Sunday, May 25, 2008

Computer Guy.

Well, I had a good run…

Yup, I managed nearly four whole years before I officially became my new family’s ‘computer guy’.

Then, in the space of two weeks I helped my Mother-In-Law work out how to use her latop, spent an hour on the phone with someone else trying to troubleshoot their computer problems…and spent three hours today trying to fix my stepdaughter’s computer.

On the upside I can’t complain. Instead of just being the ‘computer monkey’ like I was with a few choice members of my own family, to be called at any time for any reason with absolutely nothing in return…I could probably fix all my inlaws computers and still owe them in some way.

Anyway, today was like any other technical support call I’ve taken. I got the information third hand so arrived at my stepdaughters without half the things I need.

You see, I’d heard from Sunny that Julie’s computer wasn’t connecting to the internet. A browser window would open and then it would ‘lock up’. Of course, under these circumstances ‘lock up’ could mean anything from and actual lock up, to nothing showing in the browser window.

I figured it would be one of three things. Either she just needed to cycle her modem (easy fix), she’d picked up a browser hijack (fairly easy fix) or somehow got a virus (who knows).

I figured that at worst I’d just cycle her modem, install Hijack This and Spybot, run those and then install firefox for good measure. 15 minute fix.

Well I arrive at the house and turn the computer on. Nothing, and I mean nothing is working. Windows will start up, but no programs will start and the computer is running like an old 286 trying to run Vista.


So I get the computer started in safe mode, and then see that her Norton ‘Free Trial’ ended over six months ago. That’s six months with no updates or scans.

So I install the free virus checker I brought with me and do a quick scan. It picks up 2 different viruses and a hundred infected files. So I repair them and restart the computer. It was running exactly the same as when I first arrived.

I went back into safe mode and decided to run a full system scan. Are you ready for this?

Nine separate viruses and over seven thousand infected files.

I’ve worked on some pretty fucked up computers before and at one point considered infections in the double digits to be really bad. I turned to Julie.

“Hey Julie.” I said. “Here’s the thing. Virus checkers can’t always repair the infected file, sometimes it just deletes or quarantines them. If I tell this to remove all these, there’s a very good chance that when I restart it, it’s not going to start back up again.”

“Ok.” Julie says. “It’s not working anyway, might as well try to fix it.”

Then a horrible thought strikes me.

“Ummm.” I say. “To be honest, if my computer was this infected I’d just do a total wipe and a clean install…you do have your Windows XP install CD’s, right?”

Well, of course she doesn’t. Turns out she bought the computer from a rental place and didn’t get any install CD’s with it.

So I explain that the only Windows XP CD’s I have are ‘restore’ CDs…which means they simply won’t work on her computer. (I can understand why… anti-piracy and all that, but it would save a hell of a lot of problems. She has a legal copy of XP running, does it matter what CD it’s restored from?)

Anyway, after nearly two hours scanning and fixing, I restart the computer. To my surprise it actually starts up…although this time it’s asking for an administrator password to start up. I ask Julie what it is…she doesn’t know and the rental place never told her.

So I just start trying the usual default passwords. So I spend 10 minutes trying all the default passwords I can think of. Let’s just say I’m lucky that the people who set these things have no imagination.

The computer starts up, and it’s still as slow as crap. I figure that could be just down to spyware or something (which I could clean up later) so I click (shudder) Internet Explorer and after 15 seconds it opens.

It also connects to a website with a name like ‘’ and starts downloading. I try to close the window and the computer locks up.

After three restarts I get it back on and manage to start the virus checker. It instantly starts reporting viruses every 10 seconds and reports that nearly everything I try to start is infected.

I go back into safemode and start running another scan…and it’s like I never ran the first one.

I hate these types of viruses. Basically they get on your computer, copy themselves and infect every file they can. Then, they stay in memory, so even when you delete the actual virus, they copy themselves back onto your harddrive under another random name. They’re the Hydras of the computer world. You cut off one head and three grow back.

Finally I admit defeat and tell Julie that I could probably sit in front of her computer for two weeks and I might get it mostly working again…but it wouldn’t be a hundred percent and would be back to its broken state within weeks. I tell her she needs to get hold of a copy of XP so I can completely wipe the computer and start again from scratch.

This is the part of being the computer guy I absolutely hate. It’s like being a doctor and telling a loved one that their family member didn’t make it. It usually goes like this:

“I’m going to have to wipe it.”

“So what does that actually mean?”

“It means I delete everything off your hard drive and start over.”

“So I’ll lose all my pictures?”

“Yes, everything.”

“What about my music?”

“Yes, everything.”

“What about my games?”

“Yes, absolutely everything.”

“Can I not copy that stuff to a USB drive or something and put it back once you’ve wiped it?”

“Some of it you can, but most, no.”


“Because all that stuff is infected, so all you’d be doing is re-infecting your computer. It’s like curing someone of a disease, then injecting them with their own infected blood once they’ve recovered.”

“So I’ll lose all my stuff?”


“Even my pictures?”

It’s times like this that I really start to miss the pre-CD/DVD burner days. No one worried about piracy so every computer came with the full operating system on a CD. None of this ‘one time use’ and ‘restore copy’ business.

In the end I told Julie she had three options. One, just throw the PC in the trash. Two, call a ‘professional’ and spend the price of a new computer to get it fixed (she’d been quoted $600 bucks). Or three, buy a copy of XP and I’d fix it for free.

That’s the curse of being the family ‘computer guy’. Even though you offer your help for free, you always find yourself, at best, in the position of ‘lesser of two evils.’

On the upside I had cake while I was there. Cake is delicious.


Bridget said...

AAAwwww! You are so sweet.

By the way, did I mention that my computer seems a bit slower these days?.....

MC Etcher said...

My story does't begin to compare to yours, but...

My mother in law bought a new PC last week - - we didn't have time that day to unbox and set it up for her... I promised to do it one day soon (she lives 2 hours away)

She was very interested in how itunes worked, so we demonstrated importing one CD for her, on her existing PC.

In the last few days, she's imported 500 songs.

I jokingly told her the files weren't transferrable, and that she would have to start all over.

MC Etcher said...

Kudos on guessing those default passwords!