Last spring I bought a laptop for this adventure. I wanted something with a smaller size and weight. At 2.76lbs with a 13” screen, the Dell Chromebook 13 seemed like a good choice. One of the major downsides to Chromebooks, however, is that most of their functions are only available with internet access. That’s why I decided to install Linux overtop of Chromium, so that with a switch of a few buttons, I could have all the normal desktop functions I might want. The installation last spring was successful. In the months following, I had plenty of internet and no reason to switch over.
In Vancouver, I wanted to show M my Linux desktop. I switched over and was asked for the password. Password? What password did I use to set it up? It stumped me. I tried a few of my main rotation ones and nothing went through. Neither would it let me switch back to Chromium, whose password I knew well. I tried again the next day with variations on my regular passwords, but I was stuck.
With just a week to go before leaving the country, what was I going to do if I couldn’t open my computer? I checked with my brother, who explained that Linux isn’t user-friendly enough to have an easy solution for the problem. I checked Craigslist for used computers in the area. And finally, I checked and found that there would be a Meetup group of Linux users on my 3rd day in Seattle.
That’s how I found myself at the Red Door Alehouse scanning the tables for a collection of laptops. C and T joined me for support and we went over to introduce ourselves. There were only two members present despite the 14 who rsvp’d. Two more came later on. The leader was out that day, so another member took up the lead.
I explained my situation. “Basically, you want us to hack into your computer?” “Yes.” “And you’re not from the FBI?” “No.” Satisfied with my answer, they went to work. I asked the semi-lead guy whether he thought it would be possible. “If you have the physical computer in front of you, you can do anything with that machine,” he explained, typing mysterious commands into the Crosh bar. He pulled out a USB drive shaped like a key and slipped it into the port.
I had figured out enough of Linux to install it. That night I found that I had only dipped my toe in the vast ocean of this operating system. The semi-lead guy asked questions about what I had done, but it was like he was speaking in a different language. Around me, I heard jokes about sudo. Someone else asked about the most effective way to destroy the data on a computer. “You mean besides torching it?”
Several times during the night I apologized for all the trouble. But as I watched him work, it became clear that this challenge was a kind of thrill. I had come to the right place.
“Now we’re getting somewhere!” my hacker exclaimed. We all crowded around and watched the final steps. He turned the keyboard toward me and said it was time to enter a new password. “Really? You did it???” I was so grateful. My computer was free again!