Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Febrile Technology

Our work computer picked up a virus the other day. There are about eight computers for the entire office (our section has one to share between four of us), and it seems to me they all get used as much for playing Pac Man and (worse still) playing music as they do for work. The games and music are shared around by USB Thumb Drives which, of course, are perfect incubators for viruses. So the office is electronically pestilent, a bit like a PC ward riddled with golden staf.

A computer virus – for those who don’t know – is a small and self-replicating program designed by semi-intelligent fuckwits with no other purpose on this planet than to make life difficult for people they are never likely to meet. They infest bits of your computer you didn’t know you had and destroy bits of it you thought were superfluous… until they’re gone. A friend who was somewhat into computers once told me that computer aficionados often aspire to create successful viruses (i.e. the ones that do a lot of damage to a lot of computers) because it would give them ‘intellectual’ kudos, presumably among other computer aficionados. Personally I don’t think these people are any more intellectual than myself, they just spend what limited intellect they do have (and 18 hours a day) sitting in dark rooms surrounded by empty pizza boxes and diet soft drinks putting their superior knowledge about one subject (i.e. computers) to extremely poor use. Why would someone get kudos for that? The international town planning fraternity would scorn me if used the same logic to maliciously inconvenience strangers with deliberately poor development.

Anyway, I’m sure the kudos seekers would get a real kick out of knowing they managed to bugger the boot-up system on one of only eight computers dedicated land use and planning for over 300 000 people in a Province where every resource needs to be dedicated to improving lives and livelihoods. And I’m sure the kudos seekers would be even more pleased to know that it cost just over half the annual maintenance budget (money is tight here) to fix the problem. That’s not ‘half the annual computer maintenance budget’… its ‘half the annual maintenance budget’, full-stop. So let’s hope we don’t blow too many light bulbs this year eh?

I’m annoyed (can you tell?) for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I’ve pretty much gone into already, this whole thing to me is pointlessly inconveniencing. As least ‘spyware’ has a financial incentive (albeit a nefarious one). But this is just a schoolboy prank with a keyboard; and wouldn’t I like to take the schoolboy responsible to the back of the sheds and punch some commonsense into him?

Secondly, the whole infection thing came about through what I consider to be a thorough misuse of work computers. I’m not being a nark. I can live my trainees spending a bit of down time playing computer snooker (so long as they get their work done), and I don’t even mind some music being played on work computers. But I personally think that island reggae sounds like cats fighting to a backbeat, and the office workers (several of them, simultaneously playing different songs), like it loud and distorted. It’s a real headache generator – and certainly a big distraction from actual work.

But most of all I’m annoyed because it was me (trying to eliminate the virus) that managed to delete all the important files… apparently. Somewhere, in between realising we had an infestation and the whole system going tits-up, I managed to bungle healing process by pressing the ‘delete’ button rather than the ‘move to vault’ button. It’s all gobbledegook to me, and I’d simply (and wrongly) assumed that the ‘virus checker’ software knew its purpose in life just as much as the virus did, and would make my computer better, rather than fucking it up completely. It didn’t.

I lost a bit of credibility on that one. I lost even more credibility shortly thereafter – right about the moment the computer first failed to fire – when asked by one of my trainees ‘at least you backed everything up first… right?’. I think from memory I responded with some sort of muffled grunting/gurgling sound that should have told anyone within earshot the answer was ‘no’, but he asked again for good measure.

So its become clear that I’m going to be one of those ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type managers, the sort that go to the trouble of making deliberate and costly mistakes for the educational benefit of their subordinates. I’m sure the whole team, me included, have learned some valuable computing lessons from the episode.

The good news is that the virus didn’t do any permanent damage. All the important stuff is still safely stored on the hard drive; we just couldn’t get at it for a few days. When I say ‘all the important stuff’, I’m no longer referring to games and music; they are unfortunate victims of the new ‘Physical Planning IT Policy’, which put simply, is ‘Just Don’t’. I can’t say I’m missing the music yet… mainly because it’s still beaming at me from the remnant seven computers.

And so that’s the latest story from ‘James’ Adventures in Computerland’. Even blogging is a technological stretch for me, so it stands to reason that a ‘Trojan Horse’ in one of my ‘Win32 Files’ is going to cause me a bit of grief. At least I’ve made the virus-writing-kudos-seeking dickheads happy for a while.

But if you are one of those virus-writing-kudos-seeking dickheads, consider this: The average wage in this Province is around K270 per month (around about $115 Australian). The majority of people here will never even use a computer, let alone own one. And of those who are earning next to nothing and will never use a computer, about forty-thousand or so are living in reasonably imminent danger, and, its assumed, will one day need relocation from their homes because a volcano swallowed their land. The Division of Lands consists of about twenty people who are working very hard (in between game of Pac Man and a bit of dreadful music) to find a suitable place for them to go if and when the time comes. You may well scoff at the work that’s being done – that’s easy enough – but these people are, in their own important way, saving lives. And so, Mr. virus-writing-kudos-seeking dickhead… what did you do today?

Hope you are well wherever you are,


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