The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Refusing to Treat Self-Inflicted Wounds

There was no reason to think that trouble was just one computer install in a long line of computer installs.

A single mom working two ages are 10 and of them bordering on prodigy...

It's the kind of situation we look for.


The maternal grandmother was present in the home and held the duty of home-schooling the children.  The ancient Dell Optiplex GX I - P2 desktop sat on the desk in the corner of the living room running Windows 98.

Second edition.

It barely crawled through the task of opening IE 5.5, no less than 4 additional spyware toolbars vied for bandwidth and registry corruption.

Yeah we could do some good here.

The museum piece was unhooked and put in the closet after transferring family pictures and some music from a 20 gig hard drive.  With a processor that moved at the speed of smell and 256 megs of ram, I decided that the transfer would best be timed by calender, not a clock.  We eventually got it done and set up the Dell Precision 340.

A 2.5 gig single processor with 2 gigs of RAM and an 80 gig hard was a Cray Super Computer in comparison to what previously inhabited the same space.  We had pre-installed Linux Mint on the Precision  340 and began the process of showing the family how to use it.

They were ecstatic.

Until 12:35 PM that afternoon.

That's when he boyfriend came home.

With a  lame explanations of how badly he "needed" Windows on that computer, the live-in formatted the hard drive and installed a pirated copy of Windows XP on the computer.  He didn't bother to save the data we had transfered.  Yeah, Windows XP...

SP1 without any updates.

By 3:30 PM there were problems.  Megan called complaining that she could no longer control the popups on the computer and the boyfriend was frantically trying to close them.  Kind of  like Whack-a-Mole with a browser.

Oddly enough, these were the same problems expereienced with their other computers.  I might hazard a guess it could be the websites being visited.

Just a guess mind you...

He told her that the problem was a crappy computer we delivered...she had been given a piece of junk. He had done nothing to make this happen.

She didn't know any better.  She asked me to come over and put the old computer back into service.

I told her to give her boyfriend the phone.

It wasn't pretty.

No sooner had I introduced myself, he started in on me.  With the rest of the family in the immediate proximity, he railed on about how we had "taken advantage" of his girlfriend and kids.  He went on to claim that we had put a useless system on a crappy computer that was worthless for their needs.


He couldn't get the Usenet client he liked to work on Linux.

I am guessing he couldn't access his high-speed goat porn.

The saddest part of the whole thing is that we set up VirtualBox with a fully licensed copy of Windows XP on that computer.  He just decided it wasn't what HE wanted on the machine.

Tiring of the shouting match, I hung up the phone and immediately redialed the number.  Megan answered and without conversation, I told her to put the grandmother on the phone.

I started at the beginning.  I told her why Linux was put on the computer and how these problems were non-existent on that system.  I spoke to her for 3 minutes without her saying anything.  I kind of figured it out.

"Is he standing right there."

she answered simply.


They were frightened of him.

This Thursday, I am going back there to fix this problem.  I am going to set up the old Optiplex in the bedroom for him to use and I've told her that the computer we gave her is HER property.  He is not to touch it.  Linux will be installed on that computer.

Will it make any difference?

I'll let you know Friday.

All-Righty Then


PV said...

I feel like there will be an angry conversation in that household followed by a break-up.
Good luck, and as always, I really admire what you do, even in the toughest of circumstances.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Sam Weston said...

It's quite obvious just how annoyed you were when you wrote this article, and it's completely understandable. I honestly can't believe how you could be accused of anything after you provided them with a charitable service...

Also, having the nerve to say that it's the hardware you gave them that is at fault when their out-of-date pirated windows install got infected just makes me angry on it's own!

Chelle Minkin said...

It's quite obvious just how annoyed

That's understandable. I am surprised this doesn't happen more than it does. I can't help but imagine some wife-beater boyfriend at work here, complete with sleeveless tee shirt and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand.

Be careful when you go back over Ken.


Anonymous said...

KEN, some people will obviously say you make this stuff up, but I have run across it myself. Some ignorant family member whines, bitches and complains how Linux is in no way usable, or that it is crap. When asked if they have ever used Linux before you get, "Yes, NO, Hell NO". When followed-up with asking a question about what Distro they used, it is usually "Errr, ummmm or something 10 years ago."


Unknown said...

You are a good man for going back over there. Good luck on round 2 and let us know how it goes.

Xetheriel said...

I'm with Chelle on this Ken...

Be careful when you go back over there.

Anonymous said...

Please consider bringing a friend, the bigger and burlier, the better for your return visit.

Unknown said...

Be careful.
I really hope this can make a real difference for the mother, grandmother and children. You hopefully got a chance here to make their lives a little better.

Amenditman said...


Hopefully you can bring a 'volunteer in training' with you when you return.

It would be a great experience for your biggest, scariest, ex-special forces friend. Or maybe for the weasel in residence.

God bless and keep safe.


Anonymous said...

"I honestly can't believe how you could be accused of anything after you provided them with a charitable service..."

I can. An almost exact thing happened to me here in Portland. My husband and I installed Linux on a neighbor's computer and by the next day, the 17 year old son had put Windows on it and blamed the the viruses on the computer we gave them.

It is more a case of ignorance and technophobia than it is anything else. The offender blames it on the hardware knowing others will believe it because they seem to know what they are talking about.


Ryan Sommers said...

KEN, some people will obviously say you make this stuff up...

Ken does hundreds of installs in a year's time. It is inevitable that stuff like this happens.

Ken, I am leaving San Antonio early Thursday morning. Let me know what time the install is and I will meet you at the house or shop.

Pass on the information of anyone who wants to call BS on this...we'll have a talk.


Alessandro Ebersol said...

I hope the single mother get another boyfriend. This one is too stupid. And he scares the old lady, the grandma.
Still hoping for the best for this family and for you, Mr. Starks. Well, to light you up, Jesus, Budha, Ghandi, and others, had days like these... Trying to enlighten people, and being misunderstood...

Unknown said...

"Jesus, Budha, Ghandi, and others, had days like these..."

I don't usually add much to the comments unless asked a question but I need to express that the beings you mention are all examples for many of us to live by, to include myself.

I am inspired by them...not a member of their celestial club. But I do appreciate the sentiment.


Grant Johnson said...

Is there a reasonable way to password protect the BIOS settings and prevent booting from CD? It may be a way to slow down the re-imaging.

Painful and annoying, but it may be the only way.

BTW, I also agree with many other commenters. Bring large friends.

Will S. said...

Unfortunately, im in disagreement with PV. They definitely had an angry conversation, but I'd be willing to put money on him still being there, still throwing his weight around, still yelling at people and still corrupting computers.

The huge downside is that while we can laugh at this story, and while the post writer was able to return to their lives after however they dealt with the situation, this is their life.

Unknown said...

I've encountered similar situations myself. I helped out a small business who was constantly battling malware and various crashes. I installed Linux and things were OK, except some web sites didn't look "right" (way back in 2004). The system was usable for business and all was well for about three months. A new business partner came on the scene and called complaining how nothing worked, couldn't install this, blah blah. I tried to explain to him about alternative programs, similar functionality, etc. He told me that businesses do not run on Linux, and had his IT guy remove Linux and install Windows. I received a phone call two days after the Windows install from the original business owner asking how he could remove a virus. I never returned the call.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, though, don't go alone - take a friend (as others have suggested) - the moron sounds unstable/violent.

Anonymous said...

The boyfriend is a moron. Take someone big, mean, and preferably with a blackbelt or a deputies badge (or both) with you when you return. If the guy gives you any crap point at where ever the old beater Win98 puter is, tell him to shove it up his wazoo, and take the nicer system back and give it to someone who will appreciate the time and effort it must have required of you. Microsoft deserves every idiot like this "boyfriend" as a customer. May they live in symbiotic blissful eternity dancing in a tango of greed and stupidity ever after. They are truly "made for each other".

lycan 762 said...

You've gotta love those ignorant people with refusing to try something new and different. I went through this with my brother, and his brother in-law. Basically I built my brother a system. outta older spare parts I has laying around. He of course wanted windows on it, but neither one of us had money for a license, and well I'm not about to put pirated software on his newer computer. I'd been playing with Ubuntu for 4 months, and figures that if I could get, and actually like what i can do it I figured he can use to put his music library, and pictures of his growing family. Well our Brother in-law thinks he knows better than me, and tried to install windows without erasing any of the data. Well he messed it all up, and "lost" all of the pictures from their wedding, and baby pictures. WOW you wanna talk to some on how to save it from over 500 miles away. So next trip out, and armed with some useful tool I was able to bring it back to life, and recover all the pictures. The brother in-law is not allows to touch anyone's computer now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other posters.

Password the bios.
Remove the CD from the boot list
Password GRUB

If you don't know someone who's built like a brick shit house; accept Ryan's offer.

Take a cattle prod and a length of four by two....the alternative forms of education.

Anonymous said...


You do realize what happened here. After you left, You got talked up by the ladies of the house. There's one thing an insecure deadbeat boyfriend cannot abide is the ladies talking up another man.
You could have installed Windows 7 on a super fast machine and he would have been just as angry. And no doubt he would have infected it just as fast.

Let's be careful out ther.


Anonymous said...

what a story bro. Goo luck when you return. With Linux Mint you have the greatest chance that everything will work.

Personally, I would opt for installing Windows XP, but no support from myself or Linux Mint but with support.

Have you considered installing Windows 7 for them? It looks like that would be a safe route, and you could point out the cost difference.

I am in such a situation now too, but without the bully coming after me. It' s my neighbor, who had her laptop fixed because of her motherboard malfunctioning.

She had to pay some cash to get Windows 7 as a consequence because she had a OEM version of Vista on it. I installed Linux Mint for her and she started complaining about the lack of Video chatting possibilities she experienced when using skype and instant messengers.

I told her she could buy a windows 7 license and call me to install it for her without further support or continue with Linux Mint:-)

Till now, she has opted for the latter option, due to budget constraints.

Keep us informed!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds awful and you obviously have more patience than me. Been in similar situation and resorted to using flattery to get past the problem. I help the people set up the new pc for the problem in the house. They got the new stuff, all singing all dancing etc..they had in fiarness paid for it. I grab some spare parts and ram and beefed up, and cleaned up old faithful and did a small install of Ubuntu that worked. Everytime. It did the internet, skype, instant messaging, music, office stuff. Everytime.
No pop ups, no virus, no problem.

The windows which was very fast got slower and slower until it ground to a halt tied down by spybots other nasty things picked up in a short space of time.

In desperation though the flattery paid off and I left him with a live verison so he could just, er get on and use his posh pc and low and behold with a few modifications to suit their 'habits' they too now run Kubuntu ( not ubuntu... as I explained that they needed a 'high spec operating system' to go with their 'higher spec pc'

OK that was a little lie but they fell for it and now both use their pcs happy enough ...stick with them or run them as dual boot perhaps

Good luck

John and Dagny Galt said...

Been there, done that, done with that.

There is not enough of what we have and what we do, to benefit all the children...let alone ones with extreme potential.

Consequently, we pre-screen for all placements to completely avoid situations like this.

Honestly and sincerely, put everything back the way it was with profuse apologies and leave politely. Don't put a "do-not-touch" computer in-between these people, it will only escalate the headaches and heartaches.

Learn from this and pre-screen before placement.

Keep up the excellent work Ken, you are truly an angel amongst us!

Linux Forever,
John and Dagny Galt

ajlec2000 said...

Guys who bully grandmas tend to be cowards. He either wont be there or he'll be darn quiet while you are.

PiEp said...

Good luck when you go back out there, Ken. And please be careful. I agree with some of the other commenters that you should probably take an ex-commando friend with you.

I hope you get everything back in (Linux) order again.

On the bright side: I converted one friend's family computer to Linux Mint this weekend. The damn thing did not even boot again but to a blue screen. Chalk one up for Linux there!

Good luck...

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the trip back, be safe. Can't help thinking the kids have a raw deal...

Wonderful work Helios, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

How about installing and then removing the CD, the way banks and government agencies do in order to prevent viruses? The system may be too old to boot off an external CD drive, netboot or USB. Hopefully, mister troublemaker won't be clever enough to figure this out, and if all else fails, while you are there, ask their ISP to block his pr0n!!

JRaz said...

I really admire you commitment to this family. I am with the others in saying to be careful and do not go alone. I share the same feelings as you that the real losers here are the kids. It is a shame to see their potential slowed by the ignorance of one person.

Unknown said...

Good luck and let us know you have no injuries. Seriously.

Unknown said...

As others have said, Ken, and I certainly hope you already know, for God's sake be careful here, and not just for yourself. This is bigger than a computer. If you have a local domestic violence center or a women's center or something (a hotline, something), I suggest you stop by and have a very long and very serious talk with them before you go anyplace else.

I have read you for a long time although I never really leave comments, and I know (and admire) you as a person who works his ass off day and night to make things better. Don't make this worse.

Best wishes,

Unknown said...

As others have said, Ken, and I certainly hope you already know, for God's sake be careful here, and not just for yourself. This is bigger than a computer. If you have a local domestic violence center or a women's center or something (a hotline, something), I suggest you stop by and have a very long and very serious talk with them before you go anyplace else.

I have read you for a long time although I never really leave comments, and I know (and admire) you as a person who works his ass off day and night to make things better. Don't make this worse.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I bought a computer for my parents-in-law (retired) so they could stay in touch with their kids and email recepies, etc. After 2 years of going home (several 100 miles) to "fix" the computer (113 malware detections on 1 occasion) I figured out the problem was everybody was "helping Grandma" with her computer.
Installed Linux and have only gotten calls about how to do things--no more calls about things not working because of malware/virus's.
It contributes to Linux's success that nobody who was "helping Grandma" knows Linux enough to even install anything.
overall, a success, and peace reigns.