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June 27, 2022

Oort Cloud Oddities: Safe Surfing

By Alexandra Queen

When I was in high school, my parents sat me down and had The Talk. Of course I tried to plug my ears and go, "La la la!" — hearing that sort of thing from your parents is fundamentally gross — but apparently I didn't shout, "LA LA LA" loud enough because snippets of The Talk have been coming back to me recently. In a very strange and vivid way.

"It's not that 'It' is bad," I've been hearing my parents' voices echo in my head. The memory accompanied by a strange, constant background noise that sounds suspiciously like the revolted screams of a thirteen-year-old girl. "It's just that you can enjoy 'It' more if you save 'It' for the right time." Sixteen years later, I am starting to see new wisdom in my parents' "old fashioned" teachings. I heard their words, but only now am I beginning to understand. I thought they were talking about sex, but it turns out, they were talking about the Internet.

"How could this have happened to me," sobs my husband now. I put my hand on his shoulder to console him. In front of us, a blue screen informs him that a computer virus has eaten important files in his operating system and that the machine is unable to function normally. "This is only supposed to happen to people who go on naughty websites! It happened when I was looking at an information site for my computer game, EverPest!"

Unbidden to my mind springs my parents' excellent warning. At the time, I thought they were talking about why abstinence outside of marriage was so sensible and why you should look for a potential lifemate who shared similar ideals. "Remember, honey, diseases aren't just for 'bad' people. It only takes one mistake, or one person telling a lie, and even a nice person can get a disease. And remember, even if you use protection like they say on TV, there's still a percentage of failure. The only way to be one hundred percent sure is to save 'It' for marriage."

Fast forward ahead sixteen years, to John looking up at me with anguish, saying, "I don't understand! I have a subscription to McAfee anti-virus! I was using a firewall!"

"Um," I had to admit, "I've actually heard that this sort of thing can happen."

My husband and I spent the entire afternoon running various anti-virus programs. McAfee. Spybot. Microsoft. Stuff to clean out viruses, stuff to clean out pop-ups, stuff to clean out spy-ware, stuff to clean out mal-ware. Toward the end of the day, we finally got a scan to come out clean. Relieved, John fired up Internet Explorer to go back on the Internet. His screen exploded in pop-up advertisements for pharmaceuticals, casinos, software and more. Every time he tried to go to a website, the computer would mysteriously redirect him to one of these ad sites.

"Luke," his computer breathed in a raspy voice. "Come to the dark side. Buy vicodone cheap online!" "Noooo!" my husband screamed. "You're not my browser!"

In my head, I could hear my parents warning me sternly, "You can't be too careful, honey. Some of these diseases have no cure."

"I think it's time to give up," my husband said regretfully, and got out the disks to wipe the whole system and reformat his hard drive.

It took us an entire second day to successfully wipe the computer clean, as the virus was so deeply imbedded that it was even affecting the reinstallation. (It didn't help that neither of us really know what we're doing.) At the end of it, we fired up the computer and ran a viral check. Nothing. With trembling anticipation, John tried to go on the Internet.

His email inbox showed up, lovely and free from any sort of advertisement about anything that would enlarge or reduce debts, mortgages or body parts.

John nearly wept with joy. "I am never," he vowed, "going to any website but my regular one again."

"I've heard that's the most sensible approach," I murmured faintly. Apparently, Mom and Dad weren't old fashioned, they were simply ahead of their time. And missed a calling in easy-to-understand technical support.

"Where are you going?" John asked as I headed off to find the telephone.

"Gonna give my folks a call," I told him. "I want to see what they know about programming my cell phone."

Comments and further evidence that there's nothing new under the sun to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the May 1, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-05-16
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