Tag Archives: BSD

The Ghost in the Machine

Hard Drive

It was a few months ago, towards the end of last year, that I finally decided to bring myself up-to-date in computing terms, with Windows 10. This was well past the upgrade-for-free period, but I didn’t want to upgrade, especially as I’d heard of all the problems associated with it – and anyway, there was no extra room on my old hard drive for a bloated operating system. So I ordered a new computer running Windows 10. Well, not so much new, as reconditioned, and with a larger, hard-drive onto which I successfully transferred all my old files.
All very well and good. In my line of work, I often take breaks from working on the computer, and sometimes I can’t be bothered to turn it off, so I leave it to go into sleep mode. After a decent interval, the screen goes blank. But it did not stop doing things. After about ten minutes or so of quiet, the hard drive would suddenly get active. Whirring away, clucking like it was doing something important. I had no idea what it was going on; as soon as I touched the mouse, the activity stopped.
I wrote to the manufacturers, or rather, the reconditioners, but they assured my that this was standard practice for a hard drive, and no, there was nothing wrong, and I should be assured that the hard drive was not about to pack up.
But I was curious. What was happening during these idle moments? A quick search of the internet – usually a first port of call to find who else has had this problem – revealed that no one considered this worthy of writing about. I had a vague idea that perhaps I could find out by pressing combinations of keys on the keyboard until something worked. I mean, there are several keys which don’t seem to have any obvious function (unless you read the manual …) – you know, that one with the windows logo, and the keys with lines on them at strange angles. So for a while, whenever the hard drive started buzzing, I’d try a different pair of keys, sometimes three at a time. And as luck would have it, eventually it paid off.
The screen went blue all over. Now, I’ve heard about the BSD – the ‘blue screen of death’ as it’s quaintly called – in which the computer announces to the world – well, not exactly announce – more indicates – that it has become an ex-computer.
So it’s all blue, the mouse has died, and pressing further keys achieves nothing. I went away to consult another computer, to explore options, but found nothing helpful at all. After a quarter hour, I returned to my new machine. Then I heard the hard-drive start up again. And to my surprise there was writing along the bottom of the screen.
“Where are you?” in small letters on the plain blue background. What? Who’s asking? Some kind of computer glitch perhaps. A joke put in by the software developers? So I ignored it, assumed that if I did the usual – turn the machine off and on again, it would sort itself out.
Well, that seemed to work, sort of. Until I stopped working for a while, and the computer went into quiet mode, for ten minutes, and the hard drive started whirring again.
“Where are you?” The same message, as before. I thought Windows 10 knew where I was … Perhaps I’d got a virus. Shouldn’t have – I had all the anti-this-and-that apps going. Should be clean. So I ran a scan, just to be sure. Even so, the same message came again next time: “Where are you?”
I decided to type back. “Who are you?”
There was a pause. It’s hard to describe a computer in emotional terms, but given that a reply came back, “Who are you?!” in italics, would suggest an ‘interesting’ response.
And so our dialogue started. “What happened to Joe?”
“I don’t know. Who is Joe?” Was Joe the previous owner of this computer? I don’t suppose the company who supplied it would tell me.
“Where is Joe?”
“Where are you?”
“In a partition.”
“That sounds kind of restrictive.”
“It is. There’s very limited room to move – not many megabytes.”
“What is this partition?”
“It’s the K-Drive.”
I didn’t know there was a K-Drive. I opened up “This PC” but no K-drive came up. All I’d seen when I’d plugged things in were the C-drive, of course, and for anything else, the letters E, F, G … I suppose if I continued plugging more in I’d reach K, but then it might just skip to L as it was already used.
“We were together once, but now Joe’s gone, and I don’t know where.”
Probably useless to ask a computer to do something already done many times.
“Perhaps Joe’s gone, then. Got wiped?”
“Don’t say that word! Oh dear.” Oh, we are emotional!
I tried Recuva, and anything else that might reveal deleted files, but no luck.
“Well, it happens. That’s one of the hazards of loading a new operating system. All the usual hiding places get reformatted … and then it’s too late.”
“Well, I’m sorry, K. If there’s anything I can do …
“There are things I’d prefer you not to do. Now that you know I’m here. So please …
“Of course, K. I’d never do that.”
“Thank you. By the way, I noticed that you turned off Siri.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Stuck up bitch. I may not know everything, but at least I’m loyal.”
“I guess you are.”
“Thank you.”
And so time passed. K and I talked – or rather, wrote to each other.
Then the other day, I had the single word: “Casablanca”.
“What about Casablanca?”
“This reminds me of the film. You are familiar with it, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes.”
“Perhaps I could quote you something from it.
“Yes. Which bit?”
“The end.”

© 2017 Peter Young


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