"Some people should never be allowed to own computers." She went further in an email exchange and instead of maybe tempering her statement, she narrowed it.
"Some others shouldn't be able to sit down at one without taking a test."
As much as that may have rankled me at the time, I now join the small but firm minority in this belief. Most anyone in tech support might have stepped over this belief line from time to time. For me, it's no longer a line...it's where I live.
Belief hell, it's a matter of mental health survival.
So you might remember, last week I lamented about a father who took control of a computer we had given his daughter via The HeliOS Project. Within two hours of us leaving his house, he was on the phone with us, complaining that no matter what he did, he couldn't "download anything".
Unfortunately, we cannot control the moral compass of those within the family of that child. This isn't the first time this has happened but it is the first time that a parent or guardian has so blatantly claimed ownership of a computer we have given to a child. I was prepared to deal with this in a few days but we had our hand forced last Friday.
Dad called us and informed me that he had indeed installed Windows 7 over our Linux install but he was having problems. He no longer had wireless, nor was his screen presenting itself in the correct resolution. He also complained that the educational programs that were previously on the computer were now gone.
This guy didn't understand that replacing one operating system with another would yield such results.
He was clueless even to the concept of an "operating system". I withered at the possibility of explaining to him the entire issue of hardware drivers. If he couldn't understand the concept of an operating system, I wasn't about to suggest to him that getting the needed drivers would have been a good thing to do before he blew away his system.
Can you imagine sitting on the phone, trying to coax him into finding out what the model numbers and chipsets were on his hardware?
So I did something I rarely do...something I make it a practice NOT to do.
I left to make the 1.5 hour round trip to his house while I was angry. But before I set out upon my trek, it dawned on me that The Solution to this problem sat upon my desk, three minutes from my house. I made a two minute stop at our facility and took a deep breath to get a better grip on my anger.
He answered the door like I was a neighbor. He offered me coffee and a comfortable chair. I wasn't in a cordial mood so I asked if his daughter was home and would he call her into the living room. What happened next gave me a better idea of the dynamics within that household.
Instead of going to her room where she was, he bellowed for her like she was cattle. She came into the room quickly and appeared apprehensive but when she saw me there, her face and body relaxed. She was obviously frightened of this man.
With them both present, I reached into my pack and pulled out an envelope that contained a legal document and I explained it to him as I handed it over. It is a simple instrument, calling upon the 2005 Texas Property Code CHAPTER 141. Transfers To Minors.
I was prepared for him to give me the "while she's under my roof" sermon but wasn't prepared for what she was about to say:
"He isn't my dad."
When I initially installed the computer, he had assured me he was. I looked at him for a long ten seconds while he figured out he was busted.
So again, we have a case of a bully live-in boyfriend pretty much sitting on his a$$ at home while the mom works to support him.
I patted the sofa cushion beside me and invited the 12 year old girl to sit next to me. Reaching into my pack, I pulled out the new Asus netbook and opened it on my lap.
"This is your computer now", I told her as I looked at the live-in. "It has the same operating system and games on it that your big one had plus it has a private password so no one can make changes to it. Do you want to know what that password is?"
She smiled as I leaned over to whisper to her. She giggled when I told her what it was.
"Now, you have to ask permission to use the computer and if you get into trouble, your mom has the right to ground you from it. Do you understand that?"
She nodded solemnly as I opened the netbook and began making changes to it so it was hers. I took 20 minutes to reinstall a fresh copy of our remix and when I was done, I handed the computer to her. I pulled out my phone and held it up as I again glanced over at wife-beater.
"Do you know your mom's number at work? Can you call her?"
She took the Droid from me and once she had her mom on the line, she handed me the phone. I explained to her why I was there and what I had just explained to her daughter and Mr. Abuse-R-Us.
She was quiet for a long minute then simply said "thank you".
"Now"...I said, after putting the phone away. "let's get this other one unplugged and out to my car. I'm going to leave the monitor with the keyboard and mouse so you have a bigger screen and I'll show you how to hook it up."
Boyfriend got up without saying a word to either of us and disappeared into the back of the house. Little girl happily crawled under the desk for me and unplugged all the plugs and wires and walked out with me to my car.
I took a minute to speak with her before I got into my Explorer.
"Are you going to be OK when I leave?"
She shook her head and stated that her mom was getting off early because it was Friday after Thanksgiving and she should be home in less than an hour. I handed the child my card, feeling a bit uncomfortable about leaving. I've known guys like this and they are cowards. I then figured out what to do.
"Hey, I've got an idea. Whaddaya say I teach you how to play Tux Racer until your mom gets home? I can show you some other stuff too."
She smiled brightly and almost skipped to the front door. We sat the monitor and keyboard up on her desk and I took her through some of the functions of the netbook, taught her about fn keys and then we launched into the dozens of games that we include in our remix. We were totally immersed.....
Immersed to the point that neither of us noticed when her mom walked through the front door.
Editor's note: Upon getting the confiscated computer up on my work bench this afternoon, I found it indeed have a copy of Win7 on it. Of course the screen was devoid of wallpaper, showing nothing but black and in the lower right hand corner of the screen was a message proclaiming this copy of Windows does not pass the Windows Genuine Advantage test. Go figure...