Thursday, January 15, 2009

Viruses: A Dramatic Miniseries

Viruses are tiny little microbes made up of a protective coating encasing some genetic material. They wreak havoc on our lives by causing everything from annoying colds to horrible, devastating epidemics. As is all too common this time of year, an annoying virus has infected our family with cold symptoms that flattened even George, who has the healthiest immune system I know. The most annoying virus in our house right now, however, resides on my laptop in the form of a Trojan malware program…bits of code encased in a protective coating that makes them very, very hard to remove. George and I will get better with rest and fluids, but my laptop must die before it can function again.

Oh, the tragedy of it all.

This has happened before. A few years ago, George fought valiantly to clear the laptop of another mischievous virus, spending $120 and three hours on the phone with Tech Support Guy in India. George and TSG talked a lot about Indian food—one of George’s many culinary fascinations. Apparently TSG’s mother makes a mean naan, which was nice to know but didn’t help with the virus infecting our computer. The scariest thing about the call to India was how TSG took over our computer from the other side of the planet and made all sorts of stuff happen on the screen while neither of us touched a thing. It was freaky to watch, and when TSG finished working his magic, he assured us that the computer was free of the virus and good to go.

He lied. His naan-making mother should be ashamed.

In the end, George had to kill the hard drive by reformatting it and then resurrect it by reloading all the software. This brutal necessity eliminated all the customizing I’d done to make the computer work happily for me. My favorites, my wall paper, and my desktop all disappeared during reformatting, replaced by a clean slate of empty potential waiting to be re-customized to work happily for me…again. At least George managed to save my address book.

Last weekend, Norton Anti-Virus flashed a notice that my computer had been attacked. Initially, Norton claimed to have blocked the attack, but then all sorts of stuff started going screwy, and when I tried to run a full-system Norton scan, the computer shut down all by itself. When it restarted, there were icky pornography icons on my desktop. George saw them first and asked if I’d been surfing bisexual porn again. I slapped the back of his bald head (he flinched before I moved, so he was expecting it and I just hate to disappoint him). I then asked him to please get that crap off my computer. The porn came off the desktop pretty easily, but that wasn’t the end of the problem.

The virus apparently disabled Norton’s connection to its website so it couldn’t automatically update, and then I got a pop-up to buy some spyware cleaning program that wasn’t a Norton product. Huh? This pop-up sort of took over, installed itself on my task bar, and wouldn’t go away despite being ordered off. Don’t you hate it when an unwelcome guest won’t leave?

Norton Anti-Virus dislikes not being able to communicate with the mother ship so it kept flashing messages telling me there was a problem and giving impossible-to-follow directions to fix said problem. That’s when I contacted Norton’s tech support for a little online chat.

Is there really a person at the other end of an online chat? I always wonder this. Someone or something typed his or its name—something unpronounceable that looked Indian, so maybe it was the same TSG from a few years ago—but for all I know he/it was HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry, Susan, but I can’t do that…not until you send me your credit card number and $99.99.”

Not again.

When I explained that we’d reformat the hard drive ourselves and that, thank you, no, he/it couldn’t have my credit card number, he/it replied with several scripted paragraphs (no doubt originally written by a native English speaker in the marketing department) explaining how inconvenient it would be for us to reformat, how we would lose all our data and files, how much time it would take to find our program disks and load them back onto the computer, how he would provide expert service without us having to lift a finger, yada, yada, yada.

Don’t you love that little button on the screen labeled “End Chat”?

What sort of person invents these viruses and why? Obviously, these mad hackers are smart and talented; they are very, very good at writing programs that exploit any weakness anywhere. If they turned their talents to legitimate use, our world would be a much nicer place. Instead, they positively delight in making more trouble in the world by disrupting innocent people’s lives, stealing information or money from them, wasting their time, upsetting them. I’m not normally a violent or vindictive person, but honestly, if the inventor of this infection on my computer were tied up in front of me, I’d smear him or her in honey and set loose the army ants. God help me, I’d relish his/her suffering.

Okay, maybe not. But I’d certainly send his/her butt to jail. Forever. With no internet access, no computer access, no tech device of any kind so there would be no chance for repeat offense. Instead, I sit staring at my sick computer with impotent rage. Mad hackers – 1; Susan – 0.

I hate losing.

Now, I’m waiting for George to reformat my hard drive because it’s much better to play helpless in these situations and let more confident, knowledgeable people deal with the problem. In the meantime, I’m using his computer, which is fine as far as it goes, but it runs on Vista and looks weird to me.

In my continuing research on the human brain, I’ve read about how things that are familiar…things like my laptop with Windows XP…actually make human brains happy. When the familiar changes, however, human brains feel wildly wrong-footed and unhappy. Eventually, brains adapt to change pretty well, but they are highly annoyed when forced to do so.

My brain is currently annoyed. It also has PMS. And a cold. And my IP server is down this morning and I can’t read all the blogs I subscribe to or check the forums at Splitcoast or upload all the photos of my cards I took yesterday to my gallery there. Can a brain explode from annoyance? I suspect our nice, hard skulls keep that from happening, but the pressure’s got to come out somehow. That’s probably why people put their fists through drywall.

Instead of hitting something that might break a knuckle, hurt really bad, and require a visit to the ER, I think I’ll go take a nice, familiar shower. Then maybe I’ll take my annoyed brain to Barnes and Noble for some retail therapy and a mocha….

Ooooh, what a lovely plan. My brain is feeling better already.

B&N was delightful, and Gloria, the nice CafĂ© manager, made me a yummy mocha. But when George tried to reformat my hard drive this morning, the computer died completely and cannot be resurrected by boot disk or any other recovery method known to George or the geeky websites he visited from his computer for tips. He suspects that the hard drive itself went bad—it may have been going bad for a while now, and this just pushed it over the edge.

I’m very sad right now, but when I have a new computer up and running, I suspect my brain will get over my loss rather quickly, seeing as the laptop was four years old and obsolete anyway. My fear now is that my thumb drive is infected with the virus. What I’ve written of my book and several blog essays reside on the thumb drive right now. Death by ants is too good for these criminals.

No new computer yet as I am completely paralyzed with indecision over what to buy and when and where to buy it. George usually makes these decisions after I tell him how much to spend (I’m the Minister of Finance in the Raihala Republic), but I think he’s still overwhelmed by his decision to buy a treadmill last month and is tired of my acting all helpless in this matter when he knows good and well that I’m not.

How can the economy be tanking so badly when we’re spending like crazy here?

Anyway, I’m still using George’s computer, which is fine during the day when he’s at work but not so fine at night after the kids are in bed and we both want to plug in, so to speak. I’ll grow a backbone soon and make a decision, but in the meantime, I’m just ticked off by the whole situation. George has fully recovered from his own cold virus and is ridiculously perky, while my wimpy immune system is still struggling with an overabundance of phlegm and shortage of computers. It’s just not fair, not fair, NOT FAIR!

Will someone please give me some cheese to go with that whine?

Smoked gouda would be nice.

To be continued....

1 comment:

  1. I am feeling your pain. My computer also had issues this week and my hard drive is dead too. I also am working on my husband's computer, which isn't working for me. All the camera software is/was on my computer. Best of luck to you on getting the new computer.


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