Return to:
Windy Meadow Farm
    Horses and Riding
  Farm Life
List of other articles on by:




If it isn't Broken . . .

Michael Hillman

It all 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 virus.

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 handy?"

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 sharing software.

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 again.

"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 program.

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 e-mail program.

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 button.

"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 gin.

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 daughter.
"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. "Five times."

"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 went dead.

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 installation instructions.

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 smell?"

"Let's just say, it wasn't a virus."

'Virus? What are you talking about?"

"Remember that old adage 'If it isn't broken, don't fix it? Well, it all began innocently enough the night you left . . ."

Read other humor stories by Michael Hillman

Read other stories by Michael Hillman