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What Form Taketh A Ghost?

Ben Sherman


A ghost in the machine is any computer problem which suddenly appears for no apparent reason without warning and threatens to disrupt productivity.

From time-to-time this column will explore encounters with ghosts in the machine.

We have a friend who works as a computer engineer at a small company. One day at the end of September our friend was called by a foreigner working in a large Japanese bank to come fix a problem with an IBM ThinkPad. The client complained that she couldn’t get any Windows applications to run. Our technician turned on the computer, and at the DOS prompt typed dir to view the contents of the root directory. He then typed cd windows to change directories into the Windows directory, and then typed dir to view the contents of her Windows directory. Nothing came up. Her entire Windows program had been completely erased.

“Aha!” he said to himself, “she was probably trying to change something and erased everything inside Windows. She works for a bank that is downsizing and has just done away with their computer technicians. Because she is so important nobody wants to touch her computer, so they called me in. This will be easy to fix. I’ll just reinstall Windows, wave my fingers around a little, mumble some esoteric computerese about the jumper settings-being-unsyncopated-from-the-I/O-PCMCIA-motherboard-SIMMs, and “Presto!” I’ll be out of here in time for lunch.” Little did he know that he was about to meet a ghost in the machine.

He asked if the backup disks were around and received only a blank stare. He requested the original disks and was told that they were all in New York. With an easy job rapidly fading into the distance, he was given permission to bring the computer back to his office to restore the missing Windows program.

On the train back to the office, something began to bother him. Though this client was certainly a computer neophyte, it seemed awfully strange for someone to mistakenly delete an entire program like Windows but still leave the Windows directory in the root directory. Thinking this, our friend decided to run a virus checker. His suspicions were confirmed when the checker detected the FORM virus. According to MS-Anti-Virus for Windows 1.0,


                               Form Virus  is a
                                boot sector virus 
                               which is 512 bytes 
                               long. It infects
                                boot sectors of 
                               diskettes and hard 
                               diskettes and hard 
                               disks. It remains
                               resident in memory. 
                               Side effects include 
                               corrupted data files, 
                               damaged file linkage, 
                               corrupted program 
                               and overlay files, 
                               changes to system 
                               run time operation, 
                               and changes to the 
                               boot sector.
Without a clean boot diskette containing a virus removal program it would be impossible to remove the virus. Our friend left some messages on various BBSes and found that the FORM virus was a particularly insidious virus, powerful enough to even cripple the impregnable OS/2. It was decided to seek the help of the IBM service center in Tokyo. There they worked on the virus for a period of one week but were unable to remove it. Instead, they referred our friend to Microsoft with a note which passed the buck and read as follows:

“The problem appears to be with the software not with the ThinkPad so please ask Microsoft to solve your situation.”

The ThinkPad was running Microsoft DOS and Windows, but our friend was rather awed by this ghost that even the mighty Big Blue could not kill. So he called Microsoft and was transferred around a lot before someone finally told him that because it was an IBM computer, it was not Microsoft's problem. Rather than spending more time and money running around Tokyo, he received permission from the owner to reformat the hard disk.

This however, proved to be difficult as the FORM virus was resident in memory and would not permit reformatting. The solution was to discharge the computer's internal battery, effectively destroying the virus and at the same time erasing everything on the hard disk. Our friend then reformatted the hard disk, reloaded DOS, Windows, and Word, and returned the computer to its owner. He also provided her with an emergency boot diskette.

Solutions:

The problems discussed above could have been more quickly diagnosed and solved had original installation diskettes, backup diskettes, and a boot diskette been readily available. The lack of such diskettes meant that our friend had to remove the computer from his client’s office thus contributing to the time required to resolve the problems and adding to the overall expenses.


From: SIGI RINDLER
To: ALL
Subject: Need some repair?

ATTENTION!!!

This message is for those people who are not techie enough to awake a computer from the dead, or can't get a certain software up and running.

If you are in the need of a good and reasonably priced repairman, let me know and I'll introduce you one. Lets beat the system and save big bucks!

Paying Yen 15,000 and more an hour is out after the bubble has burst. And paying between Yen 10,000 and 20,000 just for driving to your place won't take place either.

These guys are members of computer user groups, sysops, and others who have done about everything with computers during the last couple of years.

It saves you a lot of money, they are happy with their additional income, and you have a better guarantee that your computer really works again. These guys don't cheat since they are part of our community, on the BBS, etc.

BTW, I'm no middleman who gets commission. All I want is making the TPC more attractive and help the guys getting some extra work. However, I expect that they polish my computer twice as much as yours if I ever need them myself...<g>


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

April, 1995

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN