Is your hard drive vaccinated against fatal viruses?

 Next I rummaged around for my most recent backup. You know it's a dark
omen if you have to look as hard as I did for a backup. It was indeed bad news. My latest
backup was more than five months old. 

Not wanting to deprive my GCN readers of the next View from Inside, I began the tedious
process of reconstructing my hard drive from a motley set of tapes, diskettes, CDs and
floppies. Optimistic that the hardware gurus at the office would have a magic bullet to
cure my drive, I loaded just what I could get my hands on that weekend.

 Unfortunately, my colleagues found not one but two viruses on my ailing drive, a
nasty pair that bollixed up the boot sectors in a way that thwarted recovery. Removing the
virus signatures made no contribution to recovering the data on the drive. Giving up on
the data, my colleagues tried to save the hardware by reformatting the drive. This did not
work either.

 By this time I was beginning to feel resentment toward my son, who apparently
precipitated this unpleasantness with his shareware.

 But in my son's defense, the mother of the friend who lent him Doom told me that
although she was aware of one virus, the other was new to her.

 After a while, you can drive yourself and your friends crazy trying to figure out
where an infection came from.

 This experience did have its positive aspects. I upgraded my PC from Microsof
Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 and installed all new 32-bit software. That's good news for Bill
Gates and the software industry. Viral infections are a shot in the arm for the computer
market. To keep the technology stocks from gaining another 1,000 points, I installed new
antivirus software.

 I hope your antivirus software is up-to-date, or you also may face a major shopping
spree at the local computer store.

 The other good news is that I got rid of a lot of e-mail messages, documents,
databases, spreadsheets and financial records I'd accumulated over the months. 

So if you are reading this and wondering why I haven't returned that message you sent
several months ago, wonder no more. Unless you kept a copy-and some folks did and let me
know it in no uncertain terms-your message is toast.

 Be aware: There are less traumatic ways to clean up your hard disk.

 Figuring that this may happen again, I began to look for more convenient backup
strategies. The tape drive is inexpensive but ever so slooooow. So I sprang for a Zip
drive, from Iomega Corp. of Roy, Utah, only to discover it too is sloooow. 

The next step up is the Iomega Jaz drive. 
I figured I'd need no more than two Jaz disks to back up my entire hard disk. But for the
price of the Jaz and disks, I could get two more 2.7G hard drives. I bought just one more,
though, and copied all my files from one to the other. That still takes a long time, but I
don't have to swap tapes or disks every hour for 18 hours. I just need to remember to make
backups on a regular basis.

 I tell this embarrassing tale in the hope that it will spare at least one reader the
anguish and expense I experienced. It also helps me make lemonade out of lemons. With
hindsight I can see the sliver of humor and value in the experience. The lesson: Make
current backups and check for viruses.

 Viruses and mechanical failures are part of computing, just like insurance
payments and engine trouble are part of owning a car. Denial is no more effective an
approach for computing than it is for driving. You could spend a lot of time and energy
finding people to blame, but it's better to spend it on prevention and precaution.

 You can get free virus detection software from the Capital PC User Group bulletin
board at 301-738-9060. 

Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal information
management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His own Web home page is at

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