it isn't Broken . . .
began innocently enough. As the Internet project I was
working on approached a critical stage, I found myself
spending more and more time with a hypochondriacal
computer guru. Having reformatted one too many hard
drives as a result of unfriendly viruses, he was
constantly scanning every e-mail and program for any
traces of a virus.
Being a type-A
personality, I soon found myself becoming annoyed with
what I considered a needless effort and a waste of
valuable time. After all, I've been active on the
Internet for years, and had yet to experience my first
Arriving late for a
meeting one day, I handed him a disk with our
presentation on it, and asked if he could print it out.
"Sure, but first let me do a virus check . . ." It was
too much for me. "Can you do this later? My wife's
headed out of town today, and I've got to get home early
to take care of the animals."
My polite request to skip
the virus check met with a cool, calm, and thoroughly
lucid discourse of the pros and cons of virus checking.
Needless to say, while the talk was insightful, it's
relevance to why we were late for the meeting was missed
by our annoyed management.
As I drove home, I began
to consider some of the points he had made. Figuring it
just might be better to be safe than sorry, I stopped by
a computer store and bought myself a virus scanner.
After using the unread directions to light a fire, I
installed the program and logged in to download e-mail.
The night's download was the usual fair: jokes for
friends, jokes from co-workers, jokes from people I
didn't know and jokes from people I would rather not
admit I know.
While responding to one
joke, I noticed that I was unable to change the font
size. Unwilling to let it be, I spent the next hour
clicking on every tab and button in my e-mail program,
all to no avail. I began to wonder if I had received one
of those benign viruses, you know, the type that doesn't
really do any damage, but play with your settings. I ran
the virus scan. Nothing.
After another hour of
clicking tabs and buttons, I finally broke down and
called the e-mail program's technical support. "Yep,
your version of our e-mail program has problems with
that virus scan program. I guess you missed that warning
in the installation instruction huh?"
"Ah . . . yeah, I guess I
did." I mumbled, as I looked forlornly at the fireplace.
"Is there an easy fix?"
"Well not really. What
we're going to have to do is uninstall the virus scan
program, uninstall the e-mail upgrade, and then
reinstall the upgrade. OK? Do you have your upgrade disc
I cringed. "Um, err, um,
no. I lent it to my brother . . ." My imagination went
wild. I was sure I had no sooner said those words then
the technician was logging my name into an FBI database
and I would soon be doing time in the big house for
Fortunately, the tech
support rep had a leveler head on his shoulders then I
did. "No big deal, you can either order a new copy, or
down one from our site. Either way, it's free."
I started to breathe
"Unfortunately, the older
version of your e-mail program we're going to install
can't read your current e-mails or address books. But we
can save them to another disc and you can reinstall them
later when you get the upgrade package. OK?"
It sounded easy enough,
after all, I was a Nuclear Engineer. The tasks proceeded
quickly and soon I once again had mastery of my font
sizes, albeit with the arcane version of my e-mail
After hanging up, I logged
into their site and downloaded the upgrade. "Now let's
see, was I supposed to move the address book and e-mail
files back before or after I upgraded . . ." Before?
After? Before? After?
I looked around
half-heartedly for the paper I had scribbled the
instructions on, but where I had placed it was beyond
me. I used a coin toss to help break the deadlock, and
after reinstalling the old components, I upgraded the
Everything seemed to work.
The next day however I
noticed that my address book was empty and that every
time I entered a name it disappeared. I smelled a virus.
Once again however, nothing turned up on the virus scan.
Questioning the quality of the virus program, I ran out
and purchased another program, but it too said my system
was clean - as did a third program.
A wannabe geek, I sat and
thought for a while, finally concluding that my core
e-mail program was probably damaged, and a good
candidate for the Window's 98's Inbox Repair Tool. [I
always wanted to fix a trans-miss-e-on . . . ]
I confidently pointed the
Inbox Repair Tool toward my e-mail program and turned it
loose. My hard drive immediately let out a groan and the
monitor went blank. I sat in stunned silence. After a
few minutes, everything returned to normal, with the
exception of the e-mail icon, which had taken on a
rather strange, sinister shape. Clicking on it returned
a "Not a Win32 Application" error message. I knew then
that I was headed for deep trouble.
I logged back into the
manufacture's web site, downloading this time the full
Internet communications package, not just the e-mail
portion. Unfortunately, my modem, which thinks it works
for the government, took three hours to complete the
half-hour task. Returning from pouring my fourth gin and
tonic, I nonchalantly unzipped the file and clicked on
the setup button, or . . . what I thought was the set-up
"Are you sure you want to
do this? Yes/No," asked my computer via a message box.
"What? Yeah, just do it!"
I clicked yes.
"Do you really want me to
do this? You can't be that stupid can you?" It flashed
back. The message only served to strengthen my long held
belief that my computer was an early Monday or late
Friday production unit, and, as such, had inherited the
disgruntled smart aleck attitude of its builder.
I clicked yes again.
No sooner had I lifted my
finger off the mouse button then a new error message
flashed on the screen: "User is too stupid to run
computer. Shutting down now."
I poured another gin and
tonic. It was obviously going to be a long night.
I called technical support
again. They listened patiently as I told my tale of woe,
somehow resisting the urge to say "You did what?" or
"That was pretty stupid." Following their directions, I
soon had the computer up and running again, but in spite
of everything they could think of, the e-mail program
refused to run.
"Well," said the voice on
the other end of the line, "I think its time to
reinstall Windows 98." I cracked open another bottle of
The technician got me
going, and, given that there was little more he could
do, I thanked him and hung up. The technician's
prediction that it would only take an hour to reinstall
Windows was based on having no other program running on
the computer. Unfortunately, I missed that step. The
installation process was begun not with one virus
checker running, but three. Fourteen hours later, my
computer resumed taking keyboard commands.
I awoke to the sound of my
computer beeping annoyingly at me. Apparently, it wasn't
too happy that I was drooling on its keyboard. I took a
deep breath and clicked on my e-mail program. It didn't
respond. Figuring it couldn't hurt, I kicked the
computer. The hard drive let out a painful screech and
the monitor went dead.
I stared at the screen
dumfounded for what must have been hours. My trance was
broken by the arrival of a friend and his 15-year-old
"Man, what happened to you? You look like you've been
ridden hard and put away wet!" He said jovially.
The two listened
attentively as I recounted the night's events.
"Have you asked
engineering to run a system wide level one diagnostic?"
I stared at him blankly.
"Has it occurred to you that you might have watched a
little too much Star Trek?"
"Geez, I'm just trying to
help. Well, try turning the computer off and on real
fast? Maybe you can get something to catch."
His daughter saved me the
trouble of answering. "Daddy! God, you are so
embarrassing at times!" Turning to me, she offered her
two cents: "Have you tried removing and then
reinstalling your e-mail program using the Window's
setup tab in the Add/Remove program Icon?"
I stared at her blankly.
"Hum." She mumbled. "In
cases like this, I always find it quicker to reformat
the hard drive and do a full installation. Do you want
me to show you how?"
Her farther and I stared
at her blankly. She must have felt our adult male egos
boiling, after a few minutes of silence she modified her
offer of help. "Well of course, I'm sure you can do it,
but, if you need me, here's my card."
Figuring that the trio of
virus scanners had interfered with the Windows
reinstallation, I reinstalled Windows again, albeit this
time with the virus checkers off. It still didn't work.
Figuring three times is a charm, I tried it again.
Nothing. Thoroughly humiliated, I finally broke down and
called the manufacture of my computer for help.
Donating my computer for
our annual community computer shoot was beginning to
look like a good solution. Eventually, I managed to get
the service rep to slow down enough to understand him,
which I quickly regretted when he told me that I'd have
to reformat my hard drive to fix the problem.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied.
As I clicked on the start
key, I heard the voice on the receiver mumble
"Haveahappy daycallusbackwhenyou'redone." The receiver
Somehow I did it, though I
couldn't tell you how. With the hard disk wiped clean,
the Window's installation process flew, and within an
hour, my computer was up and running as good as new,
albeit without the virus scanner program installed. The
computer had no sooner returned to life then the e-mail
upgrade package arrived in the mail. Clearing away some
of the used gin bottles, I poured myself a large cup of
bitter black coffee, and, for once, actually studied
Closing my eyes, I clicked
on the e-mail icon. My grimaced turned to a smile as the
sound of my modern dialing-out filled the room. My wife
returned home and opened the door as the first on five
days worth of jokes began to roll in. "My god, what
happened she said as she surveyed the room. "This room
looks like you've lived in it and you're still in the
clothes you were wearing when I left. And what's that
"Let's just say, it wasn't
'Virus? What are you
"Remember that old adage
'If it isn't broken, don't fix it? Well, it all began
innocently enough the night you left . . ."
other humor stories by Michael Hillman
other stories by Michael Hillman