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February 02 Issue

James Skinner has a problem

Look, I’ve got these icons jumping about and some bastard in the Middle East is probably buying guns with my credit cards.

I had a choice of various subjects to write about for this month’s edition of Hacks ranging from Islamic fundamentalism creeping into the south of Spain to my old grandfather’s clock when I was suddenly stricken for the first time in my life. This diabolical last-quarter-of-the-XX-century invention known as the PC that I own in laptop form suddenly caught the 'flu. I was hit by a virus! It took me a while to discover it as I have as much knowledge about these machines as flying a kite to the moon. Many of you out there may be super experts but some of us downtrodden oldies still panic when we receive instructions like ‘System error number 23GTR44’ which translates into: ‘Your elbow hit the tab key and your unfinished message is in the bin, stupid!’ When I finally discovered it, the events that took place were right out of a scene from ‘The Out of Towners’.

To start with, I was trying to click on the top icons of a ‘Word’ page when they suddenly started jumping about. Sound familiar? Well it so happened that I had just returned a week ago from a medical check-up, a real one, and my quack during the ‘goodbye, come back in a year’s time’ chit chat told me that he had been having trouble with his laptop. You guessed! The icons on his machine had also been doing the same thing. This was not all. I opened Outlook Express to check my mail. I had two messages. The first was a Postmail and the second from a friend in Milton Keynes who simply said: ‘What the hell are you talking about!’ I looked at it as well as the undelivered one and promptly dropped my coffee mug. I had a bug. The creepy crawly had got into my files and randomly picked out some paragraphs from several folders and started sending them around the world. I shut the bastard down, let the coffee spill onto the floor, and after pouring myself a scotch went out onto the balcony of my flat to sulk. Now what?

Suddenly it hit me. Some of the information I had (yes I know! I shouldn’t keep this on the hardisk) stored were bank and credit card details. Christ! My Visa and MasterCard numbers are all over the world! I called the emergency phone number and was given first class customer service. ‘No problem, sir. They’ll be cancelled right away. Your balance has not been changed. Have a nice day!’

I now have no cards until the postman arrives later on in the week. I then called a Spanish friend who knows something about computers. Typical answer from the inhabitants of this part of Europe. ‘No problem’, he tells me. ‘Pop down to your newspaper vendor and look for a computer magazine that offers ‘virus cleaners’ as CD freebees. Load it into your PC and follow the instructions. That’ll do’. I did just that and I guess you know the rest. These offers are for downloading from the Internet ‘before’ you have a problem. Or at least that’s my story.

Sod it! I trotted off to the nearest computer shop, which by the way, is not easy to find in my hometown of Vigo and asked the salesman for ‘something’ to help me cure my laptop. I got the usual sales pitch of gobbledegook. ‘Look, I’ve got these icons jumping about and some bastard in the Middle East is probably buying guns with my credit cards. I haven’t a clue what the disease is called. Help me!’ Without giving away copyright information, I paid 60.04 Euros and trotted back home, pleased as ‘Punch’ with my digital antibiotic kit. After reading all the bits and pieces of literature that came with the CD I had a go at loading it up. No such look. The bug was too clever. My laptop kept freezing up. I called my friend again.

This time the answer was quite different. A sombre computer expert for years he simply advised me to revert back to my ‘backup’ CD and reload all the operational software. I know, I know! I lost all my files and other programs but such is life. I cried again; after another scotch of course! End of story? No way! Curtain opens on scene II. Where is the bloody CD?

I looked everywhere. I have had over a dozen PC’s (I know, I should by now know more about them) and umpteen number of brochures, handbooks, cassettes and all the other paraphernalia that is hidden inside the boxes when you first purchase one of these beasts. Spread out in several closets, I started my panic search for the hidden CD that would save my life. I remembered that my friend had also told me that the virus would probably be eating it’s way to the chore of the hard disk and end up by destroying the whole damn thing. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I found everything, repeat everything else but not the retched backup CD. By now, Johnny Walker’s Red Label was turning pink. Think you jerk, think!

My small suitcase, that’s it! Of course. When I had returned to Spain from Falmouth some six months ago, I had put my laptop in an old small suitcase to travel back across the Bay of Biscay on the P&O ferry, ‘Pride of Bilbao’. I had placed the CD in a side pocket and stored the case back in the attic of the building. God, I hope my wife hasn’t cleaned out the place and thrown the damn thing away! I rushed upstairs, found the case and low and behold there it was. Saved at last, or at least that is what I thought.

Scene III. I start the PC. Let it warm up. It takes its time. Presto. ‘Houston, I have contact!’ I press the ‘open button’ on the CD tray, I hear clicking sounds and nothing happens! It won’t open. I promise I am telling the truth, the absolute truth and nothing but the truth. The tray just wouldn’t open! I call my friend again. By this time I’m sure he’s about to come over from his office and beat my brains out but he patiently listens and the gives me the ‘one-two’. ‘Turn the machine off. Then take a small pin and insert it in a tiny hole next to the button of the CD tray and push. It will click open’. He then hung up.

It worked. I now have a rejuvenated PC, loaded up with my old programs as well as my Internet access capabilities. I’m a born again computer Christian and ready to go. By the way, I’ve enrolled in the town council’s free computer course for ‘Senior citizens’.
© James Skinner. April 2002.

Our Jim at sea - the CD isn't out there pal.

(Now if you'd just come over and fix our printer Jim - Ed)

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