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.”

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