There are pivotal times in our collective and personal histories when we remember exactly where we were. Those moments do not fade through the years, ever. For me, that first memory was President of the United States John Kennedy being assassinated. I wasn’t old enough to understand the weight or importance placed upon the event, but I knew, based on the reactions around me, something terrible and far-reaching had happened. Something terribly profound. Parents were called to come get their children. School would resume in three days.
And then, there I was, standing in my pajamas at 10:30 p.m., staring at the screen of our first color television set. My mom made us stay up late to watch “the most important event in history,” according to her. Neil Armstrong was about to set the first human footprint on the moon. Although later I thought the real important event was David Scott taking the coolest dune buggy ride ever during Apollo 15. Of lesser impact to most might be the Kent State massacre, Woodstock and the death of John Lennon.
These were times of horror, of wonder, and sometimes, hopelessness. Because of their emotional impact, these are events and memories that we’ll always carry, be they burdens or treasure. And yet, there are some of these memories that mean absolutely nothing to anyone but the individual, and they are priceless. We know where we were…what we were doing.
In relation to the real accomplishments in the Linuxsphere, I was late to the party. In 2005, my three city network of business offices had been hacked and defaced. I had no idea of what to do. I was our local IT guy, but that ain’t sayin’ much. The buddy who set up our network was living in San Antonio at the time and I called him at 6:30 in the morning. I called him out of panic…I didn’t know what else to do.
Long story short: I closed us down for the work week. When we returned, we were up and running, and we were running Linux on both desktop and server. The IT company that initially set up our Windows servers wanted a ridiculous amount of money to come fix it. And if I hadn’t thought about it for a minute, I would have paid the ransom and we would not be having this conversation.
But even at home, with the three computers I had set up for family use, we still used Windows. It nagged at me…the ease by which someone had taken over our work computers in three different cities and made a mockery of our work. It ate at me for a long time, but something different was tugging at me, something that couldn’t be easily explained. At least not as any justification to switch operating systems.
I didn’t work much from any office. Most of my work was out in the field. I was the boss but I was also the chief lead in Austin. The only time I came into the office was to sign paychecks and pick up new hires for training. Most of the paperwork was done by the folks who held the fort down at the various city offices. But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t explain why Linux was ever present in the back of my mind.
When Rick migrated us over to Linux, I had no idea what Linux was or why it would be any better than the Windows systems we had been using. I had seriously considered changing the whole operation to Macs, until the sticker shock set in. The fact that Rick assured me the hack would have not occurred on Linux was surely one of the reasons I went along. With some online guidance from Rick, I installed Linux on my personal/work computer at home under a dual boot. Prior to that, I had been looking at a lot of screen shots of Linux systems. A lot of them.
There was something that I couldn’t put my finger on. In those pictures, I saw something…I dunno. I saw something raw. Something a bit dark. Something a bit dangerous. There were a number of things tugging at me, maybe a bit of bad boy image. Well, maybe a lot of bad boy image. But there was more to it. There was the sense of community and a “screw-those-other-guys” attitude that was coming to the fore. A sense that all these people were intertwined…all a part of the whole. I think that’s what pushed me over…the “screw-those-other-guys” thing.
That’s when I paid my money and booted the live installation CD for Librenet. As far as Linux was concerned, I never looked back. I hope the universe blessed Jon Danzig. He personally answered over three dozen of my inquiry emails before he died in June of 2005.
It was a few minutes before 11 a.m. on a warm June morning when I booted my first Linux system. It was a day that changed the direction of my life. It was a day that changed a lot of lives. Later in that month, I would fall 38 feet, face-first, upon a concrete slab. It was during that recuperation that the beginnings of our present Reglue project came to fruition.
Two months ago, I received an email from someone I had never heard of. He wanted to “take me to task” for my arrogance. Somewhere I had mentioned that HeliOS and later, Reglue, was in the business of shaping the next generation of scientists, doctors and pioneers, regardless of where or what they would discover.
It was explained to me that it’s all well and good to be enthusiastic about one’s profession, but to refer to it as “a calling” was absurd. He went on for a bit, justifying his belief that I was some spotlight seeking megalomaniac and narcissist. He closed by hoping that his email was a “grounding” moment for me. That I should start seeing my role as just one in many. That there is never any one person who can change or guide history in any particular direction.
I thought for a minute that he was going to mention an attached invoice for his services.
First off, I don’t believe that I have ever referred to my work as “a calling.” If I did it was with tongue firmly in cheek. If I took all the good things people have said about me with anything more than surprise and a sense of humility, I’d have built myself a castle out of broken computers and I’d be knighting You Few Chosen from that throne.
So do we change lives? Was “that moment in time” truly a life-changing thing? I can’t see how it wouldn’t be, but with no more impact than when you decide to take route B to work instead of Route A. What would your life, and the lives around you, be like if you had done so? Stopping to speak with the newspaper vendor on the street? Or not? Butterflies and all of that…
No, I’ve seen this movie. The one where someone sends a writer a nasty email with innuendos and barely-veiled threats. The one where the writer replies in an open answer to said email and the Internet loses it’s friggin’ mind. Nope…I’m not gonna be the one to give you your fifteen minutes of fame. Trust me, based on the last one, you wouldn’t like it. That stage will remain bare.
Now if you all will excuse me, I have an empire to build and other important stuff. You know…just like the rest of you. I’ll be busy changing lives. I’ll just be doing it my way. The way it started on that warm June day in 2005, just a few minutes before 11 a.m. The day I booted my first Linux system.
Do you remember yours?
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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