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Do I live on Elm Street? Because this is A Nightmare by Carolyn Donovan


What the...?

It was weird that my virus protection software did not discover any threat on my hard drive. It was even weirder that CheckDisk (that’s CHKDSK to you old DOSser’s) didn’t find anything wrong with the boot partition or the FAT table. The darn thing just…wouldn’t…work. So, I installed a new drive.

After I installed the new drive, and installed the Windows XP operating system from the CD that came with the machine, I was relieved to find that all of my data still existed on the old drive, and that I could see the old drive from the new XP. My old drive was completely inaccessible as a standalone, but when it was made a slave to a master drive, all of the files on it were open-able (I just couldn’t launch any applications from that drive). Why it would spin up now, I decided not to spend time figuring it out, since I knew it would take two days just to install and configure all my “shtuff” to the new drive.

My honeymoon with the new drive lasted about two weeks, without the trip to Maui. Things just weren’t right. I kept losing my wireless broadband connection, like, every 35 seconds. Applications would take a long time to launch, files took forever to open, and it seemed like my CPU was running at 100% all the time. Why would my machine be running at 100% when all it is is on?

But I'm a Good Person!

I was good this time, and used the Microsoft automatic upgrade notification plan, so when an update was released, I would download and install it. I got Service Pack 1. I got Service Pack 2. I got every single download Microsoft told me I needed. Most of them were very grievous indeed: “this install prohibits hackers from gaining control over your machine and sending out pretend emails from eBay” or some such thing. I was very up-to-date. The sad thing about it was as soon as I regained connection to the Internet, Microsoft notified me of TWENTY updates that needed to be installed immediately, 16 of which were security updates.

(Sidebar: Wan, who is technically and officially way more geeky than I will ever be—he’s putting a voice-activated computer into the Boxster, for heaven’s sake, and he’s making it up as he goes—updated his Apple laptop and desktop to the new Tiger OS in 37 minutes. That’s for both. And it worked perfectly right out of the box. No Service Packs required in his office, nosirree. That’s all I’m sayin’, and I feel like a heretic sayin’ it.)

In frustration I chalked it up to having a less-than-top-brand PC, but I knew that wasn’t it. As a previous geek (well, have you taught Strategic Air Command how to stripe their data across multiple disk arrays?), I knew that the more techie places built machines that were just as good as those $2,500 jobs, just for a lot less, and using a different chip manufacturer. I started humming tunes from The Police’s Ghost in the Machine.

Nothing IS Something

And then, it happened. Nothing. And in the computing world, nothing happening is something indeed.

I was determined to not go through with this drive what I went through with the other drive, and remembered that Windows has a “System Restore” point that you can roll back the computer to. I restored and restored and restored, and know what happened? Nothing. My system remained the same.

Then, and only then, I remembered that the CD’s that came with the machine would reinstall the OS to the original condition. Okay, so I would lose some stuff, but not that much. All of my applications would still exist, more or less (as far as I could tell). And so, I inserted my emergency disk, and reinstalled Windows XP. And a lot more than nothing happened, but so much happened, it was like opening up a great big can of…nothing, so much happened.

Here’s a little tip: Reinstalling the OS from the CDs that come with the computer will not eradicate the Service Packs. And so, I had a little of the original OS and a little of the SP2, and all of that added together gave me: nothing. I broke the OS, and it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t copy data, I couldn’t drag files to the other drive, I couldn’t open Outlook, I couldn’t do anything other than look at the screen.

This was a lot worse than the first time. My only saving grace is that I actually moved my required files (like client work and my screenplays) to the other drive before everything broke.

Oh, to alter the Space-Time Continuum, Just this Once

There’s something really defeating about having to do a destructive install. That’s what they call it: destructive install. This type of installation eradicates everything on your drive. Your address book in your e-mail application. Your favorites list on your Internet browser. Your funky little files that you forgot you had but come across every once in a while and make you smile. Those useful free applications whose name you no longer remember because you just click on the orange icon and it does whatever it does. The emails you "archived" on your hard drive because you were running out of space in your mailbox but didn’t want to throw them away. It’s like wiping out your life.

Okay, a dose of reality here, maybe: I work on a computer all day, every day. It’s what I do, and everything I do is on this computer. It holds the rewrites to 4,000 pages of technical documentation that I have done for clients, and the URLs to the country inns in the U.K. that we were looking at when we were planning a trip to Jollie Olde over Christmas but never went. It holds my white papers on formatting procedures, and my shoe shopping invitation to my niece for her 14th birthday. This is like my command center. I know when I work out, because I put it in my Outlook Calendar, and I know how many hours I put in for that SOA consulting group because I put that in my Outlook Calendar as well.

Maybe your life isn’t “in” your computer, but believe me, if you lose whatever’s in there, it’s gonna knock you for six.

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