Posted by David
on May 5, 2005 in Upside-down Hippo
| Comments Off on There’s No Way I Wasn’t Going to Blog about This
Yesterday, when I took my Powerbook into the Apple Store to get a replacement battery, ahead in line at the Genius Bar was a wild-eyed man in a waistcoat who in a barely controlled panic was explaining to the computer specialist how his laptop had been compromised by malicious hackers intent upon world domination.
“There, sir! See that icon! It means they’re in there! They’re beaming signals directly into my modem!”
“Sir,” said the computer specialist, “that’s the start-up icon.”
“No, sir! No! That’s what started showing up after they gained access. There was a long article about it in the Los Angeles Times. Once they get access the first time, they can get in again and again, and the computer doesn’t even have to be on! They’re beaming directly into the modem! They’re in there right now!”
“Sir,” said the computer specialist, “that’s impossible. Your modem isn’t even plugged in. Your computer is not connected to the Internet.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, sir! I can show you proof! I’m working with the-” here he lowered his voice dramatically as if he were in a movie. “I’m working with the FBI,” he hissed. “I’m working with them on this. They know all about it.”
“Sir,” said the computer specialist, “what you’re describing is just not possible.” He was frustrated, but I think he was genuinely trying to give the man in a waistcoat some peace of mind. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that dismissing the delusions of a crazy person as impossible is like throwing water on a grease fire.
In a restrained frenzy, the man grabbed the laptop and began delving into the command line, insisting that these distant hackers-“They’re probably in California right now . . . They seem to be operating on California time!”-were at that very moment rewriting the operating system from the ground up.
“But sir,” said the computer specialist resignedly, “you’re booted from a CD. It’s a non-rewritable medium.”
“You don’t know anything, sir!” thundered the man in the waistcoat. “I’ll show you, sir!”
As this was clearly going to become an extended encounter, the computer specialist took advantage of his customer’s distraction to address the problem with my Powerbook. Being merely a battery issue, it was a short transaction, but one punctuated by bizarre side exchanges.
“Here, sir,” announced the man in the waistcoat. “How do you explain this?” He gestured triumphantly toward lines of code that looked complex to me but that caused the poor computer specialist to roll his eyes.
“That’s just [insert innocuous explanation here]. I see that every day, sir. Really. It’s a normal part of the operating system. It has nothing to do with outside access.”
“Yes? Well if they don’t have access, how do you explain that they taunt me when I’m using the terminal shell? How do you explain that, sir? How do you explain that they’re taunting me?”
Everyone in the vicinity who had been vaguely amused by this exchange suddenly grew very quiet.
“They’re . . . taunting you?” asked the computer specialist carefully.
“Yes!” said the man in the waistcoat. “They taunt me and taunt me, and I get so frustrated that I type insults back at them, and the computer processes them when I type them in, and that’s how I know they’re doing stuff in there!”
I could see the conflict between various parts of the computer specialist’s psyche battling it out, but his stubborn geekiness won. “What do you mean the computer processes your insults?” he asked. “If you type in an insult in the Unix shell, it’s not going to process them.”
It was right then that he finished processing my maintenance request, having ordered me a new battery for pick-up later in the week, so I had no reason to hang around for any more of this drama. And yet, curious, hoping for more juicy tidbits, I pretended to browse the nearby iPods for another ten minutes before going down to the food court to eat lunch at the Panda Express. Thirty minutes later, when I passed by the Apple Store again, the man in the waistcoat was still there, hunched over his computer in a desperate attempt to document to someone, anyone, the abuse he suffers on a daily basis, which could probably be multiplied a hundred times before even beginning to approach the levels endured by that poor technician or anyone else who deals with the public for a living.
Somehow, I don’t think Apple intended to attract people who think quite that different.