The Big Cloud: One last adventure in the casebook of Mack Rowe

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.


Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.


Poetic Frustration

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

Hi, I ordered your desktop, the Power Machine
With 12 USB ports and 20-inch screen.
The box came today and I opened it quick,
I pulled out the Styrofoam, ten inches thick,
Found the mouse and the keyboard, that big LCD.
But one thing was lacking; you left out the PC.

Left out the PC? Now that’s some displacement.
But we’ll fix you up; send you out a replacement.
Whoops! I cannot do it; this is customer care.
We’re here to take phone calls, not ship out the ware.
We’re not here to help when the system, it fails.
Since you bought a computer, you should have called Sales.

I must call again? Just the thought makes me cold.
For eighteen full minutes I waited on hold.

You need not call again, nor this time need you wait,
I’ll transfer you over and put you through straight.
I’ll tell your whole story to Stanley or Leon,
And you’ll have your PC in the flash of an eon.

Well, alright. If it must be, I’ll…my, she was bold.
Before I consented she put me on hold.

(23 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputers, my name, it is Eddy,
The Department of Sales, have your credit card ready.

I’m not here to buy, not this time, not this minute.
You shipped me a box. No computer was in it.
I want what I bought; it’s that simple and clean.
I want my Krell Deluxe fast Power Machine.

I can see why you’re angry; we’re the ones that did err.
But this isn’t for Sales; please call Customer Care.

That’s who I just called! What I’m telling is true!
I tried Customer Care and they sent me to you!

This is Customer Care’s job. I’m not being brash.
I’m not here to solve problems; I’m here to take cash.
I’m speaking the truth; I’m a really straight shooter.
Only Customer Care can replace your computer.
But I’ll tell you what: I will stay on the phone.
We’ll do this together. You won’t be alone.

(45 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

I’ve been on the phone now, an hour or more.
Are you the same person I spoke to before?
I hope so. This hassle will soon make me cry.

An hour? No way! Our turnover’s too high.

Alright, then, I’ll tell you; I’ll start at the top,
‘Though I fear that this phone call will end in a flop.
I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell;
In the box that you sent me, no PC did dwell.
A keyboard and mouse, yes, so true I could hug ’em,
An LCD too, but with no place to plug ’em.
The PC is not there. It’s a thing I ain’t got.
But it’s paid for, so please, won’t you send what I bought?

This is Customer Care, you need someone in Sales.
I’ll transfer you, but will you stop with these wails?

I’m wailing because you folks make my heart droop.
My life has turned into an infinite loop!
I won’t go to Sales! Won’t you please help me out?

Let me ask you one question and please do not shout.
This computer you don’t have-the source of your rage-
Can you use it to look at an Internet page?

Of course I cannot. What a question is that?
No computer! No browser! No e-mail! No chat!

The PC ain’t working, from keyboard to port?
I’ll transfer you gladly to Techie Support.

To Techie Support? But I…cursed is my fate!
She’s put me on hold. Well, I guess I must wait.

(63 minutes later)

Welcome to Krell’s Technologic Support.
What is the problem you wish to report?
We’ll find a solution that’s easy and true,
Or we’ll bring you a death screen with white text on blue.

I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell,
And you’ve all turned my life into one living hell.
The box, it arrived and I opened it wide
To find keyboard and mouse but no PC inside.
I’ve been on the phone now for hours so long,
That I could have watched Jackson’s remake of King Kong.
But I would be happy; yes, I’d dance with glee
If you would just please mail my PC to me.

Are you saying we shipped you a box that was bare?

No. Keyboard and mouse, and a screen were all there.

And was there a disc labeled Rescue CD?

Let me check. Yes there is. But what good can it be?

What good? Why you’re saved? Put it into the drive,
Reboot while you cry “I’m so glad I’m alive!”
This disc, will work wonders just like a magician,
Returning your system to fact’ry condition.

What system? What drive? Why can’t you understand
That I have no PC? Your advise should be banned!
Factory condition? Can you possibly get
That my PC has not left the factory yet?

Yes, I understand why you’re angry today?
But I simply said what they trained me to say.
Customer Care’s what you need; I’ve been told.
I’ll transfer you there. Wait a minute on hold.

(98 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.
We’ve made good on our promise; for that we’re quite proud.
Your cursing is coming through clear and quite loud.

(Phone hangs up)

Longhorn and Bull

Tired of viruses? Of lost files? Of Windows freezing up because your firewall is incompatible with your printer driver (before you updated it, the firewall was incompatible with the firewall). Do you want an operating system that’s easy, stable, and secure, but you’d rather give money to Bill Gates then Steve Jobs?
Have no fear. The operating system you seek is on the horizon. As you read this, Microsoft is busy creating the absolutely flawless next version of Windows. Codenamed Longwait, it will probably be released under the moniker Windows 2005…06…07.
(Why the codename? Because it’s a secret. No one is supposed to know about this version except Bill Gates, Microsoft’s programmers, and people who read articles like this.)
Let’s look at the many wonderful features that Longwait has to offer:
Users want security and stability, so it’s hardly surprising that the first thing you notice when you boot Longwait are the beautiful icons (assuming, of course, that it boots). Folders now look like the Mona Lisa. My Computer (renamed Bill’s Computer) is based on Goya’s The Incantation. The Systray’s tiny Windows Messenger icon is an accurate reproduction of the Sistine Chapel.

Hide and Seek
On a less visible level, Microsoft is revamping the file system, replacing the warn-out NTFS with WinSLS (Win Some Lose Some). More than just a file system, WinSLS promises to be an organizational storage platform where clusters of data (called “files”) can be grouped together in superclusters (expected to be named “folders”), then permanently stored in a special off-the-drive state (commonly referred to as “lost”).
Searching a WinSLS-formatted hard drive will be as easy as watching an annoying, animated puppy. Search for “Aunt Frederick,” and you’ll get every file that mentions her name. Not only that, but you’ll get every photo on your hard drive that includes Aunt Frederick, as well as those of people with similar complexions. Not good enough? You can refine your photo searches by right-clicking each of your photos, selecting Properties, clicking the People tab, and typing “Aunt Frederick” into the list of people who are not in that particular picture.
There’s no question about it: WinSLS is one of the most important and vital improvements within the Longwait package. Microsoft is now promising that WinSLS will not be part of the initial release. Even without WinSLS, Longwait will make file management manageable. For instance, click on a drive in Windows Explorer and you’ll see a bar graph of the drive’s used and free space—a major productivity gain over XP’s pie chart.
And you can forget about confusing drive letters like C:. Longwait will identify drives by meaningful tags like 0A88C507-9D61-49C2-AC98-CFF2B996F9FD.
Look at the desk or table where you keep your computer. Notice how the phone, the monitor, and the plate with yesterday’s food rise above the flat surface to varying heights? Technically speaking, this effect is called a “3D desktop.” Longwait will offer the same capability. You’ll be able to bring document windows up close so that you can study them in detail, or send them far away so that you can lose them under bills that you should have paid six months ago. You can even turn them on their side, allowing you to examine them from a unique, never-before-visible angle where they become—to use the technical term—”a line.”
And if the line is too wide, you can make the window disappear. Each window on the Longwait desktop has a slider for setting its “transparency level.” If the slider is all the way up, the window looks normal. Lower it a bit, and you can sort of see what’s underneath. Bring it all the way down, and the window disappears completely—along with the slider needed to make it visible again. For years now, user interface experts have called for a “transparent” operating system. With Longwait, Microsoft finally delivers on this never-made promise, offering a desktop where nothing is visible.
Security Blanket
What about security? Longwait will feature a built-in firewall guaranteed to let any data out of your system, plus a Security Center window to tell you things you already know. It also offers a good deal that isn’t in XP SP2.
For one thing, everything on your hard drive will be encrypted, including the program used for decryption, insuring that no one will ever access your sensitive data. And preparing a used Longwait computer for a new owner will be easier than ever—a Wipe Hard Drive button will sit right next to Turn Off Computer.
To protect computers from their users, Longwait will offer what Microsoft is calling Least Likely User Accounts. This setting will block people from doing anything potentially dangerous, such as formatting the hard drive, editing the Registry, or simultaneously running two Microsoft Office applications. But these users will still be able to, for instance, add a printer driver—a task that everyone agrees is perfectly safe.
Administrators will have no trouble remotely gaining full control of a system with a Least Likely user logged on. All they will have to do is send a single e-mail to that system with a subject line containing the word “v1agra.”
There’s no question about it: Longwait is the perfect version of Windows. It’s stable, secure, and 100-percent bug free. And it will remain that way right up until the day before it goes on sale.

Managing Time Management

The deadline was fast approaching. In 24 hours I would have to present my report on the correlation between budget shortfalls and middle manager suicides. I still had 15 slides to create, and just couldn’t create the image I needed of a man in a suit jumping off the descending end of a line graph.
And that wasn’t all. The Sith Lords were on the verge of crushing the Jedi, and I would soon have to choose between the light side or the dark.
At that very moment my boss entered the cubicle (speak of the dark side of the force). I Alt-Tabbed to PowerPoint, spun around to face him, and smiled with all the sincerity of a cat with a goldfish in its mouth.
“George,” he said, “we want to use you for a little experiment.” I tensed up, but I needn’t have worried; this time they weren’t going to try exchanging my brain with a monkey’s. “Ralph from IS here is going to install a new program on your computer, TimeTattler 2. It will efficientize and productivitize your workday throughput by maximizing buzzword usage—No, that was last week. By tracking how much time you spend on any particular application.”
“Of course,” I said, wondering how I was going to hide Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords from the IS geek looking hungrily at my PC. “Should I reformat the hard drive, first?”
Big Software is Watching You
The answer was “No.” I was shooed away for twenty minutes. When I returned, Ralph, the IS geek, was just rebooting. “All yours,” he said cheerily as he got up. “And by the way, you really can’t trust Darth Sion.”
I sat down and checked my e-mail. There was a long message from my wife. We needed to make an appointment to meet with the school counselor to discuss little Elmer’s tendency to talk out of turn in class—usually correcting the teacher.
I was about to click the Reply button when a message box popped up onscreen. “You have spent the last 3 minutes and 14.834 seconds in a non-business-related activity. Click the ‘I Apologize’ button to avoid trouble.”
I clicked the button and the message box disappeared, along with the window displaying my wife’s e-mail. I brought it up again and up came another TimeTattler 2005 message box: “You have attempted to return to a non-business-related activity for which you have already been digitally reprimanded. Click the ‘I Humbly Apologize’ button or I’m going to tell on you!”
I clicked the button and another message appeared: “Too late.”
“George!” It was my boss, suddenly at the cubicle entrance. I turned around and was relieved to see that he was all smiles. “This TimeTattler program is fantastic! It reported to me right away that you were reading e-mail from your wife, and even gave me the text of both the message and your likely answer. Isn’t that wonderful?! If you do that again, you’re fired.”
He walked cheerfully away.
I loaded my presentation into PowerPoint, clicked a few buttons, and phoned my wife. I was leaving a message on her voicemail when TimeTattler popped up another message: “You have not used your keyboard or mouse in 20 seconds. I must therefore assume that you are making a personal phone call. Click the ‘I Humbly Apologize While Groveling on the Floor and Kissing Your Virtual, Non-Existent Toes.'”
This time I clicked quickly, then returned to my slide. But I was stuck. I didn’t have all the facts necessary to make an informed judgment about cause and effect. Were managers killing themselves because sales were down, or did their deaths somehow suppress sales?
I was sitting in front of the PC, contemplating this problem, when my PC’s speakers went off like a police siren and TimeTattler put up another message: “You’ve had it, buster!” There was no Apology option this time, just OK and a button with language I can’t repeat here. Soon my boss appeared, followed by representatives of IP, Personnel, and the Fumigation Department. No one was smiling. “Okay, George, explain yourself!”
“I was working on my presentation,” I exclaimed, “and I stopped to think about…”
“Think?! I hired you to evaluate our situation and make recommendations, not think!
“Your time with us is over,” he continued. “I’m going back to my office to fill out your termination papers—just as soon as I’ve finished going over the latest sales figures.”
That was the last I ever saw of him alive.
The advantage of a dead boss, aside from not getting fired, is that you get to go home early. “Take the rest of the day off,” the Personnel Director told us. “Relax, enjoy yourself, appreciate life, and be sure to take your work home.”
As I left my office, Ralph from IS handed me a CD. “TimeTattler 2005,” he told me. “So you can work more efficiently at home.” As soon as I got home, I booted my PC and put the TimeTattler CD to good use—as a coaster. It must have helped; an hour later the presentation was done.
The next day, my presentation went off without a hitch (and, more impressively, without a suicide). In fact, the company heads were so impressed that they offered me my old boss’ job. I declined.
Now, life is good. My new boss is a very nice, deeply depressed alcoholic. Little Elmer is keeping his mouth shut. And TimeTattler 2005? It no longer bothers me. I simply changed The Sith Lords’ file name to powerpnt.exe.

Dictionary of the Electronic Tongue

AC Adapter: A specialized power cord for plugging a notebook computer, router, or other device into your wall socket. Distinguished from conventional power cords by plugs the size of Milwaukee.

Autoload: The act of a program launching itself when you start your computer, whether you want that program to launch itself or not. Many autoloading programs serve vital and important functions, such as putting pretty little icons in your system tray and finding a use for excess memory.

Backup: A mythical activity that someone, somewhere, might someday actually do.

BIOS: Basic In/Out System. That’s not what it means; get your mind out of the gutter! The BIOS is a chip on the motherboard (see Motherboard) that helps the CPU (see CPU) relate to the world outside (see World Outside). Without the BIOS, your PC wouldn’ know what it’s incompatible with.

Blue Screen of Death: A standard user interface component of Microsoft Windows.

CD-R/RW: Compact Disc-Recordable/Rewriteable (or something like that). A failed attempt to create an acronym more ridiculous that PCMCIA (see PCMCIA). Let me explain: The R in CD-ROM stands for Read, as in “Read-only.” The first R in CD-R/RW stands for not being read-only (although the CDs you wRite with CD-R are occasionally readable). The second R means you can write to it twice.

Cookie: A small text file placed on your computer by a web page to help identify you. Unlike hardware cookies, these generally multiply faster than you can eat them.

CPU: Central Processing Unit. A large and expensive microchip that, like Mick Jagger, tends to overheat and burn out unless supplied with plenty of fans. Computer geeks like to brag about the size and performance of their CPUs.

Display Adapter: Also known as video card, display card, and video adapter. Circuitry that connects your computer to your display monitor (the thing you are looking at right now if you’re reading this online). There are an infinite number of companies making display adapters, each of which has released an infinite number of models. Each model has had, over the years, an infinite number of driver updates. This is why computers don’t work.

EULA: End-User License Agreement. Something you don’t read before clicking “I Agree.” No one knows what follows the first few paragraphs in a typical EULA. Theories range from the typed ramblings of caffeine-crazed legal secretaries to an otherwise undiscovered manuscript by Plato.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. What is an FAQ? An FAQ is a list of questions, usually available as a web page or text file, containing answers to every question except the one you asked.

Firewall: A device, either software or hardware, that is absolutely essential if you have an Internet connection. It’s job is to keep data from moving in and out of your computer.

HTML: Hypertext Markup Language. A simple, fundamental code used to design and display web pages. Most professional web designers find HTML too limiting, so they augment it with more advanced languages better suited for their acts of espionage and destruction.

Java: One of those more advanced languages. The name is inspired by the great deal of caffeine needed to master its threading model. Java is also noteworthy for the fact that, despite its clumsy and difficult nature, Microsoft wants it to go away.

JavaScript: Yet another of these more advanced web languages, noteworthy for not being Java.

Internet: A vast, international database of trivia, advertising, and pornography.

Motherboard: The thing inside that metal box that makes it behave like a computer. On the motherboard you will generally find the CP/U, BIOS, RAM, and several pounds of dust.

Multimedia: An umbrella term for a range of technologies designed to reduce workplace productivity.

Object: 1) A defined string of code or data to be manipulated in an object-oriented programming language. 2) An image to be moved about and acted upon in a graphical user interface. 3) A thing to be thrown at the monitor when the computer doesn’t behave as it should.

PCMCIA: Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. Absolutely the stupidest acronym ever invented.

RAM: Random Access Memory. Silicon chips that can store digital data as long as they have electricity going through them. Called random because of their tendency to convert data into strings of arbitrary ones and zeros.

Scroll Lock: A keyboard key with no known function.

Spam: This definition will bring Much $$$$ and grate $ex with erbal v1agra. Send bank account info and get true, SeCrEt defiNicion of Spam. Then go to for photos of Bill Gates without his money.

Spyware: A program that takes over your computer and violates your privacy—generally for someone else’s profit. Among the better known spyware programs are Absolute Keylogger, SafeSearch, and Microsoft Windows.

TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. A network protocol that serves as the underlying technology behind the Internet. Many home networks today also use TCP/IP to connect the various computers in the home, and to allow anyone on the Internet access to their credit card numbers.

URL: Universal Resource Locator. An Internet address, referred to as a URL because it causes more confusion than Internet address.

Wi-Fi: Wireless Fidelity. Another name for the popular and accepted IEEE 802 wireless local area networking protocol. Most people call the protocol Wi-Fi because IEEE sounds like a terrified scream.

World Outside: What exists beyond your computer and the Internet. Said to be primarily analog.

The Maltese Window Cleaner

The night was as dark as a spammer’s heart. I had just finished a big case…some recording company wanted to know who was stealing their music. They didn’t like the answer: everybody. But I liked their check; it was big and fat and had lots of zeros—some of them before the decimal point.
The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.
I was debating what I should do with the money—buy a new overcoat or invest in gumshoes—when someone knocked on my door. When you work in the scummiest part of town and someone knocks at 3:00 in the morning, you can’t be too careful.
“Come in,” I called. “The door is unlocked.”
In walked a gorgeous dame with blonde hair out of a bottle, a bright red dress with a slit skirt, and legs that stretched all the way to her waist. “Mr. Rowe,” she said, “I’m in a terrible fix. I need your help. Teddy hasn’t been himself, lately. I suspect foul play.”
“And Teddy is your husband,” I asked.
“No,” she explained, “my computer.” She pulled a notebook out of her oversized purse and laid it on my desk. “He’s painfully slow. Several programs don’t run at all. It can’t be a virus, I’m running Kowalski Internet Security Suite.”
That explained it. Kowalski might protect her from viruses, but she needed me to protect her from Kowalski. I named a price, we negotiated, and I agreed to do it for nothing. Then she left some CDs and an AC adapter and disappeared into the night.
I plugged in the AC adapter, booted the notebook, downed a shot of bourbon, rolled a cigarette, smoked it, then checked the PC. Still booting. Three cigarettes later, it was ready.
The first thing I did was slip the Run box a little msconfig. But instead of the configuration utility, I got a web page full of naked women. This puzzled me for a moment. Had Microsoft changed the interface or was my client just a little bit kinky? I tried regedit with the same results.
I scanned the hard drive with Kowalski Internet Security Suite—just on a hunch. Turned out the dame had installed a free program named UCanTrustUs. According to Kowalski’s site, this package records your every online move, slows down your PC, and—to protect itself—redirects all calls to msconfig or regedit to a porn site.
Coincidence? Could be.
I knew I needed something better than Kowalski to go up against UCanTrustUs, and that meant Hammett and Chandler’s PC-Spellen. The trouble was that installing PC-Spellen and Kowalski on the same computer was like mixing whiskey and gun powder. It might taste good in the short run, but it could blow a hole in the back of your head the size of a Windows bug report.
And uninstalling Kowalski wasn’t going to be easy. That program digs itself into Windows like a rat in cheese. I started with Kowalski’s own uninstaller. When that finished, I rebooted.
Windows came up with an error message. I clicked Cancel and up came another. And another. And another. Who would have thought that Kowalski would load 17 different startup programs, and not bother to turn them off at uninstall? Who was I kidding? Anyone who ever tried to uninstall Kowalski would think that.
Luckily, I knew how to remove unwanted autoloads. I went to that old Run box and typed “msconfig.” You know, sometimes even I don’t like looking at naked women.
This was going to take a different strategy—or at least a third-party Registry editor. I ran RegUrgitate and removed the 17 autoloading commands, plus the 873 other references to Kowalski.
For good measure, I also tried to remove the C:\Program Files\Kowalski folder. Windows wouldn’t let me. It appeared that there was still something in that folder running in the background. But I know a few tricks, and managed to remove it.
How was I to know that Kowalski moves system32 to its own folder? There was only one thing left to do: Reinstall Windows from scratch. I looked through the packet of CDs my client had left me and found what I was looking for: a Windows Restore disc made by the company that had sold her the notebook.
I put it in the drive and rebooted. No long wait this time. Just a simple text screen with a single question: “Reinstall Windows? Y/N.” I hit the Y key and waited.
In a few minutes the screen showed me a more detailed message: “Your hard drive has been reformatted and returned to the condition it was in when it left the factory. All viruses, incompatibilities, and incorrect settings have vanished with your data.”
I removed the disc and rebooted. Everything was serene, so I called my client and gave her the good news.
“But Mr. Rowe,” she asked after I had explained my brilliant solution, “what happened to my financial records? My photographs? My rare collection of antique word processors?”
“Don’t worry about it, Toots,” I reassured her. “You can simply restore all that from a backup.”
She sighed with relief. “That’s wonderful, Mr. Rowe. I’m so glad to hear that. Just one question: What’s a backup?”
Dawn was breaking as I left the office in search of breakfast. I was heading for the cheapest hash house in town. Something told me I wasn’t getting paid for this job.

Knowledge So Base

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article – 1010101

Windows Runs Slower Than Previously

The information in this article applies to Microsoft Windows; all versions


When you run Windows, you may experience one or more of the following issues:

  • Windows and your applications run slower than they have in the past.
  • Windows and your applications run slower than they used to run when they were running slower than they were in the past.
  • Windows and your applications run slower now than they did last month, when your computer was unplugged.


There are four possible explanations for this behavior:

  • Your computer is infected with a variant of the Dinosaur.on.downers virus.
  • You have downloaded and installed everything Windows Update has suggested that you download and install.
  • Windows just seems slow because you are not a Microsoft stockholder, and will therefore not receive a piece of that $75 billion payout.


Dinosaur.on.downers places a file in your C:\Windows folder called Notepad.exe. If you find this file in your Windows folder, either your computer is infected or it is not.

If you determine that you do not have a virus, you can solve the problem by buying a newer computer. In order to avoid similar problems in the future, we recommend you follow this procedure at least once a month.

In the meantime, cleaning your hard drive will help speed up your system. We recommend using paint remover and an old toothbrush.

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article – 1234567
System Restore Doesn’t Actually Restore My System

The information in this article applies to Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition and XP


  • You edit the Registry, doing major damage, and try to undo the changes with System Restore. The changes are not undone. Or…
  • You install a new application and discover that Windows now associates .dll files with Microsoft Bob. You uninstall the program—which, of course, does not solve the problem—then try to undo the changes with System Restore. It doesn’t work. Or…
  • Internet Explorer now shows your home page as You keep changing it, only to have it changed back again. You restore the system to a point recorded beforehand, but you’re still confronted by undressed turkeys.


When you create a restore point—or when one is created automatically—Windows saves a record of your system’s condition. When you restore that record, Windows reboots your system and shows you a progress bar to create the illusion that it is actually doing something.

This behavior is by design.


The system is performing normally. Nothing needs to be resolved.

If you don’t find that answer satisfactory, try avoiding anything that could have an adverse effect on your Registry or Windows installation. This includes changing settings, installing software, or using your computer.


Microsoft has no plans to change this situation. With $75 billion going to our stockholders, why should we?

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article – 3.1416
Words Randomly Replaced with Dollar Signs

The information in this article applies to Microsoft FrontPage


When you create a web page and upload it onto your site, it looks fine. However, readers complain that many of the words on the page have been replaced by a row of five dollar signs (“$$$$$”).


There are 75 billion conditions that may cause this problem:

  • The people visiting your site and reporting the problem are using a browser other than Internet Explorer.
  • The people visiting your site and reporting the problem are using Internet Explorer.
  • The people visiting your site and reporting the problem are not particularly nice people.


There are a number of possible solutions to this problem, and it’s vitally important that you pick the one that’s $$$$$ for you. First of all, if your readers are complaining of $$$$$, you may need to change FrontPage’s $$$$$ setting, which is located on the $$$$$ menu. Just be careful that $$$$$ is set to $$$$$ or you may reformat your hard $$$$$.

On the other hand, if your $$$$$ is set to $$$$$, the problem is with your $$$$$ and the web page issue is only a $$$$$. In order to save your data, your business, and possibly your life, you must $$$$$ your $$$$$ until it is safely $$$$$ as soon as $$$$$.

$$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$, with $$$$$ $$$$$—or perhaps $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$. And whatever you do, don’t $$$$$!

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article – 0
This Program Really Sucks

The information in this article applies to all Microsoft Products


  • You’re using Microsoft Windows and suddenly you get a white-on-blue text screen filled with meaningless messages and numbers. Despite onscreen options to press any key or Control-Alt-Delete, you have no real choice but to power down and reboot. Or…
  • You install the latest version of Microsoft Office, and discover that all of your favorite features have been discontinued. Or…
  • You install Windows on a new PC, boot up, log onto the Internet, and immediately have 85 new adware programs.


You are using Microsoft software.

This behavior is by design.


There is none. You’re stuck with us.

And by the way, thanks for the $75 billion.

Was this information helpful?


Rhyme Without Reason

Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a mystic message, errors I could not ignore—
Soul as dark as looters looting, my PC I thought of shooting.
Damn machine that would, when booting, give me errors I abhor.
No programs, documents, or settings. Just the errors I abhor.
Only this, and nothing more.

Ah, distinctly I remember, something written in assembler
When installed did quick dismember Windows to its very core.
Though the program was not beta, wiped my settings and my data
Oh, you cruel, corrupting fate! A chill that reached me to the core.
Nothing like a bad computer chills me to the very core.
‘Tis the thing I most deplore.

As I sat there, terror-stricken—data gone in Word and Quicken—
In my office strode a chicken—dignified, the air she bore.
Fearing neither sun nor winter, cut or burn or wooden splinter,
Climbed onto my laser printer, four feet high above the floor.
Over paper, plugs, and cables, four feet high above the floor.
Laid an egg and nothing more.

Seeing her, my soul grew higher; smiling, I said “Welcome, fryer,
“There is something I desire. So I’ll ask, so I’ll implore.
“Windows finds in me but error; fills my soul with darkest terror.
“Will I boot up sweet and fair or will my system work no more?
“Oh, my fine and feathered chicken, will my system work once more?
Quote the chicken, “No restore.”

Hearing that, my pulse did quicken, but to listen to a chicken
Would imply a skull that’s thickened to a width not seen before.
Fearing mind of mine would crack up, swearing not to get my hack up,
Cried I “Wait! I have a backup! Back up in my cabinet drawer.”
But my backup was too old. Three years it sat within my cabinet draw.
Quote the chicken, “No restore.”

And the chicken, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that cabled laser printer as her mess grows on my floor.
And her eyes have all the knowing of a monitor that’s glowing
And my chances are not growing that my data I’ll restore.
Not my data nor my Windows nor my pride will I restore.
All is gone forevermore.

Ernest Lawrence Thayer

It looked extremely busy doing Tech Support that day,
With broken links and missing files, CDs that wouldn’t play.
Some called with printers out of ink or errors in their RAM,
In hopes they’d speak to someone who would know and give a damn.

But Tech Support phone answerers were not a knowing lot,
To check things in a database was all that they were taught.
“If Casey just could be here,” they all thought with a groan.
The questions would be answered right with Casey on the phone.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up some joyous yells,
It rumbled in the IBMs, it rattled in the Dells;
It bounced off of the servers with enthusiastic tone.
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the phone.

Now Casey took a call and got a woman on the line
Who said “It’s all now broken. Yesterday, it worked just fine.
“Your software on your hardware doesn’t work as we had planned.”
But Casey shook his head and said “We don’t support that brand.”

A panicked voice caught Casey’s ear on phone call number two.
The voice cried “There’s no Windows, just white words on screen of blue.”
Casey said “Hold on a moment and all things will work out fine.”
Then with one triumphant gesture he did disconnect the line.

The next call was so simple that it make good Casey smile.
The user had misplaced what was a most important file.
“This problem is so simple,” Casey said with great dispatch,
“Just format your drive C: and install everything from scratch.”

The smile remained on Casey’s lips as he hung up the phone,
For little did he know that for this sin he must atone.
That call was not from any Tom, Dick, Mary, Jack, or Moe,
But the top guy in the company; ’twas Casey’s CEO.

Oh, somewhere tech reps answer phones, tell people what they need,
To help them use computers when the doc they cannot read.
Oh, somewhere folks are helpful, with PCs and Internet.
But Casey isn’t near them. Tech support’s now in Tibet.

Lewis Carroll

‘Twas gator, and the sasser code
Did phish and spoof throughout mydoom.
All kazaa in the toptext mode
And the welchia in bloom.

“Beware the JavaScript, my son,
The pages vile, the Spam so thick.
Beware the netsky bird and shun
The cookies doubleclick.”

He took his Spybot sword in hand.
The bagle foe could not prevail!
So rested he by the PPP
And downloaded his mail.

And, as he stood in phatbot dell,
The JavaScript, with eyes sobig,
Came loading through the DSL
Alexa as a pig!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
With Norton blade, the worm he checked!
Its blaster lost, its cookies tossed,
No more would it infect.

“And has thou slain the JavaScript?
Come to my arms, my boy so fine!
O WiFi day! O plug and play!
We safely go online!”

‘Twas gator, and the sasser code
Did phish and spoof throughout mydoom.
All kazaa in the toptext mode
And the welchia in bloom.


Sing, goddess, the anger of Pentium’s son Athlon…

Oh, forget it. The Iliad has suffered enough, lately!

Notebook of the Damned

My son Nebuchadnezzar came home from college the other day. And this time he came with more than his dirty laundry—he brought home his notebook.

He generally doesn’t let me get anywhere near his PC. I suspect he doesn’t want me to see any record of the Web sites and chat rooms he frequents. Talk about dirty laundry.

“Dad,” he said, as soon as he’d filled the washing machine and emptied the refrigerator, “I need your help. My computer is evil.”

That sounded serious. Evil is a word he generally reserves for ex-girlfriends. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

“When I open Outlook Express, Microsoft Word crashes. When I reopen Word, QuickTime crashes. When I relaunch QuickTime, Outlook Express crashes—followed by Internet Explorer, Photoshop, and Where in the Hell is Carmen Miranda—and I don’t even own that game. Then I get the blue screen of death, the yellow window of eternal dread, and the red icon of the living nightmare.”

“Sounds serious,” I admitted. “Do you have a current backup?”

“A current what?”

“Never mind. Let’s boot it up and see what we can see.”

We plugged in the AC adapter and booted up the machine. Half an hour later the system was up and running. “How many programs are you loading at startup?” I asked.

“Am I loading programs at startup?”

I brought up the Run box, typed “msconfig,” and pressed Enter. The System Configuration Utility appeared briefly, then vanished in a puff of code. “You’ve got the Bagel Beagle virus,” I told him. “It’s a good thing I didn’t plug into your Ethernet port and connect you to the network.”

“You don’t have to,” he said proudly. “I bought a WiFi card.”

Killing the Bagel Beagle

I quickly removed his WiFi card and set about to remove the virus. This involved erasing 18 specific files, replacing 23 infected programs from the original CDs, and re-editing half the Registry—not easy since Bagel Beagle also disables regedit. I finally managed with the help of some useful freeware, an old backup program, and a live goat.

The virus removed, I rebooted the notebook. A half hour later, I was finally able to try msconfig. The Startup tab contained more entries than Bill Gates’ stock portfolio. I unchecked everything except a few essentials and rebooted. The boot now took only fifteen minutes.

“Wow,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know it was so fast!”

But when I opened Microsoft Word, then Outlook Express, the results were exactly what Nebuchadnezzar described.

“Okay, so that wasn’t it,” I admitted. “Maybe I can find a solution online.”

I launched Internet Explorer, waited, read the error message, plugged the WiFi card back in, and tried again. Up came an extremely graphic page promising “A Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes,” followed in quick succession by a million and one additional browser windows.

“Oh, yeah,” added Nebuchadnezzar, “that’s another problem I’ve been having, lately.”

“Did you try changing it back?” Nebuchadnezzar’s no hacker, but he knows how to change his home page.

“Yeah, I changed it back to…um…what I had before. But then it just changed back to this.”

“Well, let’s try it again. What’s your preferred home page?”

He looked away from me. “It’s, um…”

I changed it to my preferred home page. It seemed to stick. I even rebooted and it stuck. So I clicked the browser’s Search icon and got a Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes and a million and one browser windows. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “It happens there, too.”

Changing the search panel is very much like changing the home page, except that instead of using a dialog box, you hack the Registry. Thankfully, with Bagel Beagle gone, I could now use regedit (good thing, too—I was running out of goats), where I changed the search setting. Of course, I changed it to a Mystery Science Theater fan page, but at least it wasn’t doing any harm.

Back to Square One

The browser was now acting properly, but Outlook Express still caused a chain reaction that would have made Edward Teller proud. So I went to a proper search page, typed in a few appropriate keywords, pressed Enter, and waited to see what I found.

One site looked very promising. “What to do when Outlook Express crashes Microsoft Word, which crashes QuickTime, which crashes Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Photoshop, and Where in the Hell is Carmen Miranda—even if you don’t own that game.” I clicked it, and up came a Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes and a million and one browser windows.

I returned to msconfig and eliminated a new autoloading program called “This Is A Completely Innocent Program That Has Nothing To Do With A Million and One Babes.exe.” Then I rebooted and reset both the home and search pages. Then I did the search again and went to the same link.

The fix, as it turned out, involved opening up Outlook Express’ Options dialog box, and unchecking the “Mess Up Everything When I Load Word” option. Who would have thought.

“There,” I said triumphantly when everything loaded normally (if you can call anything Windows does normal).

“Great! Thanks a lot, Dad.” Then he paused. “While you’re at it, do you suppose you can figure out why the CD drive no longer plays audio CDs, the tab key inserts a tilde, and the contents of My Documents gets wiped out with every boot?”

By now it was getting dark, and his last load was almost dry. “Nebuchadnezzar,” I said, “I think maybe it’s time to buy you a new computer.”

Whois on First

Author’s note: This column is still up on the Computer User web site. Nevertheless, I have decided to post it here as well.

This is also one of my Stolen Columns; you have likely seen it without my name attached.


Ultimate SuperDuper Computer Store. Can I help you?

Thanks. I’m setting up a home office in the den, and I’m thinking of buying a computer.


No, the name is Bud.

Your computer?

I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.


I told you, my name is Bud.

What about Windows?

Why? Does it get stuffy?

Do you want a computer with Windows?

I don’t know. What do I see when I look out the windows?


Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software?

Software that runs on Windows?

No, on the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses. You know, run a business. What have you got?


Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

I just did.

You just did what?

Recommended something.

You recommended something?


For my office?


Okay, what did you recommend for my office?


Yes, for my office.

Office for Windows.

I already have an office and it already has windows! Let’s say I’m sitting at my computer, and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


If I’m writing a proposal, I’m going to need lots of words. But what program do I load?


What word?

The Word in Office.

The only word in office is office.

The Word in Office for Windows.

Which word in “office for windows?”

The Word you get when you click the blue W.

I’m going to click your big W if you don’t give me a straight answer. Let’s forget about words for a minute. What do I need if I want to watch a movie over the Internet?


Maybe a real movie, maybe a cartoon. What I watch is none of your business. But what do I need to watch it?


If it’s a long movie I’ll also want to watch reels two, three and four. Can I watch reel four?

Of course.

Great! With what?


Okay, so I’m sitting at my computer and I want to watch a movie. What do I do?

You click the blue 1.

I click the blue one what?

The blue 1.

Is that different from the blue W.

Of course it is. The blue 1 is RealOne. The blue W is Word.

What word?

The Word in Office for Windows.

But there’s three words in “office for windows!”

No, just one. But it’s the most popular Word in the world.

It is?

Yes, although to be fair there aren’t many other Words left. It pretty much wiped out all the other Words.

And that word is the real one?

No. RealOne has nothing to do with Word. RealOne isn’t even part of Office.

Never mind; I don’t want to get started with that again. But I also need something for banks accounts, loans, and so on. What do you have to help me track my money?


That’s right. What do you have?


I need money to track my money?

No, not really. It comes bundled with your computer.

What comes bundled with my computer?


Money comes bundled with my computer?

Exactly. No extra charge.

I get a bundle of money with my computer at no extra charge? How much money do I get?

Just one copy.

I get a copy of money. Isn’t that illegal?

No. We have a license from Microsoft to make copies of Money.

Microsoft can license you to make money?

Why not. They own it.

Well, it’s great that I’m going to get free money, but I’ll still need to track it. Do you have anything for managing your money.

Managing Your Money? That program disappeared years ago.

Well, what do you sell in its place.


You sell money?

Of course. But if you buy a computer from us, you get it for free.

That’s all very wonderful, but I’ll be running a business. Do you have any softwares for…you know…accounting?

Simply Accounting.

Probably, but it might get a little complicated.

If you don’t want Simply Accounting, you might try M.Y.O.B.

M.Y.O.B.? what does that stand for.

Mind Your Own Business.

I beg your pardon?

No, that would be I.B.Y.P. I said M.Y.O.B.

Look, I just need to do some accounting for my home business. You know—accounting? You do it with money.

Of course you can do accounting with Money. But you may need more.

More money?

More than Money. Money can’t do everything.

I don’t need a sermon! Okay, let’s forget about money for the moment. I’m worried that my computer might…what’s the word? Smash. And if my computer smashes, what can I use to restore my data?


Okay. I’m worried about my computer smashing and I need something to restore get my data. What do you recommend?


How many times do I have to repeat myself.

I’ve never asked you to repeat yourself. All I said was GoBack.

How can I go back if I haven’t even been anywhere? Okay, I’ll go back. What do I need to write a proposal?


But I’ll need lots of words to write a proposal.

No, you only need one Word—the Word in Office for Windows.

But there’s three words in…Oh, never mind.

Hello? Hello? Customers! Why do they always…Damn, there it goes again.

Ultimate SuperDuper Computer Store. Can I help you?