12/21–The Interview: One-on-One with Kim Jong-un
8/3–VIDEO: Has time run out for Laskin?
3/16–VIDEO: G-rated list of 5 reasons to hire older workers
1/30–VIDEO: I'm Scheduled to Die August 1, 2014
11/19–VIDEO: In which Mr. Laskin takes on Mr. Lincoln
11/2–VIDEO: Rapp Story redux -- an explanation of sorts
10/21–VIDEO: The Rapp Story
9/12–VIDEO: The scariest profession in the world. Really?
7/4–VIDEO: Finally, a movie review without ever seeing the movie
4/18–VIDEO: The 7 words George Carlin would never have used
2/28–VIDEO: Sequester that credit card!
1/16–VIDEO: Don gets the word
10/31–The day social media died
8/6–VIDEO: The secret to viral videos
5/31–We all agree on this, right?
4/5–What's stealing? Really? Me? Shirley, you jest
1/19–VIDEO: The other Goldilocks story
12/11–VIDEO: Accomplishments? Or credentials?
11/7–VIDEO: A few minutes with Don Laskin on Andy Rooney
9/11–VIDEO: The hidden meaning of printer ink expiration dates
8/3–VIDEO: I am a Negro
5/24–VIDEO: It’s the end of the world as we know it
4/11–VIDEO: Return of the Avatar – with handy tips for finding a job
2/28–VIDEO: Laskin names names
2/10–VIDEO: Return of blower man
2/8–VIDEO: The threat of hippos -- and leaf blowers
1/11–VIDEO: Don as you've never seen him before
11/8–AUDIO: Hating the rich. Well, some of them, at least
10/17–VIDEO: He's not sleeping, he's making an important decision
10/1–What Amelia Earhart has to do with marketing management
8/25–AUDIO: The Mosque Ox
8/23–AUDIO: Why Meg Whitman needs to talk with Don en espanol
7/12–VIDEO: Don Laskin gets a spokes-thing
6/21–VIDEO: Why webinars are a waste of time
6/1–VIDEO: Has Don sold his soul to the Devil?
5/23–VIDEO: A message to, well, you know who you are
5/14–VIDEO: Twit, Tweet, Twitter?
5/5–Don unloads on Google
2/24–The sweatsuit answer to Kaiser, or Medicare Part The Deux
2/16–What's wrong with Kaiser?
12/4–What’s as rare as a Raiders touchdown? Laskin knows
10/19–Why Dave prefers vanilla
10/1–God's will -- and other reasons
8/17–AUDIO: Hierarchy of stupid
5/25–AUDIO: Some calm words about a world in PANIC!!
4/28–AUDIO: Why CEOs can ignore everything – except Facebook
4/6–With friends like these…
1/19–When perception is reality -- except when it isn't
12/9–AUDIO: Chased by the devil
10/29–AUDIO: Sine qua non a rant it would not be Don
10/20–AUDIO: Joe the writer, er, Don
10/2–AUDIO: Perp Walk Inc.
2/25–AUDIO: Why people put up with crummy jobs
2/10–AUDIO: Making clients money with advertising
1/2–Tiny weiners on toothpicks
12/19–AUDIO: Don improves with age, he says
12/6–AUDIO: Why telecommuting gardeners are needed
10/1–Don Laskin – Almost human?
7/8–Counting, if not connecting, the dots
5/3–Is your advertising stuck in a silo? So is Don
2/5–It's deja vu all over again for Don
9/10–Observations: Laskin faced end with courage
7/14–Observations Why Don Laskin’s ex-boss hiked up her skirt
6/16–Observations They're baaaack! And don't say you weren't warned
4/28–Be careful what you wish for
4/17–Did somebody just say something?
3/8–Laskin makes his first annual “Moron of the Month” Award*
2/15–Our man Laskin reports from a UFO
1/30–Laskin pioneers podcast idea
1/11–Veteran podcaster Don Laskin offers advice
1/3–The Logic of Illogic (Part 2)
11/15–An easy death
7/14–Making a Better Than Human Human
7/4–A tool of capitalism
6/26–Position Heal thyself. -- Plus: Useful information. For real. No kidding
6/25–Life is Like a box of chocolates with no “i” in team
5/15–A $1,000 fine and five days in jail
4/23–Is spending money on advertising a waste?
LETTERS FROM LASKIN
An easy death
by Don Laskin
November 15, 2005
Is death extreme?
Maybe. But not extreme enough. Not for the geek psychopaths and sociopaths who create viruses and spyware. And, not for the corporate execs who find ways to turn a profit spreading them. But, I’ll get into that later if you’re not already aware — or Adware.
Am I serious?
Am I nuts?
In Vietnam thirty years ago, I was perfectly capable of killing people I had never met and bore no enmity. Based on those feelings, I’d have no compunction offing these (choose your own adjective and expletive). Is that crazy? If it is, this is how I came to go banana whackies. In case you’re wondering, that’s the clinical term for going crackers.
Everything, including me, went over the edge Friday a little after noon. I came home sweaty and exhausted from my first exercise in months. Did I tell you about my messed up Achilles tendon? No? Consider yourself lucky. I complained to just about everybody else.
Anyway, all I was looking forward to was getting off my feet and cooling off. Suddenly my daughter burst into my reverie imploring me to do something about her laptap. The start button and icons had vanished.
Like any good parent whose kid comes to him with a computer problem, I panic – usually. But, this time, I assumed she’d input a key combination that hid everything but the wallpaper. In what was so long ago it feels like another incarnation, I was happily pounding away at the keyboard on one of the first computers I ever used. In the middle of editing a paragraph every letter I typed began eating the next. At that rate, like Sisyphus, I’d be done writing about noon of never.
After a half hour exploring Microsoft Word Help, I gave up and called tech support. The problem turned out to be my pinky. It had brushed against ins, turning on the insert key, causing what I was typing to eat (replace) the copy that was already there. Tapping ins again turned the insert key off. I assumed my daughter had done something similar, so all I had to do was find the right key, tap it, and that would be that.
Now, I don’t know a lot about a lot of things and computers are one of the things I don’t know a lot about. One thing I do know is to keep all the documentation where I can lay my hands on it fast. All key codes are in a notebook along with passwords, tech support numbers and contact information for a good psychiatrist and person of the cloth. And, it doesn’t matter the religion. They just have to be in good with God and able to bear God’s name in vain often and with genuine emotion.
I flipped through the manual till I found trouble-shooting. It was there I learned if you don’t press on, the computer doesn’t boot up. Since the computer was already booted up, I had a hunch the problem was elsewhere. Unfortunately the manual didn’t have word one about missing start buttons or lost icons. The only other advice it offered was to hit ctrl, alt, delete to bring up task manager. I did. It did.
Task manager let me see that my daughter’s data was alive and well. Microsoft Office was working. I was even able to get online. From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my daughter. The look on her face made me believe she believed I knew what I was doing. I thought the kid knew better. But, I’ll take all the adoration I can get. She is a teenager and knows even more than I did when I was a teenager. So, buoyed by this early success, I headed for www.microsoft.com.
I don’t know about you (especially if you use a Mac), but Microsoft’s Web site makes me feel like an ant on an elephant. There are gray areas in every direction. Not only did I not know which way to go to get where I wanted to go, I didn’t know where I wanted to go and wasn’t sure that if I got there I’d know where there was.
Faced with this uncertainty, the obvious thing was a site search. But, what do you search for? How do you explain to a GIGO-challenged (Geekspeak for Garbage In Garbage Out) search engine that stuff was suddenly missing from a laptop’s desktop? With low expectations I typed “MISSING START NO ICONS DESKTOP.”
Shazaam — I used another word. But, with the proper inflection, it meant shazaam. — I ended up with a bunch of articles that had to do with icons and missing starts. Here were answers: pages and pages and pages and pages of answers. In the annals of recorded history there were never so many answers…to anything. In fact there were so many answers they begged for questions. But, I only had one…What the hell do I do now?
There were answers alright, but I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I needed a Canadian.
Of course, I didn’t know I needed a Canadian. I only found that out after calling HP Tech support. There was Ginger. Confident… young… Canadian. By the time we finished, she was just young and Canadian, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ginger told me to load the Windows XP-Pro CD, shut down then reboot. BUT to make sure that before Windows booted up all the way to hit ESC… a few times… fast. Or was that the F8 key? Anyway, the idea was to have the computer running in DOS mode. At least I think that was the idea.
I shut down and booted up. But before I could hit ESC (or was that the F8 key), Windows loaded all the way and I had to crash the system and start over. After about six or seven or ten tries, I finally got the thing going in DOS. At this point if you’re not following, don’t worry, neither was I. Ginger told me what keys to push and I pushed them.
I don’t know how long we waited for things to load. Could’ve been twenty minutes. Maybe twice that. When the loading would reach a prompt, she would tell me to push another key and the loading would continue. During this time we made polite conversation. I asked where tech support was. She said Victoria, British Columbia. I asked how long she’d been doing tech support. Around a year. I asked if it rained a lot. She said yes.
When we were done, she told me to shut down and reboot. I did. No icons. No start. NOTHING.
We tried again adding a slight variation. NOTHING.
She told me to skip DOS and let Windows XP Pro CD load Windows. The idea was to replace the files that had probably become corrupted. Snippets of conversation became less frequent. I asked what her weirdest call was half expecting it might be mine. She said a kid who sounded like he was “aboot” twelve phoned in “aboot” twelve asking for help downloading porn. Not wanting to deal with him, she called a supervisor. As you can tell, Ginger was a scintillating conversationalist with fascinating anecdotes. I prayed to be struck dead by lightning and have a quick release. But, the sky was clear and the time dragged on.
About an hour into the loading, the system refused to accept some files from the CD.
“Ginger, should I try again?” In a voice tinged with doubt and resignation (she was resigning herself to the fact she might have to make more small talk), she told me I might as well go ahead.
Time and small talk dragged on and the same thing happened again: NOTHING.
“Ginger, where do we go from here?” After a moment’s hesitation, she replied, “I’m going to talk to a guy here who’s an expert in DOS. I’ll call you back no later than six-thirty.” She took my cell and home numbers.
I gave it another shot on my own with the same result.
I tried killing time watching TV. Having been known to spend an hour watching an infomercial on feminine hygiene products, you could say I’m a confirmed sofa spud. But, nothing could pull my eyes from the phone. No matter how hard I stared though, it wouldn’t ring.
Seven o’clock. Seven-thirty. No Ginger. Wasn’t that just peachy. Anyway, I knew if I called HP tech support, I’d get somebody else and would have to start explaining the problem again and what we did to try to fix it and I wasn’t sure I knew and…. But, it was way past when Ginger said she was going to get back to me. Seven-forty-five or eight I gave up and called.
Ginger answered. Of all the tech support people in all of Hewlett-Packard in all of Canada, I got Ginger. She said she called, but nobody answered. I thought I heard the sound of her nose growing. Anyway, it took her less than a minute to get hold of Tom and pass me off like a brother-in-law at a bachelor party.
After a few minutes, trading Tom even up for Ginger seemed like a pretty sweet deal. Tom knew what he was “aboot.” As he had me download Windows XP-Pro from the CD (again), we waited and talked about computers and technology. Having been in Silicon Valley since 1990, I picked up a lot of the culture. Talk about an oxymoron! Anyway, the point is I sound like I know a lot more about technology than I do. I kept having to warn Tom every time the conversation wandered into uncharted realms of technological esoterica. Fortunately, unlike my time with Ginger, in addition to hi-tech, Tom and I had lots to talk about like rainfall and rainfall in Victoria, British Columbia.
When we got to where the files had stopped loading the other times, they stopped loading again. Only this time Tom said, “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.” Well he didn’t exactly say “damn the torpedoes.” He said skip the ones that wouldn’t load and keep going. After skipping over fifteen or twenty files, the rest loaded. I shut down and booted up.
Unlike Ginger, Tom had fallback positions. He had me pull up task manager. From there we got to control panel. And from control panel it was possible to change the system configuration to the way it was BEFORE meltdown. There’s a lot more to Canadians than sled dogs and mush. But, when I tried to change the date, it was locked on the day and date the computer imploded. Now, this meltdown had all the characteristics of a computer virus.
I had warned my daughter again and again to be careful about the sites she visited and material she downloaded. And, I became upset with her -- if you call screaming at the top of your lungs and throwing furniture and things (not her) upset. Don’t feel too sorry for her. She gave as good as she got. Better, because when the tears came, I felt like the worst human on the planet. Okay, I didn’t feel all that human. Plus, my wife yelled at me for yelling at her while my other daughter went running into a bedroom to hide. The only one who didn’t get involved was Tom. But, he’s Canadian.
When you get right down to it, was it my daughter’s fault? What had she done wrong? The one to blame was a nameless, faceless dweeb, maybe half-a-world away, somebody she didn’t know who didn’t know her.
What’s it called when a stranger with an agenda you couldn’t possibly know attacks without warning or provocation? Oh yeah, terrorism. I guess you could throw in abject cowardice as well.
Whoever did this not only messed with my daughter’s computer but — and I grant you it was with my cooperation — caused a heated blowup between me and the rest of the family. I would’ve given anything to get my hands on this person. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to direct my fury and nothing, but Tom to allay my feelings of helplessness.
Tom suggested we go to a Web site that would identify the virus and do an online fix. But, telling Windows to skip files now made it impossible to get online. There went Tom’s solution and my own fallback plan for saving my daughter’s data by sending it to my computer or parking it on Yahoo’s or Comcast’s mail server.
While I was talking to Tom, my wife (She and I had had a miscommunication. Okay it was her fault.), told my daughter everything was going to be okay. Now, I had to tell my kid the truth. I just didn’t know if we could save her stuff. Upset? The captain of the Titanic was upset, she was devastated.
Fortunately Tom was not only Canadian, he was unflappable. Or is that a redundancy? He said he was actually enjoying the challenge. Most of the time his job consisted of explaining to the clueless that you had to press on to turn on the computer (Hey it was in the manual for a reason!) and pointing out where the Anykey key was. So, Tom was already on to the next solution. He had me put my laptop beside my daughter’s, then go to a Microsoft Web page that contained code for fixing the computer’s registry. By this time, I’d gotten pretty punchy -- if you call babbling incoherently in German punchy. Especially since I don’t speak German. Therefore, my wife read off code from my laptop while my daughter input it into hers.
For anybody who writes code – before you write me – I know the following code example is gibberish.
C://Create a subkey named Cat Hnon Test9999 under HKEY_CURRENT_USER. RegistryKey test9999 = SECURITY
I put it in only to show how difficult it is to key in words and letters and symbols that have no particular meaning. One of the hardest jobs most actors have is memorizing a part containing dialog that doesn’t mean anything like the ingredients to a fictional secret formula or a politician’s stump speech.
If you don’t write code, the words, numbers and symbols have no particular meaning, order or grammatical rules. It’s easy to get lost and end up adding a comma or dropping a period. So, after inputting a number of lines, my daughter suddenly realized she’d flopped two letters five lines back.
“Tom, is this a problem?”
“Yes.” But, being a Canadian, he came up with a line of code that fixed it and the directory. We were in business. After eight or nine long hours, with false starts and empty waits, it was finally over.
We booted up the computer, let Windows load and…NOTHING.
Cheerfully undeterred Tom was on to the next plan. We would load a second version of Windows parallel to the one on the hard drive, then transfer data from the bad version to the good, then trash the bad.
I was exhausted just from holding a phone. It’s amazing how washed out you can get talking and sitting. My respect for telemarketers increased a thousand percent. Because a thousand times zero is still zero, my respect is also zero. But, it has gone up a thousand fold. Anyway, Tom said he’d be back at work at one the next afternoon. Give him a half hour to get settled in then call.
I don’t know what I was thinking (I probably wasn’t), but after hanging up I tried a couple of more times to get online before giving up a few minutes after midnight. It was Saturday and I’d been at this nonstop since a little after noon on Friday.
Tired as I was it still took hours to get to sleep. I kept thinking how my daughter would feel if we couldn’t save her stuff. I should’ve majored in computer science – except when I went to school they didn’t have computer science. They barely had science. In fact the only two scientific concepts I remember is spontaneous generation turns beef into flies and if you sail in one direction long enough, you’ll fall off the edge of the Earth.
Saturday morning: It felt like I’d been sailing in one direction a very long way. Dragging myself out of bed around eleven, my daughter and I dragged-and-dropped data from her C drive to a CD. Then we inserted the CD into our old desktop, which was running Windows 95, and got an error message. We still didn’t know if we saved the data. But I wasn’t about to stick a possibly-infected CD in my laptop to find out.
It was time to call HP tech support for the second time. I called Ginger twice. So this was really the third time. A man answered. Ignoring the old adage, I didn’t hang up.
“What happened to Tom?”
“He took today off.”
Way back…from the time I used to listen to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon on radio (Hey, I said it was way back.), I thought Canadians could always be trusted. They can be – only not with the truth. First Ginger. Now Tom. What next? William Shatner doesn’t buy from Price Line?
When we told Tim about our earlier drag-and-drop to save data, he sounded skeptical. He told us Windows 95 couldn’t read the new CD formats in any case. So, there was no way of knowing if the transfer worked. Then he asked if the CD burner were working.
It was. In fifteen minutes, my daughter’s data was safely on CD. Now why didn’t I think of that?
I’d asked Ginger. I’d asked Tom. Now I asked Tim what he thought caused the problem. He agreed it was most likely a virus, but said it could’ve been spyware, because spyware was usually so badly written it conflicted with other spyware or the operating system.
By an odd, or maybe not so odd coincidence, Tim’s core competency was antispyware and antivirus. And, oddly enough, he actually preferred talking about it to rainfall in Victoria, British Columbia.
Tim said spyware started out as a tool for marketers to learn consumer product preferences. Spammers took the idea a step further and started marketing products directly based on spyware information. Soon banks, credit cards, etc. got with the program.
When consumers started to grumble, big companies, afraid of getting bad reputations, got out of the business. Jumping in to fill the void were companies without reputations (You know the name of the pharmaceutical company manufacturing your Viagra?) and no reason to care what kind of damage their software caused. Good luck suing a company in Upper Volta. Good luck finding a company in Upper Volta. Good luck finding Upper Volta.
Okay, the motive for spamming and spyware is greed. What motivated somebody to dump a virus on my daughter? Making a reputation with other sickos? The power trip watching people trip over themselves panicking?
Tim supplied another rationale. He said people who create and spread viruses do so because they hate Microsoft and Bill Gates. I hate Microsoft and Bill Gates. Everybody hates Microsoft and Bill Gates. So? So viruses attacking Microsoft will make people turn to Apple, Linux or another OS.
Sound familiar? Philosophically, what’s the difference between Osama bin Laden murdering 3,000 people in the World Trade Center who probably never heard of him to turn the world into an Islamic theocracy and some other nutcase weasel in Russia, the Philippines or Sunnyvale who poisons my daughter’s computer because he hates Gates?
But, how can you compare a mass murderer like bin Laden with a wimpy geek who spreads computer viruses? Well, look at it this way. A criminal who murders a gas station attendant and a serial killer who murders forty-four women are both eligible for the death penalty. Shouldn’t our laws have sufficient latitude to offer the death penalty for Osama bin Laden and people who spread viruses and spyware?
Anyway, with my daughter’s data safely on CD, it was time to get out the Windows CD (still again) and load Windows XP-PRO. Only this time, it was going to wipe out everything on the hard drive. When it got ten minutes into the loading process, Tim said, “It’s going to take forty minutes to over an hour. I don’t have to stay on the phone with you. I’ll give you directions. You’ll be fine.”
Taking down his step-by-step directions, I thanked him profusely and hung up. Of course, the instant the phone hit the cradle, up came a prompt Tim never mentioned and I was back on the phone to tech support. For the fourth time. But, who’s counting.
In the time it took to get tech support, Tim was already with another satisfied customer. So I got Courtney, who answered my question and promised to stay with me to the end. As Windows loaded, we talked. Courtney’s sister is married to a soccer player who’s a jerk and nobody in the family likes. Courtney wanted to work in LA, but couldn’t get a visa. Courtney likes to fix cars. Oh, yes. It rains a lot in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Suddenly Courtney proclaimed she had to go to the bathroom. Canadians have such a hard time with the truth. Was this a ruse? Was she actually moving to Seattle? As suddenly as she left she was back on the phone. You know, maybe William Shatner does shop at Priceline.
Windows finished loading. I shut down and rebooted. Windows loaded and…EVERYTHING. Start was there and the desktop was lousy with icons. Before Courtney had a chance to hang up I asked (okay begged) her to stay with us until we got online.
Courtney stopped us from accidentally downloading a new IP (Bill Gates was trying to steer us to MSN) Yes, Microsoft is not a “nice” company. Big news. We tried the browser. No connection.
We have Wi-Fi. Courtney said we probably needed a security code to get on the network and the code was printed on the bottom of the router. It wasn’t. However, I found a string of numbers in my “tech book” and input them. Nothing.
Courtney had had enough. Advising us our provider or router manufacturer would have the security code and it was not HP’s problem in any case, she hung up. Damned Canadians. Nineteen lousy hours on the phone and they dump us!
With my daughter’s imploring glare urging me on, I found the code in the last place I looked, which, logic tells us, is the only place it could’ve been. We were online. EVERYTHING WORKED.
My ear was sweaty, aching from being pressed against the phone. My throat was hoarse and my voice raspy from fighting with my family and making banal small talk with Canadians. I wanted nothing more than quiet solitude. I thought about converting, becoming a monk. I think I’d be kind of cool in a cowl. They go with beards. But then I got thinking it wouldn’t work. I mean monks have to make monk’s bread and I never have any dough.
Anyway it was not over. So resting was out of the question. Norton antivirus seemed to recognize our account, but we had to reload updated virus definitions. After they loaded, my daughter reloaded her data from the CDs as I stood over her so she would scan every bit and byte.
It was still not over. I had to find the code that said we paid for Windows Office and input it before my daughter could do her homework.
After that, it was done. It was finally done.
It wasn’t. Sunday morning my daughter blasted into our bedroom in a panic. The screen was all wrong. I changed the resolution. The screen was all right.
It was done. It was finally done.
No it wasn’t. That afternoon, my daughter tried to print out her homework. I had to reload the printer software.
Was it done? From Friday afternoon through Sunday evening, I reckoned that I put in around 24 hours on the laptop. What may come up to bite us in the future? Who knows? What I do know is that the death penalty could never be harsh enough punishment for the bastards who did this. I also know that Canadians are a kind, patient, great and truly magnificent — if not always truthful— people.
Just the other day my laptop started shutting down for no apparent reason. Toshiba tech support is in Toronto. I wonder if it rains there.
Tech support -- and others, including Apple salespeople -- can reach Mr. Laskin at (408) 406-3574 or e-mail him at email@example.com