Bug Out


Q: OK, I’m a moron. I got a mysterious e-mail entitled “Good Karma” and opened the attachment. Now my PC’s infected with a virus, and I’m worried that my hard disk is corrupted beyond repair. What to do?

Don’t beat yourself up over the boneheaded move. A youthful Mr. Roboto once fell prey to a similar ruse, opening an attachment slugged “Cute Shockwave Movie!!!” that turned out to be a file-chomping worm. Unless you’ve got an IT department on call, recovery is a royal pain in the arse. You’ll have to rejigger your machine a bit, and there’s no guarantee everything will weather the virus.

Inoculation is step one. Chances are your computer came with an anti-virus program; make sure it’s up-to-date by logging onto the manufacturer’s Web site. Or you can snag a free scanner from Once you’ve identified the culprit, look for a fixer. An underrated resource is Spain’s (Panda Software, which offers a nifty free tool called PQREMOVE. Closer to home, big vendors like McAfee sometimes post gratis cleanup utilities for high-profile viruses.

Before you run the fixer, however, be sure to burn your precious files to a CD. Virus killers aren’t very graceful, and they tend to obliterate documents, spreadsheets, and the like en route to cleansing your hard drive. If you know the virus is Windows specific—the vast majority are, but check at—try salvaging the files on a pal’s Mac. Simply run the CD, open each document, and paste the contents into a new version. Then burn the copies onto a fresh CD and transfer back to your PC.

With the nasty little bugger expelled, it’s damage-assessment time. Your anguished tone leads Mr. Roboto to believe you never, ever backed up your computer. Tsk, tsk, poor reader, especially with so many fine automated archivers on the market. The top choice here is Roxio‘s GoBack 3 Deluxe, which takes a “snapshot” of your system every so often. Smart readers might also carry NTI’s Backup NOW!, which helps burn a disaster recovery disk—a real fail-safe, just in case some super-virus thwacks GoBack, too.

If it’s true your inner Boy Scout never got cranking, a few options remain. Windows XP users can try the System Restore utility, which promises results similar to GoBack’s. It gets your applications back in working order, but for some reason it’s not simpatico with the all-important My Documents folder. Yet another reason to hold XP in contempt.

Depending on your virus, some “disk doctors” can help. Norton Utilities features an UnErase tool that’s a godsend if your digital pathogen automatically sent files to the Recycle Bin. When you’re at your wits end, try OnTrack‘s EasyRecovery or Runtime Software’s GetDataBack. Both are designed to harvest files from on-the-fritz hard drives; their Web sites feature free diagnostics that’ll let you know whether your cause is hopeless.

Worst comes to worst, there are recovery experts who can reconstruct your zapped files by cracking open the machine and scanning for magnetic anomalies. Aside from being beyond Mr. Roboto’s powers of comprehension, the process is ridiculously expensive—many pros bill out at $100 an hour, minimum. If you reach this point, chances are the first seven chapters of your Great American Novel are gone for good. Have a soul-cleansing cry, dust yourself off, and invest in some backup tools. Don’t mean to sound like your dad at his most ogre-like, but let this be a lesson to you.

A few years back, Mr. Roboto’s enjoyment of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was severely curtailed by some chucklehead who gabbed on his cell phone all through Act I. Hideo Oka apparently feels my pain. An electrical engineer at Japan’s Iwate University, Oka has developed a type of magnetic wood that can prevent mobile handsets from working indoors. Studded with nickel-zinc ferrite particles, the planks block out cell phone signals as effectively as any lead shield. Oka’s wood is even pleasing to the eye. Whoever runs Clearview Cinemas, please take note.

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