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No more excuses

SHARI CAUDRON

It's easy to ignore uncomfortable activities. But ignoring irritations doesn't make them go away.

IT started with gentle warnings from friends. "You may have a computer virus," e-mailed an associate from Chicago. "Please get your system checked," urged a client in California.

Virus? Check-up? Me? Don't be silly. I don't visit the kind of websites where I'd pick up viruses. Well, except for that one time I visited a site that sold life-size blow-up Shari dolls. I'd planned to send one to a friend as a joke, but nixed the idea when I learned the cost was $89 plus shipping and "handling", a term that made me nervous.

I figured my upstanding behaviour on the Internet would render me free of debilitating cyber diseases. But about two weeks ago, my cherished Gateway 2000 staged a severe work slow down. Files took a painfully long time to open and close. Working on my computer was like a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles: An hour of teeth-gnashing frustration followed by five minutes of slow progress.

This went on for three days until one morning, in the middle of an exhaustive Internet search, the entire system seized up like a soprano stricken mid-aria with a fatal heart attack. There was no going on. I had to call a computer service.

The technician, who was easily half my age, arrived the next day and the first sentence out of his mouth ended in the word "ma'am". Ma'am? Excuse me, but aren't ma'ams feeble widows who need help with their groceries? I huffed down the hallway to my office, the computer tech in tow. He sat on my black swivel chair and began to tap loudly on the keyboard. "What is your virus protection software?" he asked.

"I think I used to have the Norton Utility Closet or something like that," I replied. "I can't remember. It might have been uninstalled. Maybe it crashed. Does it matter?" I tried to change the subject. "How'd you get into this line of work?'

"I like computers," he replied, frowning at my monitor. "It says here you have McAfee and the virus definition files were last updated in whoa! 1998? Is that true?"

"Could be," I mumbled. "So are you married?" It didn't help that the week my computer decided to crash was the same week my partner's mother, a former schoolteacher, was visiting. "You have a virus?" she asked, when the technician arrived. "Don't you keep your virus files updated? Shari, you've got to keep your virus files updated. You can pick up bad things on the Internet. You also have to clean your files regularly. Shari, you are cleaning your system aren't you?" The computer tech nodded as she spoke. This did not make me feel better.

To set the record straight, I knew I was supposed to keep my virus files updated. I knew I should have been performing, at the very least, some routine maintenance. But frankly, this seemed like a hassle. I don't like hassles. Besides, I'd never had a computer problem before.

I turned my attention back to the technician. He inserted a disk into the CD drive, tapped some keys, sat back, scratched the side of his nose, squinted, and shook his head from side to side as if trying to clear water from his ear drums. "Is it bad?" I asked.

He didn't respond right away. Eventually, he disclosed the bad news: I had 178 infections, or 178 infected files, or something like that. I don't recall his exact phrasing because, the moment I heard the "I" word, I began to feel dirty.

"It's going to take me a while to clean all these files," he said, pulling on rubber gloves and a surgical mask. (Actually, there were no gloves involved. But I wouldn't have been surprised.) "Will I lose any data?" I asked, trying to keep the concern from my voice. He didn't know.

Figuring the repair would take about 45 minutes; I went downstairs and looked through recipe books. I planned that night's dinner. I planned the next night's dinner. And I began to bargain with the computer gods. If my system could be cleaned without any data loss, I promised to check for viruses every day. At least once a week. Definitely once a month. Another hour passed and I began to think about all the other nagging, work-related tasks that are easy to ignore: preparing monthly reports, making sales calls, having an honest talk with a colleague about why I no longer wish to collaborate on an upcoming project. It's easy to ignore uncomfortable activities. But like my mother always said: ignoring irritations doesn't make them go away. I hate it when she's right.

It took the technician almost six hours to get my computer working again. "Ma'am," he called from upstairs. "I think we're done." I skulked into my office and asked whether I'd lost any files. "I don't think so," he said. "You were lucky." Lucky, yes, except for two days of lost work and whatever six hours of repair time will cost. "Don't worry," he reassured me. "I won't charge you for the time when the system was scanning and I was just sitting here. That would suck."

Suck indeed. Speaking of which, I've now made it a rule to take care of at least one niggling work-related task each day.

Today's job? Writing a letter to the head of lost and found at the Sheraton Hotel in Baltimore, who allegedly has not been able to find some clothing I'd left in a drawer even though I called about the clothes a couple of hours after check-out. My plan of attack is simple. I will start the letter, "Dear Ma'am..."

Shari Caudron has now been virus free for two months and counting.

E-mail shari@sharicaudron.com to comment.

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