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computer blues - part 1
Fake, Fraud and Schadenfreude
The truth was that I’d have ponied up a week’s pay to watch the guy — if it was a guy — roll those two monster truck tires on board that Jet Blue flight to California’, two week’s pay to watch him stuff both the behemoths into the overhead baggage compartment. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
Every time me and my computer get to a place where we finally understand each other, where we get things worked out between us, something goes awry. The honeymoon does not last for long.
The threat to happiness ever after often comes from the outside, in the form of a new and ‘even worse than ever before’ computer virus. The virus, worm, or ‘Trojan Horse’ threatens to contaminate my computer, eat up all its innards, devour its files and destroy everything that we’ve built. These threats also mostly come at inconvenient times when I’m working on one of those ‘YOU’D BETTER NOT MISS IT OR ELSE’ deadlines. A virus can do as much damage to a computer as Ashley Madison can do to familial bliss. Like a woman of easy virtue, viruses are easy to catch but really costly to be rid of.
Their monickers, the handles they ‘go by’, are deceptively cute – ‘ILOVEYOU'(circa 2002), ‘Melissa (1999), ”Nimda (2001), ‘Conficker'(2008)–or like this latest, the ‘Heartbleed Bug: blood curdling! Just thinking about Heartbleed makes me ponder whether I should even get near the computer–at least not before either me or the computer checks in with a cardiologist.
Even less ominous, less foreboding virus names conjure up nightmares worse than any nuclear bar-be-que sauce I might have eaten just before bedtime. For example, one might normally take a virus named ‘Melissa’ no more seriously than a hurricane dubbed ‘Mindy’. ‘Melissa’ conjures up the image of lady-like sophistication, a preppy girly-girl perhaps—unless, of course Melissa is also the name of an old neighborhood or grade school bully. ‘Our” Melissa was a nine year old, pig-tailed waif, who routinely terrorized and beat the living snot out of anyone in my 1950’s Catholic grade school who crossed her. Her victims included all of the school’s boys and a couple of the nuns who thought they were in charge.
Melissa was easily crossed. Besting her in a spelling bee or bringing, from home, a sandwich for lunch that she thought might be tastier than what was in her own lunch bag were two of an exhaustive long list of things that might incur her wrath. The maddening thing, especially to a grade school boy, was not only did she have powerful fists, she was extremely fast afoot. You could not escape a pummeling that was coming your way by outrunning her. 
‘Conficker’ was remarkably close to the nick-name of a guy, who lived across the hall from me in the freshman dorm at Georgia Tech. An evil boy-genius and a chemistry major, Conf*cker was forever up to something. Thing was, you never knew exactly what it was he was up to, only that it sure wasn’t ‘a something’ that was going to do you any good whatsoever. Often times what Conf*cker was ‘up to’ was distilling liquor in a Gerry rigged still or conducting some kind of mischief involving battery acid. After that first semester, you learned not to leave your room door open. If you did, you were liable to come back from chemistry class to find Ol’ Conf*cker had invented’ yet another new kind of acid, the residue of which had burned a hole through your Calculus Book. Or your last batch of clean Fruit-of-the -Looms.
One wonders ‘what kind of mind actually comes up with cyber-viruses: A brain controlled by Al Qaeda? Dr. Frankenstein? Vladimir Putin? The same fella who fathered Rosemary’s Baby? No doubt it’s the mind of some truly rude mofo who doesn’t get enough hugs as a child; some ‘hellbent on destruction’ mind of a communist ass-wipe lacking in self-esteem. If not doing something diabolical with computers, Dude might just as easily become a mass murderer.
My good and longtime friend, ‘Kenny B’. is a veritable computer whiz. He knows about microchips and motherboards, SQL and what a BIOS is. He also spends a lot of time snuffing out and ‘stomping on’ Internet pests. We’re recently discussing the latest existential threat to the Internet and to life as we know it.
“Will, Heartbleed is a really different animal…”
Kenny goes on to explain the Heartbleed Bug, is not a virus at all. Rather it’s a flaw in the Open Source (programming) Code that drives most websites. “But if it gets a hold of your computer, it can do plenty of damage…plenty of damage.”
“The fault in the code allows hackers to steal all of your passwords, PINS and secret codes–and as a result, all your money as well as ‘all your identity’!
“Sheesh. I feel doomed. Maybe I better start getting all my worldly affairs in order.
“…steal your money, your woman, your wife…your whole way of life…”
If you’ve lived long enough, you know whenever people rhyme, they’re serious about whatever it is they’re rhyming about. When Kenny rhymes, I pay attention. (Generally anyway)
“Well, there is some hope. There is one thing you can do… if you’re not too lazy,” he offers.
“What might that be? I”m willing to do most anything.”
“Change out all of your passwords.”
“You can’t be serious. I… I… I… don’t have that kind of time.”
“I knew you were too lazy.”
‘A do-over on all of ’em?” I asked. “Do you have any idea of how many passwords and PINS I’ve got?” I looked at him pleadingly. “Surely, you can’t mean…”
“All of ’em you old fool. All of’ em’. It’s the only way.”
“#$%&^*&@# ! Good grief!”
The password/PIN number is one of the more unfortunate outcomes of the past half century — along with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, credit scores and guys who insist on proposing marriage on stadium Jumbo-trons. (“Ramona, Will You Marry Me?” )
In the same slice of time in which Siri, the PDA wunderkind has a quick and seamless answer for nearly everything, we the rest of us still fumble with pass cards. We are beholding to PIN numbers to get access to employee parking lots, ATM cash, unleaded gas, and mini-bars in hotel rooms. PINs and passwords are used to access almost everything. Soon, we’ll see the old reliable germ laden public restroom key attached to the sawed-off wooden broomstick handle replaced with a data-lock and PIN . The keys to the kingdom is a password — and a plastic pass-card.
Even to someone who just qualified for the Senior’s Discount at Roger’s Fine Foods and Spirits, PINs and passwords seem arcane and outdated. They come from the same Pleistocene Age that produced the Pet Rock, the Mood Ring and leisure suits, all embarrassing artifacts of the Seventies, mostly talked about in hushed tones and whispers after the children are sound asleep.
Keeping up with all of this password and PIN paraphernalia is about as easy as babysitting a gaggle of seven year-olds on a ‘sugar high’. One needs a short leash — or a computer– to keep track of it all. It occurs to me that even with a computer one still needs a password to get access to it. ‘CATCH-22′ is a fitting password then, Kenny B is an expert and I’m confident he knows what he’s talking about, what he was rhyming about ( “…your woman, your wife, the rest of your life.”) Nevertheless, I have no enthusiasm for swapping out all my Internet and bank passwords and PINs. But I have even less interest for a repeat of an episode that occurred not too many years ago when a culprit bogarted my identity.
The unpleasantness occurs around the time of the Millennium, a number of years before this last economic recession. If the times are not simpler in those days, the accomplishment of anything is less troublesome than today. It’s a time in which the price of gas is less than two dollars, a time in which most everyone who wants a job can find one and it’s a time in which a man can afford to go to the local grocers and actually buy meat– which is how I find out about the theft of my identity in the first place.
I’d placed three thick cut rib-eye steaks and a case of Red Stripe on the checkout conveyor belt in the 15 ITEMS OR LESS EXPRESS LINE at Roger’s Fine Foods and Spirits on Caroline Street. I’m in a hurry. My mission is to buy all the ingredients for a hastily planned cookout and celebration to be attended by my friends since boyhood, Booger Wadsworth and Billy Bradford. Through rumor, gossip and innuendo —as well as witnessing a televised ‘perp walk’ on the 12 noon news– we have learned of the comeuppance of a childhood nemesis. Our get-together is intended to be a shameless Schadenfreude moment that belies our mature ages. Nevertheless we are looking forward to openly revel in the misery of a more than grown up bully from the old neighborhood: Melissa. The bully from our grade school days was –finally–going to JAIL! We are ecstatic.
After swishing my debit card through the cashier’s card reader though, its screen displays the worst words you can see at one of these pay now moments: TRANSACTION DENIIED. PLEASE SEE CASHIER.
“Mistuh, I hope you’ve got some cash on you cause’ it sho looks like you ain’t got none in da bank,” says the cashier manning the express lane.
“You heard me.”
“But I had enough—way more than enough– in the bank this morning and I haven’t made any withdrawals since then and ….”
“Looks like somebody must’ve cleaned you out. I feel your pain, Mistuh. Now will that be cash, charge, or American Express?”
I leave the rib eyes with the cashier and call Booger and Billy, inform them that our Schadenfreude moment will have to wait a bit, then rush over to my bank, across the parking lot, to report the theft.
As it turns out, an imposter, has through what’s called ‘phishing’ or similar nefarious online activities has recently stolen my money, stolen my identity–kidnapped my persona! What’s more th… th… this ‘Fake Will’ has been on a spree.
According to trail of tears Bank Security was able to quickly pull together, Fake Will had been walking about buying and doing all kinds of unconscionable things — awful things—things I would never do: bungee jumping, skydiving and attending an opera! Fake Will also bought two round trip tickets to Sacramento on Jet Blue and within the same hour, purchased of a set of Monster Truck Tires. Fake Will had also done one other outrageous, classless and totally unforgivable thing if I live to be a hundred. And this was the one that upset me the most. Monster truck tires were one thing, but the $1000 contribution –IN MY NAME – to the Nassau County New York Republicans was too much to bear. I — a guy in the pink of health — as it were, grew faint in the bank branch manager’s office. For the next few hours, I remember little.
In the fullness of time (three days actually) the bank refunds all the money taken from my account by Fake Will. Four days later Fake Will was apprehended by the Nassau County Police near New York City. Ol’ Fake was apprehended as he and an accomplice sat in Seats 10 A and 10 B as Jet Blue Flight 8703 to Sacramento waited to leave Concourse B at JFK Airport.
Another fortnight passes and a case worker from the Nassau County, New York Public Defenders calls me in order to discuss the case.
“Would you like to prosecute?”
The bald headed, naked truth is I would’ve ponied up a week’s pay just to see how Fake Will got those two monster truck tires on board that Jet Blue flight, two week’s pay to watch him stuff them into the overhead baggage compartment. Nevertheless I tell the caller
“You’re darn right, I’d like to prosecute. Throw the book at him,” I say.
“You know this fella is a first time offender. He’s young and it’s going to ruin his record. Think you might consider recommending leniency.”
“Nope.” Then I explain the whole business about how Fake Will had ruined our Schadenfreude Party and most importantly I explained how Fake Will, by contributing that money in my name to the Republicans, he had threatened ‘my brand’ as it were. Everybody knows I would certainly never do any such thing.
“I still think you’re being kind of hardhearted. Won’t you reconsider? He’s young and besides we have a really heavy case load.”
In words that were now as smug as they would later turn out to be unwittingly prophetic, I say to him, “my heart bleeds.”
NEXT: COMPUTER BLUES – PART II (CONCLUSION) – MANEATER
 This all takes place near the Baby Boom’s zenith, a time “…when bullies are bullies” — real bullies. There was little ‘mediation’ offered by school authorities in conflicts between bullies and the bullied in those days. Hell, the authorities were afraid of the bullies themselves! A commonly heard refrain from a Principal’s Office or the School Nurse’s Clinic in those days was: “Wow! Looks like Melissa beat your butt real good this time, kid. Here, put some of this Vick’s Salve over that black eye. Vick’s Salve fixes everything from the common cold to the common flat tire. Your eye will look like new in about a week. You know, you better learn to fist fight … and quick, too, Otherwise, you’re never going to make it out of childhood alive… at least not as long as you and Melissa are on the same planet. Here, take this jar of Vick’s Salve with you and this manual on The Manly Art of Self Defense…”
 Just once, I’d like to see Ramona mouthe “No!” Just once.
 The reader can, as my maternal parent would say, “You can mark my words” on this.
© Copyright 2014 Will Cantrell
- Images: Heartbleed - base image by Jan Miks, licensed by LikeTheDew.com at 123rf.com and modified using the Heartbleed logo (promotional) from an image inspired from Techloon; Ginormous Bathroom Key by Tim Baker via his flickr photo stream and used under a Creative Commons license; Monster Truck Tires is a promotional photo from ProLineRacing.com; Vicks VapoRub by Asim18 via Wikipedia.org (public domain);