Sudden Death

Before I start this post, the ceiling hasn’t collapsed yet… tick… tick… tick… Keep those guesses coming! Be sure you have put your prediction in your comment on the Next Catastrophe post. I’ve noticed several of you didn’t include one. I’m really appreciating all the comments you have posted. Your advice, comfort, support, and humor are definitely making this much more amusing than it would otherwise be. Thanks! 🙂

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So, I’ve alluded several time in the last month or two to having been offline for a while rather unexpectedly, and I promised an explanation. Long story short, I was working on the computer early one morning, back in November, and DH begged a turn. When I tried to get on again when he was finished, nothing worked. A few phone calls verified my worst fear; he’d found a virus somewhere, and Norton had not stopped it. 😦

Now the long version!

With five online stores and several open transactions at the time, plus having intended to spend my day publishing my next knitting pattern, I only panicked a little bit – probably somewhere around a 6.2 on the Richter scale, just as a rough estimate… I put in an emergency call to our computer guy, who still hasn’t returned my call as of January, and who is now our former computer guy, and then tried to find something important to do that didn’t involve the computer (not an easy task) while I waited.

The next day, proud of myself for not having gone insane in the first 24 hours, I started looking for someone who DID want a job. I’d tried a shop in Wilmington a couple years ago, and they weren’t going to touch my machine again, but then I thought of Staples. Surely they would be a trustworthy medical team for this project, and after talking to the young man who took my call, I confidently packed both the current tower and the machine that died a few years ago for a trip to the doctor.

Checking my two patients in, I asked numerous questions and received all the right answers. Yes, they could pull the “lost” data off the old computer, and they would even put it into the newer tower if I would like.  No, I didn’t need to be concerned about my data, as it would be saved and reloaded once everything was clean. And yes, no problem loading Word into it while it was there, especially since I brought the disc with me. And, this would take two days unless they had to order discs to reload Windows, but they’d likely be able to do it from the “mirror.” The only “bad” news I got was that not only did they have my two computers in their possession, they also demanded over $200 paid up front before they’d even touch them. For some reason, that bothered me greatly!

Two more days offline was going to be rough, especially since it actually would be 3 days, as it was over the weekend. At home, I pulled out my geriatric laptop, which was old technology and well used when I bought it back in 2003. Poor thing can’t even open Hotmail any longer; it can’t cope with whatever it is MSN tries to load when a page is opened. Every 15 minutes or so of online work (1-5 minute page loads) requires a 45 minute reboot. Needless to say, this was not a highly productive time for me, but at least I managed to get a couple of critical notes out.

The next day was Saturday, and I got several calls from the nice young man who was caring for my computers. He got the info out of the old computer with no problem; he was working on the newer one – couldn’t find the virus with his software, but was trying something else; he didn’t get done today, and wouldn’t be in at the beginning of the week, but someone else would finish the job and call me Monday.

Uh-oh.

Monday I heard nothing. So much for 2 days…  Tuesday afternoon I get a call with an “update” in which the new guy tells me that the info from the old machine had been retrieved. “Nice,” I tell him, “but guy #1 told me he did that on Saturday.” “Oh,” he replies. Then he adds that he’s completely wiped my hard drive clean and is going to order discs to restore it. (Note: this is the fourth day it’s been in Wilmington, and he’s talking about ordering discs as being a future activity…) So I asked if he was able to save all, or at least most, of the info from that computer. “Huh? No, the paper work didn’t say you wanted your information saved. I just cleared it.” I’m afraid my next question was a bit louder than it really needed to be… “WHAT???? You just DELETED my entire BUSINESS???????” :O A brief silence on the other end of the line was followed by, “Ma’am, could I call you back?”

The thing is, he did NOT call me back! After fuming for a couple of days, I called Staples back, and thankfully, the nice young man answered the phone. I was SO relieved – until he told me that he wasn’t allowed to work on computers for a while because he’d done something to upset them. Until that moment, I didn’t realize the knot in my stomach could get any tighter than it already was. 😦 Guy #2 was very reassuring when I did talk to him, though I wasn’t sure I trusted anything he was saying. He told me first that my old hard drive had apparently been damaged by the virus and needed replaced. He also said that he’d spent a lot of time scouring my hard drive and had retrieved “a whole lot of music files and a big mess of pictures.” He also asked me to make the hour round trip drive to the store, wanting me to look at what he found and make sure he had it all. Now I don’t know about you, but I sure couldn’t know off the top of my head if a few files here or there were missing from my computer, unless they  happened to be the ones I needed at any given moment, so I was a bit dubious about this exercise, not to mention unhappy to have to invest the gas and the time to do it. However, Saturday found me standing nervously behind the tech desk looking at what were supposed to be my computer files. First he pulled up a few songs I didn’t recognize, and none of the dozens I was expecting to find. I was still puzzling over that when he pulled up the “mess of pictures.” The light dawned on me as I looked at these strange, professional appearing images. He’d not recovered a single one of my photos or music files; he’d painstakingly retrieved the sample songs and images that come packaged on a new computer! I began fighting a meltdown and asked to see my documents. The best description I can use for what I saw would be “Swiss cheese.” Many folders were missing, and the ones I checked that were there were all missing many of the files. Now before you think I’m totally daft, I do use an online backup service, but still… they promised my computer was going to come back to me fully functioning with all my data, perhaps even salvaging my programs. Instead, I was looking at rags and tatters of what had been. Never before had I had computer work done where the tech didn’t save and reinstall information, and I was paying them more than I’ve ever paid! My departure from the store was definitely abrupt – enough so that the next call I received was from the store manager. I don’t think Guy #2 had the nerve to call me back. Perhaps he doesn’t like tears and barely restrained anger…

So, when the manager called me a few days later, she informed me that what they guy had done was standard practice at Staples. However, she said that two of the fellows had spent the better part of a work day trying to find everything they could retrieve, and there was nothing else to be found at this point, whether it used to be there or not. Also, if I had wanted my information saved, I’d have needed to hand over yet another $100 at check in time. I was still sputtering over that when she poured a bit of tiny bit oil on the water by telling me that they weren’t going to charge me to install my new hard drive. How thoughtful of them! (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes…)

More days passed, and I finally got a call from the nice young man, saying my machines were ready for pick up. Three weeks to the day, I retrieved them, and was pleased to not be charged for the hard drive itself, either. With a bit of trepidation, I came home and looked to see what I had left. You know, sometimes words fail me… What I had was a computer that was more naked than any I’ve ever bought new. I sat here and bawled, which wasn’t very useful, but certainly did feel appropriate! I had a blank slate, and no, they did not put my files back, nor did they load Word.

I’ve had a major learning experience that was very much unwanted over the past two months, but I’ve finally rebuilt (hopefully) most all of my files, and I have only a couple more programs to replace. I’ve spent far too many hours working “on” the computer and because of that, far fewer working “at” it, not to mention other things I needed to be doing. I’ve had to walk away from the project in total frustration more than once, but I’ve survived the experience, and I’m feeling a bit proud of that. I do now have a computer that is running, and I can do nearly everything I was doing at the beginning of November again – finally!

I did lose many of my knitting class files (Apparently they tasted good to the virus.), so I had to redo a lot of work I thought was done “once for good,” and do it in time for January 4 classes. That was probably the biggest headache, as it was the most immediate and time sensitive project, holidays were happening – and I’d only just finished it the first time a few days before the attack. Even with my curtailed holiday plans, I only completed the minimum of this the day before it was needed, and not as well as before, because I discovered another program I needed and couldn’t replace in time. I have it now, though, and I feel like an overcomer when I look at what I’ve rebuilt! Next step – get those patterns that were supposed to be done last year published!

I’ve often wondered during this odyssey just what it is that makes the people who write viruses do what they do. So many crimes are designed to benefit the perpetrator, but the virus bunch never even sees the damage they do and the heartache they cause people. I’ve looked at what it’s cost me personally – about $500 and untold hours of my time just trying to retrieve what was mine in the first place, not to mention the extreme emotional strain and the additional out of pocket expense to try to protect everything from potential future loss. I guess just imagining this pain multiplied over how many people is some sort of a thrill to the criminal mind…

What I’ve learned…

  1. Having Norton isn’t a guarantee, and if Norton says it’s having problems fixing something, you have a big problem on your hands. Check out some alternative anti-virus programs. I got lazy and didn’t do that when this computer came – used Norton “because it was there.” Many viruses are written specifically to get around Norton, because it’s so widely used.
  2. Get every single promise in writing when you take your computer for work, no matter where you go. If you expect to have your information retrieved, then be very sure they will do it, and ascertain that they know the difference between family photos and the pre-loads.
  3. Ask probing questions before you hand over your computer to anyone! Every computer person and every recent repair client I’ve spoken to in the past 3 months, other than Staples, is appalled my hard drive was cleared without the information being backed up, and some of the tech people I’ve queried were approached in such a way that they did not know of my experience. This means you really have to ask “dumb” questions at times if you are going to know the whole truth.
  4. If you don’t have a reputable computer repair person right now, find one, even if you don’t need them for another 3 years. Get recommendations from as many people as you can, and choose someone who has on overwhelmingly good reputation. After what I just went through, I’d strongly suggest you look for a small, local shop, as they have much more to lose from bad customer service than does a big chain store like Staples. Call during off hours to see if they return calls promptly, and if they do, keep that phone number in a safe spot. It’s worth its weight in gigabytes!
  5. Use some form of back ups – perhaps several! My online back up system saved my skin. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s the difference between me still having anything that resembles a business and being totally wiped out. I wish I’d also had additional back ups on discs in my desk drawer, and I’m remedying that problem in my not so spare time. The joy of the online system I use is that it constantly backs up things as I work, and I don’t have to remember to make it happen. It also allows remote access, and if I ever lost my computer and discs through some disaster, I’d still have the files stored in a safe place. It’s worth every penny it costs!
  6. There is a free program/service, formerly called Foxmarks, but now known as Xmarks. It will not only sync your bookmarks between computers, but also is backing up your bookmarks on a constant basis. I’d installed it years ago and forgot about it, as my geriatric laptop was too old to run the program. One day a few weeks ago, when I was nearly in tears trying to find information I’d searched out and marked in the past, I suddenly had this little memory from the past tickle my brain. I found Xmarks again, and lo and behold, there were all my bookmarks safe and sound, ready to sync back to my restored computer! That made for one of the best evenings I’ve had since November! 🙂
  7. If you don’t write your passwords for every single site and program you access somewhere secure, unless your memory is far better than mine, you are going to spend an awful lot of time retrieving them when you face something similar someday.
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