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Jewish World Review August 25, 2003 / 27 Menachem-Av, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Attack of the 'virus twits' | The lousy little computer geeks.

I'm talking about the whiz twits who launched the LoveSan virus last week. They found a flaw in Windows, launched their little virus and quickly shut down millions of computers around the world, including mine.

I called the expert technicians who work for my biggest client, a large computer firm. This firm generates billions in revenue every year showing other companies how to use computers and protect against viruses, so what did the technician tell me?

"Virus? What virus?"

I tried to go to the Microsoft Web site to download a patch to stop the problem. Microsoft issues dozens of patches every year to fix glitches in their software, glitches that allow geeks to send out viruses that shut your computer down. But this time the clever virus twits shut down the Microsoft Web site, too.

I was helpless. I fumbled about for hours. I tried to pull myself together. I even tried to write on a piece of paper with a pen, but my hand, unable to remember how to shape several consonants and at least two vowels, cramped up, causing unbelievable pain.

Finally, a secretary I know had me fixed up long before the technical people showed. I began breathing normally again and resumed my workday.

But the incident made me keenly aware of how vulnerable I am. Thanks to the Internet, everything is connected these days, and the same speed and ease that I rely on to get my work done is being used against me by geeks who are able to disrupt my little world at their whimsy.

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I have been accused of being a conservative fellow, even at times Libertarian. But let me tell you this: I favor new laws and new programs that go after the virus makers, no matter what civil liberties are abridged, no matter the costs.

I learned how to write on computers, you see -- learned how to think through computers. At Penn State in the early 1980s, I used to sneak into the Collegian offices late at night and use their dumb terminals and minicomputer to complete my schoolwork. Today I have the same relationship with my laptop that a crack addict has with his pusher.

My sudden awareness of this addiction pains me. I remember back in 1988 how I mocked the older fellows who ran an advertising agency I worked for. I'd come to them from a high-tech firm that was using the most advanced technology of the time. These fellows didn't even have a computer.

They'd go to lunch, suck down three martinis, then pump out an amount of work that the most advanced computer couldn't keep up with. They were unable to rely on the "productive" tools we take for granted today, so they compensated by developing better minds.

Though are we really more productive these days? How much time is wasted swapping e-mails with friends? And let's not forget that we need dozens of passwords to access computer systems. We forget the passwords, forcing us to spend hours on the phone with technical experts who say things like, "Password? What password?"

I remember working with a fellow once -- a very smart fellow -- who had just finished organizing his machine. It was loaded with spreadsheets and electronic databases to help him locate any information he might need to get through the day. One day, he sat in front of his brilliantly organized machine, completely perplexed.

"What's the matter?" I said to him. "I'm so well organized," he said, "that I can't find anything."

So I'm not convinced our computers are making us more productive. I am convinced that when the virus twits strike, millions of us can't do anything. Only the computer geeks thrive when such chaos and misery breaks out, and I have proof.

I read about one fellow who uses his home computer to schedule runs for his small trucking company. When the LoveSans virus shut him down, he called Geeks on Wheels (a real company). They installed the virus software and Microsoft patch and had him up and running in about 5 minutes.

And they only charged him $250 for the pleasure.

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07/18/03: The real story never makes for good summertime drama in Washington
07/11/03: Government bureaucrats, not elected officials, are really the ones determining what people and organizations can and can't do
07/03/03: Overworked Americans
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06/20/03: Crime Etiquette in Washington, D.C.
06/13/03: My Father, the Thief and the MGB
06/05/03: An Open Letter to Bill and Hillary
05/30/03: We are a busy people
05/23/03: Liar, Liar
05/16/03: Laffer all the way to the bank
05/09/03: My mother's house
05/02/03: Teaching the Iraqis how to protest
04/25/03: Iraqi TV
04/21/03: Explaining Democracy to the Iraqis
04/11/03: Major increases to the beer tax? That's a cheap shot right to the beer gut
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03/31/03: Dolphins, PETA and the USA
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01/21/03: "Misunderestimated"
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12/31/02: They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in
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12/06/02: In DC, snowstorms have important ramifications --- or, at least, they should
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11/15/02: An Interview with Osama
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10/25/02: On edge in Washington, D.C
10/11/02: Giving new meaning to "selling your body"
10/04/02: Bush's Angels
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07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
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06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
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04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell