My apologies for not following up earlier on the fate of my old Dell desktop that pulled a full Christian Bale-like meltdown a couple months ago – other projects and commitments have interrupted work on this post and I’d permanently pushed Part II to the back burner.  A week or so ago one of my readers reminded me that I’d left her hanging, so here I am with the second installment.  For those of you who missed the earlier post, my old PC gave suddenly opted for a full work stoppage a couple of months ago…   read about it here.

As mentioned at the end of Part I, although the machine was largely crippled, I was able to launch several programs by using Windows Task Manager (via hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete) – Firefox, FileZilla, RoboForm and a couple of other programs.  By doing so I was able to limp along for a week or so, keeping up with emails and posting to Practical Hacks. But I felt about as secure as Jeff Conaway at a DEA convention:  try as I may, I could NOT figure out a way to launch my virus scanning software; it almost seemed to have been partly removed.  Given the way the machine acted when all this started (a suspicious-looking warning about virus protection), I was nervous.

At a loss to figure out what had happened to the PC, and absolutely, positively 100% convinced it was now little more than a large, annoying boat anchor, I ordered a new Inspiron 530 from DELL and brought the old unit to my IT guy at work, Randy, hoping that maybe he’d be able to salvage something from it.  (Fortunately, In a lucid moment a couple of years ago I’d purchased an external hard drive and had regularly backed up all my critical files.)

Over the last several years Randy has helped me with a few computer and software-related issues. Contrary to the geeky IT-guy stereotype, he is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Whether on the golf course, in the office on a “normal” workday, or in the midst of a crisis (e.g., your random tornado striking town) Randy always keeps the mood light.  I’m not doing him justice here – some of his antics are legend around the company – but his most brilliant work isn’t suitable for Practical Hacks.  And as an added bonus, he’s good at his job – nothing I’ve thrown at him has ever stumped him.

So my hopes were high the afternoon I dropped off the PC and an envelope containing all the disks that came with it.  I’d explained that I’d tried to run my anti-virus software without success and mentioned the other few pathetic attempts I’d made at resurrecting the PC, and then left him with the entire mess, hoping he’d be able to run some diagnostics on it overnight.

The next morning I found him sitting at his desk.  Something odd had happened.  Gone were his wisecracks and wacky world view; in fact, his entire sense of humor seemed to have vanished.  He literally was clutching his head, staring blankly at a monitor when I entered.

“Hey.  Is that my PC you’re looking at?”   He looked as though he’d just discovered his wife had secretly posted a profile on

“Uh, yeah.  Uh, I don’t know WHAT is going on with this thing.  I’ve tried everything I can think of,” he mumbled, “What exactly were you doing when this happened??“  By this I’m fairly certain he meant, “Exactly which porn site were you on when this happened?”

I reassured him that I’d been doing nothing worse than stumbling sites when the weird pop-up uh, popped up.  He then mentioned that the System Recovery Disk (or whatever it’s called; I write this from memory) was missing.  I suddenly remembered that I’d bought that particular Dell on eBay – was there a chance that it’d been shipped without the disk??  No idea.  All the disks I had were in the envelope I’d given him.

We agreed that I’d search for the disk again at home, and much to his chagrin, he’d bring in reinforcements in the form of one of his colleagues.  I walked back to my office wishing I worked at Sterling Cooper with the other Mad Men – at least that way I could’ve had a drink!

I never did find the disk. I’m willing to admit to many faults, but I don’t believe I could have lost it; part of my new computer/gadget routine is to put all the documentation and other “stuff” in a large envelope in a specific spot in my study.  I think I never got it when I bought it from someone on eBay.

As for Randy, he eventually was able to restore my desktop, defrag the hard drive and get the thing to run.  He warned that it’s on its last legs. In the final analysis he didn’t think it actually was a virus or Trojan, but rather a file had gotten corrupted.  (That’s what it gets for being on my PC, I guess; perhaps it’s related to my puerile political perspective.)  One thing came through the experience in much better shape than my computer; I am happy to report that Randy’s sense of humor was fully restored.

The computer sits alongside the new Inspiron, and frankly it’s off 95% of the time.  I never did manage to get my McAfee virus protection to run on it, nor could I reinstall it – I tried 4 or 5 times.  Eventually I installed a free virus scan program from AGV, and that’s been fine.  I bought a Belkin “Switch 2” so I could toggle between the two units, sharing the monitor, speakers, keyboard and mouse.  It’s a slick set-up but frankly the old PC is about as stable as Octomom so it’s off much of the time.

What triggered the meltdown? I am guessing it was a case of an old (~6-7 years) computer onto which I’d installed WAY too much software.  One of the things I did when I brought it home was to dump all the crap I never or hardly ever used and defragment the hard drive again.

As for the new computer, I’m being much more discriminating when it comes to installing software on it.

Now if Randy could just identify a way to prevent the merry pranksters over at DreamHost from crashing my server 3-4 times a day (it crashed while I was composing this) I’d be all set!

Ever have a computer completely come unhinged on you?  If yes, please share by commenting; misery loves company!

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4 Comments on Ctrl-Alt-Del\PANIC Part II

  1. Greg says:

    If it’s a file issue… Now might be a great time to try out one of the many flavors of Linux… :) is a fairly user-friendly option. I, personally, use a variant called Xubuntu, which is a little lighter-weight. In fact, I’m using it now. ;)


    Kevin Reply:

    Greg, you’ll be shocked to learn I know nothing about Linux… ;-) and as a result it scares me a bit. I’ll check out the link, though. What browsers can you use if you opt for Linux?


  2. Greg says:

    Firefox is very common, but there are other options(not including IE, for obvious reasons)…

    I started out not knowing anything about Linux, as well. Now I use it most of the time. I guess I’ve always rebelled against the majority… ;)


  3. lailai says:

    This is really intersting. Thanks! My old pc had file corupctions too.


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