The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Want My Help...? Take The Test.

 My friend and colleague Carla Schroder made a statement a few years back that invoked my best John Belushi imitation.  I only raised an eyebrow because as statements go, it seemed pretty silly if not outright insulting.

"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'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".

He was confusing the act of "downloading" with "installing".  He was chapped because graboid.exe wouldn't install.  This after a 90 minute instruction session explaining that Windows apps do not run natively on Linux.  In the first place, we do not place these computers so the parents can download pirated movies and music. In the second place, we give these computers to the children, not the parents.

 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 told him in no uncertain terms that the computer we gave his daughter is her property and that his only interaction with that computer was to insure her safe and monitored use of the machine.  I informed him that as her dad, he most certainly had the right to see what she was doing on it but from a legal standpoint, he could not alter the contents or operating system of that computer, nor could he deny her the use of the machine to complete her school work.

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...

All-Righty Then...



Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful person! I only hope you don't end up with being the abused person in this story, or some other.


Paul Sams said...

Ken; brilliant.

Brian Kemp said...

An even better solution than I would have thought of. Bravo, Ken, on taking the high ground.

Thomas A. Knight said...

It's stories like this that remind me exactly why I support you and your program Ken.

You'll be happy to know that thanks to your help, and the help of all the wonderful people that have purchased it, The Time Weaver is not sitting in the top 5% of Amazon's sales rankings.

In reality, this doesn't amount to tremendous sales. But it does mean that at the end of the month, there will me money to send you.

Keep doing what you do Ken, You're doing an amazing job!

Thomas A. Knight said...

And I just spotted this...

The Time Weaver is NOW sitting in the top 5%. :)

gagy said...

Well, well!
I am impressed by your hard learned psychology. In spite of your frustration you found the right answer to this spiny problem. I hope the kid will continue and profit from it.
You have courage and insight.
Thank you and bravo!

Anonymous said...

it dawned on me that The Solution to this problem sat upon my desk, three minutes from my house.

So that new Asus was your personal netbook?

PV said...

Every time you presented a problem in the making, I thought of a potential mundane (sometimes even scaredy-cat-like) solution. Then I saw what you actually did. That. Is. Genius.
Keep up the amazing work!
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Unknown said...

Good on you Ken, grace under fire.

Anonymous said...

"He isn't my dad."

I grew up in an abusive household and I post here a lot so I prefer to do so anonymously this time but only to emphasize the bold point. It took a lot of courage for that tiny little girl to blurt out "He's not my dad"

I physically felt her fear as I read this and helios measured this one correctly, he is an abusive man and the fact that she almost ran in the room on his command indicates it.

Your presence obviously empowers this girl helios and I thank you, for all the little girls who are bullied by livein boyfriends. Now all I can hope is for mom to kick the *%#&*&# jerk out.

And thank you for caring enough to go and confront the situation Ken. That might just have been a life-changing moment.

Unknown said...

"So that new Asus was your personal netbook?"

Yes it was.

Jeff Smith said...

You're a legend mate. Kudos from Oz.

gus3 said...

Geez, Ken, that got my blood pumping in a way few things do this early in the morning.

After this encounter, perhaps you should also carry some business cards with contact info for police departments, shelters, domestic abuse victims' agencies...

Anonymous said...

"He isn't my dad."

As I'm also a registered reader/poster, I'm instead posting anonymously due to content.

Given the descriptions in the story, yeah, the guy is a loser. But, just because someone is your parent doesn't make them a good parent, and just because someone is not your parent doesn't make them a loser.

Our mother slapped us around for everything from behaving badly to just making stupid kid mistakes to the point that I could never even try anything for the fear of failing and getting hit again. I spend most of my time at friends' houses who had parents that were much better parents to me than my own.

I go out of the way to give my kids opportunities to do new things and let them learn from their mistakes. I'm amazed at the things they know and can accomplish that I never could, and they're not even 8 yrs old.

I think people should take tests before they can drive a car, use a computer, or be parents.

dinotrac said...

Good one, Ken.

I feel for that little girl, but not just because of the bully boyfriend.

There are two people hurting that child.

The abusive boyfriend is so common today that it's become a cliche, and it only happens because mothers allow it.

It's to weep.

Anonymous said...

The mother is enabling this bully boyfriend. I wouldn't shed a tear should this guy fall down some stairs or randomly disappear. I know that sounds awful, but these types of men are a plague on our society.

nightflier said...

There should be a reality series about Ken. Seriously!

Anonymous said...


You never cease to amaze me, or anyone for that matter.


Anonymous said...

Great job Ken!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful tale of triumph - you made me cry...!!! How much do you want to bet that 20 years from now, that little girl will still remember you and what you did for her...

Anonymous said...

Ken, you have just won one of my rare $100.00 You deserve it awards. Enjoy, and may the God of Heaven & Earth bless you with all that you need to continue the great work you're doing.

Joe Harwell

Anonymous said...

Let me chime in with a woman's perspective here as I have been in the exact same shoes as this woman.

First off, she has probably set her self up for failure like this time after time, relationship-wise. I would bet that she is one of the ones that call the police when he beats her then fights them tooth and nail when they try to take him away. THEN she spends the rent money to bail him out.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Her life becomes a revolving door of bad partner choices and trips to the emergency room. I saw so much of myself in this woman that it brought back some extremely bad memories.

She can grow past this though...hopefully in time that it doesn't permanently scar that little child.

Ellie Francis

Anonymous said...

Wow, as just another traveler in this universe,


Anonymous said...

"Abusive" would be a nice word to describe my biological father. I wont go through all the things that has happened a long time ago but to give you some clue, it's just damn luck that I'm still around writing this. For some reason I wasn't sleeping in my own bed one night when he tried to shoot my mom, missed, and the bullet went through the wall to my room and over my bed.

My step dad was a woman beater too and not much better towards me and my little brother. Still, better than my real dad. This didn't stop until I grew up enough to realize that these things doesn't happen because of me or my brother and could physically fight back. During that time I regularly saw one spesific nightmare of what my biological father had done in the past (he beat up my mom unconscious while I was kept in the other room by another person). For 8 years I woke up in tears and covered in sweat.

So yes, there are scars. Bad ones. Those scars have also ripped apart and started bleeding again.

People ask me why I don't like christmas. I just say that because I haven't ever had one but I don't continue to say why. That is why.

Ken: What you have done sounds christmas to me.

Welsh Pixie said...

You're a fantastic man. The world needs more people like you. I can't express how much respect I feel towards you after reading this post (let alone knowing about the Helios project and what you're doing with it). Dagnabbit, hang on, I think I got some dust in my eyes or something... *runs away to grab a tissue*

Anonymous said...

Now that little girl knows for sure, if she didn't already, that there are mature males who are very unlike the senseless violent idiot who swiped her computer - blokes who are not only nicer and more fun but also stronger and tougher than the idiots.

It would be nice to think that she'll keep that in mind when she's looking around for a partner herself.

An all-round excellent job.

Anonymous said...

I'll post as an anonymous coward this time. As somebody said above, because of content. Since all the relevant action here took place under the assumption that the guy was the girl's dad. Lets assume that he is.

Is he really abusive? A wife beater. Did anything he did really rise to the level of wife beating or abuse?

Stupid definitely, abusive? I don't think so.

Ken certainly had the right to take the computer back and he did the right thing. I just question the labeling of a human being as a monster on evidence such as this.

Anyway I may be so liberal that I'm blue but in my house nothing comes in that I and my wife don't have absolute and unrestricted right to modify or essentially do with as we please.

Our kids understand that. Its our duty of care as parents. If someone gives them a gift we don't like, it goes. If some one gives them money we decide what it is permissible to spend it on and we lay down that they must save some of it.

I'll have to look at that Texas law because it's incredible to me that my minor child can have property in my house that I can not alter or or get rid off.

Frankly I would rather they had no computer than establish the principle that its their computer and I have no right to it.

That principle of parental responsibility, duty and care is more important than a computer.

Of course some parents abuse that principle. But the principle stands nontheless.

But I want to end by saying Ken does awesome stuff with Helios and I certainly don't want to detract from this. I don't know that I could do what he does!


Dave - Kent, England said...

Ken, if I was closer I would come round and shake your hand, bravo. Unfortunately I'm over 3000 miles away and have had my faith in the human race restored this morning, thank you.

Gavin said...

Anonymouse #12 - "I'll have to look at that Texas law because it's incredible to me that my minor child can have property in my house that I can not alter or or get rid off."

If I recall correctly (disclaimer: I am not a lawyer) there is a Federal law in the U.S. that protects certain types of assets owned by minors. This law, or group of laws, was put into effect nearly a century ago when child actors first started earning large wages for movies and such, and it turned out that the parents were squandering it like it was their own money. The courts ruled that since the parents did not earn the money themselves, it was not theirs to spend. As I recall, money was not the only property that could be fully owned by minors.

Gavin said...

An interesting and emotionally-charged story. It never ceases to amaze me, Ken, how utterly restrained you are in these situations. If I had been there, I may have been tempted to ask the girl to go into her room for an hour or so while I teach her not-dad what bullying REALLY means... ;)

Scott M said...

This sort of thing would be a pretty decent argument for biometric authentication, and at the very least, password-protected BIOS & boot to prevent others from modifying anything relating to the system.

It's just a shame you'd have to protect a child's computer from others in her household.

JRaz said...

Wow Ken. You are a wise brave caring soul. Bless you and the work you do.