Monday, July 09, 2007

Uncle Jack Pays Me a Visit

I doubt that anyone has noticed, but I haven’t been spewing my godless propaganda here for almost two weeks. That’s because I’ve been in CompuCrazyLand.

To follow this story, you have to know a few facts on background:

  1. My PC laptop dates approximately back to the time when Ken Ham’s great-grandfather was romping in the field with velociraptors. It has always had insufficient RAM to run both Windows and a decent virus checker, so my security protection has been about as effective as prayer. A few years ago, part of the CD-ROM drive was called up in the rapture; I can write to disks, but I can’t read any that aren’t originals. To remedy this lack, I’ve told myself thousands of times to buy a thumb drive “the next time I’m in WalMart,” but in three years I’ve always managed to get sidetracked in the candy aisle. So whenever I’ve needed a saved backup document, I’ve gone to my wife’s computer, loaded my CD-ROM with the files I hadn’t updated for at least six months, and sent myself the thing as an email attachment.

  2. I’ve gone out of my way not to keep up with the latest products available in the electronomarket. My favorite personal computer ever was my little 8K Vector, one of the many hurriedly assembled Asian brands that were carried only by discount stores in which the sales force spent their lunch hours practicing English. The Vector ran a WordStar clone and a VisiCalc wannabe, and operated under a DOS-like system the sole purpose of which seemed to be the generation of unintelligible error messages. My proudest accomplishment was writing a BASIC program that prompted the user for his or her name and a number from 1 to 3,000. Let’s say your name was “Lou” and your number was 537. The screen then returned the message: “Ave Lou. Your number in Roman numerals is DXXXVII.”

  3. Unless I’m in a book store, I don’t have the patience to shop. My wife picked out our house, our car, every major appliance that we own, and most of my clothes. Which probably explains why I hate our house, our car, our major appliances, and most of my clothes (but not the 100 or so T-shirts with pockets, all of which I love, except for the lime green ones). My wife refuses to recommend a new computer for me because she’s angry about my continuing negativity toward the uncomfortable lounge chair she bought two years ago. I always tell people that it came from the Ugly Furniture Warehouse.
Anyway, on Thursday, June 28, my computer apparently got religion. First, it refused to allow me to surf the Atheosphere. In the cyber equivalent of multiple born-again epiphanies, the screen would freeze for three or four minutes, and then suddenly wipe itself clean only to be replaced by some program I hadn’t used since 1999. The rebaptized software would start itself, flicker on and off annoyingly for a while, accomplish absolutely nothing of value while preventing me from making any progress, and then crawl back into the Church of Storage whence it came. I diagnosed the problem: the machine was possessed by the ghost of an evangelical.

I decided the Internet was “down.” I don’t even know what I meant by that, but by way of a control test, I tried calling up my word processing program. It answered the summons pretty much the way my cats respond when I shout their names: with a blank stare.

Since I’m scrupulous about backing up my files, I had only about seven hundred work-related documents that were uncopied onto anything salvageable if my laptop crashed. I pleaded with my computer not to do anything rash until I returned from WalMart. For the first time ever, I took a reluctant detour around the sweets section and actually found myself with a spanking new 1-gig thumb drive in my hand. To be honest, I also grabbed a Snickers at the checkout counter.

When I got home, my machine belched and farted and limped slowly in random patterns. It had turned into my Uncle Jack. So my diagnosis that the machine had become a right-wing Christian fanatic was incorrect; instead, it was an orthodox Jew.

Uncle Jack took more than an hour to transfer my files. He might have been reading the Machine Code from left to right instead of from right to left. Maybe he had to make sure that every byte was kosher.

Having saved my files, I ran a System Restore to three days in the past. Running that procedure under slow-mo circumstances is like showing a crotchety old man his picture from twenty years ago. It doesn’t help anything; it just gets him pissed off. Yup, it was definitely Uncle Jack.

I analyzed my files to see if they were mostly contiguous, and discovered that over half of them were three states away. So I defragged, which sounds much more titillating than it is. This procedure, in stop-time, took approximately twelve hours. When it was finished, at eight-thirty the next morning, my files, even though they had little in common with one another, were as close as they could be without having sex. But they still couldn’t do anything useful. Now I had Uncle Jack and Aunt Helen.

I decided that a virus was the culprit. To prove it to myself, I returned to WalMart and purchased another Snickers and a serious but user-friendly virus checker, the kind that analyzes any invasive bugs, cleans out the alien spawn (or Uncle Jack, as the case may be), wipes the computer’s behind, and gives it a prescription — no questions asked — for recreational pharmaceuticals. After thirty-one hours, it had checked only about four thousand files, approximately one zillionth of the crap living in the guts of the machine. During that whole time, it found one suspicious cookie which turned out to be harmless. Meanwhile, I had managed to find a whole box of cookies, every one of which I ate. They’ll probably kill me eventually.

OK. I’ll abbreviate this part of the story. Packed up my computer and visited a compugeek friend who had a program to get rid of my hard drive’s virtual partition. Spent an hour searching for the disk, which we finally found buried among a collection of cat toys. Departitioned. Congratulated ourselves with some liquid refreshment. Reformatted. Congratulated ourselves again with a refill. Loaded my very old, bare-bones copy of Windows XP. Hit the booze for a third time. Couldn’t get my brand X wireless card to work at his house. Packed up my computer and wobbled home. Couldn’t get the card to work there either. Remembered I needed Service Pack 2 to make the damn thing go, but, of course, could not download anything from the Internet, since — duh! — my wireless card wasn’t working. Moved my computer into my wife’s cluttered office to hook it directly up to the modem and access Spent an hour clearing a path to the Modem. Connected. Hours passed. Finally, completely loaded the appropriate upgrade — as well as every other program Bill Gates chose to throw my way. Returned computer to my office and installed my new virus checker. Ran the obligatory full system scan. Found out that Windows Operating System, downloaded from Microsoft’s own site, was virus-free. Not enough evidence to class that as a miracle. Tried brand X wireless card again. Fuck me. Back to WalMart for a real brand and yet another Snickers. Came home and got connected. Drank a celebratory beer. Reinstalled software, including the programs I hadn’t used since 1999. Recreated dozens of folders. Transferred backed up files to their original places. Decided I didn’t like the organization and drew a mock-up of a filing cabinet. Hated the mock-up and threw it away. Created new folders at random. Transferred files, one-by-one, from old inefficient organization to new inefficient organization. Downloaded Firefox to use as my browser instead of Internet Explorer, mainly just to spite Bill Gates. Ran the full system scan again to see if Bill had taken revenge. Files were still OK. Drank a toast to them.

For half an hour things were going great. Then Uncle Jack returned.

He refused to do any work. I couldn’t understand why he was on strike, because it wasn’t Shabbos. But then I thought about Uncle Jack’s last years. He had kept the no-work Sabbath rules even when his memory had gone completely and he didn’t know what day it was. Aunt Helen used to circle each date on the calendar as it came up, but Uncle Jack would forget to look. For him, it was always Shabbos.

And then, suddenly, I realized how to fix Uncle Jack. He needed more memory.

Sensing a shopping opportunity, my wife went to work on Google. Soon, a couple of RAM chips were winging their way to me via FEDEX. The next day, I was up-and-running again, as you can see. My computer is once more a healthy atheist. And so am I.


John P said...

All it needed was a little RAM?

I would have turned it into a boat anchor long before you figured Uncle Jack was back. But I have no patience for things mechanical.

tobe38 said...

I did miss you, but it was almost worth it for that highly entertaining tale of "computer Hell". Welcome back!

The Exterminator said...

If I'd only had a boat, I could have followed your preferred course of action and saved myself nearly two weeks of frenzy. Why, oh why, did I spend all my money on fancy chocolates instead of a yacht?

Yeah, I was definitely in Computer Hell. On the gateway is a sign that reads: "Abandon hope, ye who press 'Enter'."

yinyang said...

You told that story in an amusing way for something that sounded so frustrating.

Anyway, I am sort of glad that you've been gone, because I haven't had to do that much more catch-up... but then again, you don't write as much as some others I could mention (Friendly Atheist, for one). But, it's good to have you back.

anti-nonsense said...

I would have thrown the computer out the window a week ago if I'd been in your place.

TW said...

That was a brilliant post! I am glad you got it solved in the end and I am fairly sure that everyone who ones a piece of crap^H^H^H^H technology has gone through a similar event.

Now I know, when my pc next decided to take a wander into the realms of randomness, it has converted to Judaism!