Intensive Care in a little while and go to a room sometime Thursday.

    She is beyond whipped, as she hasn’t slept for a few nights. She is now headed to bed, hoping to get some rest so she can get up and rip into it tomorrow.

    Will let you know when I hear anything.


  7. Tim Tim January 15, 2015

    I have had similar experiences introducing Linux to my parents’ generation, the WWII folks, as well as my contemporaries who have known nothing but Windows. I’ve always found inspiration in Ken’s Blog of Helios. Please pass along my best wishes for him and Diane.

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