Tales From The Dark Side
January 21st, 2004

If you have been a dedicated reader of The Mac Observer for years, there is a tiny chance you might remember me. I co-wrote a column called "Wasting Time with The Idiots" for over three years at TMO [Editor's Note: The Idiots rocked, and you should check out their old material. Welcome back, Gary! - Editor]. My co-author, Randy Soare, and I wrote our last column as 2001 came to an end. For the majority of you, though, I'm just another schmuck with a (probably bootleg) copy of Word, who thinks he knows something about Apple, the Mac, and the competition.

I can deal with that.

For most of my two years away from writing, I have been employed by a private school as the technology specialist. Originally, the Macintosh specialist, I have become more and more expert in the ways of Windows. I can now officially add "thorough working knowledge of Microsoft Windows XP Professional" to my resumé. While that might be good for my marketability, it ain't good for my soul.

How did it happen, you ask? In very typical fashion: politics intervened, and it was deemed necessary to leave a dying platform to expose students to the way it works in the "real world." Well, they have gotten of dose of that, in spades. Our students now regularly get dumped off of our network, are unable to save or print their work, and are increasingly more frustrated as documents, time and labor are lost to computer downtime.

How's that for progress? At least they won't be surprised when they do enter the workforce.

Apple's recent surge in education sales notwithstanding, the Macintosh is still considered barely a computer at my school. I hear comments from surprised parents when they walk into our iMac lab. I get asked regularly when we will be getting rid of those things. The amount of restraint I have had to show to people who think they are hackers because they ordered a DVD of Patch Adams from Amazon.com has almost certainly taken years off of my life.

The folly of it all is that we rarely have any problems with our iMacs and iBooks. Stuck at OS 9.2.2 for budgetary reasons, the Macs are still extremely reliable. Across campus, they automatically boot up at 7:30 and call it a day at 4:30. My most common tech call on a Mac is that it inexplicably shut down, and that is almost always because the plug has come out of the socket on the rear of the iMac. Why? Because the kids slide the things around to show someone what have found on the Internet (don't worry, we block a few porn sites), or what they have created using their Mac. Sure, I wish the sockets on the back were a little snugger, but I'll take it.

I wanted to work at a school because I wanted to share some of my expertise with kids so that they could become excited about technology. That is what happened to me when I saw my first Apple II. It was 1978 and I was eleven. I became interested in and have always surrounded myself with technology, specifically the Mac, ever since.

I wasn't even opposed to becoming a "cross-platform" school, which at least for the moment, we officially are. I welcomed an opportunity to gain more exposure to more technology, but that backfired. My time with the kids has disappeared. All because Windows machines are the neediest little monsters you can imagine.

It has become common knowledge that Microsoft issues security patches to prop up its operating system more often than Liza Minelli needs an aspirin. Last week, our network traffic slowed to a crawl, and a little investigation revealed that we had become infected with the Welchia (aka, Nachi) worm. This little nasty begins to ping every address it can on your network in order to find a machine that will respond so that it can replicate itself. This constant pinging, the equivalent of repeatedly speed-dialing the local radio station to win those two free tickets to "From Justin to Kelly", if you will, just brings a network to its knees.

The solution? Go to each and every one of our Windows machines and perform the following sequence.

  1. Disable the system restore feature of Windows to delete files that Windows creates that no virus remover can access.
  2. Run a Windows updater that fixes the vulnerability. Otherwise, a disinfected machine will immediately become infected again as soon as it is exposed to the network.
  3. Run a tool from Symantec that searches the hard drive and deletes the worm files. This process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to well over an hour, depending on the number of files it needs to look through.
  4. Turn on system restore, so that when Windows crashes, there is a slight chance you can return to an earlier version of the operating system where there is a slight chance a version of your lost work exists (even though it will be an old version of the document from a long time ago). It's like Microsoft invented the crappiest time machine ever, and only at the expense of gigs and gigs of hard drive space.
  5. Hang your head and wearily plod to the next infected machine.
  6. Repeat over and over for four days until all machines are rid of one of the many viruses that plague them.
  7. Remember that life is worth living because your first kid is a few weeks old and that really puts things in perspective.

Finally, after all of that was done, I realized that my goal of exciting people about technology was going to have to be achieved in another way.

Don't get me wrong. I am not quitting my job. I enjoy the people I work with, and I enjoy working with the kids when I can.

But I still have a desire to spark an interest in technology. Just think of the things you can do today. You can take, store, edit, and print photos without ever paying for developing. You can create movies and DVD's at home, not long ago the realm of the dedicated video professional (the ones with hundreds of thousands of dollars). You can share these things easily by simply creating your own website without having to know a line of code. You can carry the contents of an incredibly huge CD library on a device the size of a deck of cards. And the shift in the way music is sold will be phenomenal.

Apple is the innovator in these areas, to name a few, and I am excited about these technologies. Maybe I should try and find a way to excite others about these cool innovations. Maybe I could think of a way to play with my Mac even more than I do now. Maybe I should go back to writing columns covering topics like these, and maybe I shouldn't spend any more time disinfecting Windows boxes. Hmmmm...

And, oh, yeah, after thinking about it a little, I am quitting my job. I would rather stay at home, doing things that are important, like raising little Jack, and doing things that excite me, like writing about what may prove to be the biggest renaissance for Apple in more than a decade.

As Homer Simpson, my hero, might say, "Mmmmmmm......cathartic."