To some, I am a Linux Guru because I have been using Linux as my only operating system since 2005. To others, I’m the oh-so-adorable-cheek-squeezing newbie who thinks his basic bash skills are a massive achievement. For those who first installed Slackware via a Dagwood sandwich pile of floppies, then I suppose the latter is right. I think we all carry a bit of each within us. But in the end, it doesn’t matter at all — that isn’t even in play. But let me tell you what is in play.
I’ve been a member of the Slashdot community since 2002. My sig line for helios17 is, if I may say so myself, pretty cool. Wanna know what it is? I mean without having to go look it up? Sigh…if you insist.
“Windows assumes you are an idiot…Linux demands proof.”
There’s a lot of implied stuff in those few words. On the surface, the main things are fairly clear. Most Windows systems I’ve used will ask at least three times if I am sure I want to complete the action I just requested.
But Linux isn’t without sin in this, although to a much lesser degree. The thing that bothers me most about my Linux install is really just picking nits. When I click the button to shut down my computer, I mean for it to shut down my frickin’ computer. I don’t need for it to ask if I am sure I want to do this. Well yeah, I want to do this. I went out of my way to specifically click the shutdown button. I don’t need any meaningful dialogue or long, dramatic goodbyes beforehand. We don’t need to discuss how doing so will impact our relationship, amid the swirling fog stirred by the propeller wings of an awaiting airplane. Just turn off my frickin’ computer. Sheesh.
Sorry…my asides can get lengthy.
Linux on the other hand will allow you to do anything you want as long as you know the root password. I make it a point to tell everyone I introduce to Linux that root is a powerful thing that can do horrible things if you don’t know what you are doing. It won’t ask if you are sure you want to do this. If you don’t know, stop right there and ask someone. Linux assumes you know what you are doing and loyally follows your commands.
But about those commands and the whole respect thing…
It happened on Reddit a few years ago. In a Linux sub Reddit or what ever they are called, somebody new to Linux asked about a particular command line syntax for a particular command. He was directed to type in the following command and then let the command run, and then type his command in just the way he had done it before.
rm -rf /
Reddit blew up. Thousands upon thousands of comments streamed in, hundreds a minute for the first twenty minutes, condemning the asshat who wiped out some kid’s computer. It slowed the Reddit servers to a crawl. And condemned he should be. There is nothing short of national security that should allow that sort of behavior, and even then I am hesitant to condone it.
It appears that the person who gave the kid the command to wipe his drive didn’t take the hint from a couple of years before.
It was 2006, if I remember correctly. I’m having trouble finding any information to which to link, but I remember it clearly. In the Reader’s Digest version, one person insulted another person’s religion and inferred that he was a terrorist. Within that week, the guy who did the insulting answered his door bell, only to have his throat slashed on his doorstep. He died within two minutes and the “terrorist” was arrested just blocks away from the crime scene. I suppose it was a sort of self fulfilling prophesy.
Regardless, it all comes down to one extremely simple rule: When in doubt, respect.
It’s already been proven that our anonymity online is a myth. Even with tools like Tor and anything else short of a high quality VPN, finding who we are and where we live requires just a little bit of work. The Internet is forever, up until the movement for “the right to be forgotten” came about. But even with that, none of us are really safe from discovery if someone wants to find us.
Me? Hell, I’m an open book. My online presence will lead you right to my various doorsteps with little effort and in minutes, so maybe I’m a bad example. But you aren’t that much more difficult to find.
Here’s my point. Six weeks ago, I re-established the practice of including a number of links on the desktops of our Reglue Kid’s computers. Those links would take them to various places online if they needed assistance with anything pertaining to their computers, including the operating system. I had previously discontinued the practice after several of our kids had been treated harshly in various forums. Some were cursed, or treated as if they were idiots for not knowing proper forum protocol. Given that was a few years ago, I re-initiated the practice, thinking things might’ve changed.
That wasn’t smart of me at all. Even after having communicated to some of the forums that our kids would probably visit to seek answers, the same thing happened. They were scalded with criticism for not knowing how best to present themselves and ask their questions. Keep in mind, some of these kids are only ten to twelve years old. Harsh words hurt…and you’re a frickin’ asshat for picking on a child.
Am I going to hunt you down and beat you up? LOL. No. At my age and in my physical condition it would be a short fight. But while I will not beat you physically, I will shred you online and without mercy…if I so choose. I realized just how brutal opinion can be online in 2008 when I excoriated a school teacher for not knowing the smallest bit about free and open source software. That was my first official “slashdotting” and after all was said and done, I am deeply sorry for doing what I did.
These days, I am a bit more mellow and much less apt to rally support against anyone or anything. I apply “Ken’s 24 hour rule” to most everything in my life. I look into my crystal ball to see if the present thing on my mind will be important in 24 hours. In 95 percent of cases, the answer is no, so I don’t worry over it any longer. I let it go. It’s a good rule to follow.
But so is remembering to be civil when speaking with someone online. You never know who they are or anything about them. Sometimes just looking at that person’s profile can temper your response or comments. In 2006, a man died because he insulted someone’s God in a forum. That’s extreme, of course, but just remember that’s a flesh and blood person you are communicating with. Just because you cannot see them doesn’t mean your words won’t impact them in a hurtful or horrible way. How do you suppose those responsible for the suicide death of Audrie Pott feel? There’s a special place for people who do such things. Anyone who mistreats someone online, in my opinion, is terribly and unconditionally flawed. A bully of most grotesque nature.
And while it’s a long shot to happen, if you’ve bullied or hurt someone online, you might want to peek through the hole in your door before you open it. Some folks aren’t as slow to anger or as easy to get along with as I am.
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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