Graying Out

Every 3-4 years, eyeballing it but probably close to correct, I write a semi-screed about nostalgia. Sentimentality about the past is right in my wheelhouse, but it’s personal for me. And about me, mostly.

What annoys me when I come across it is nostalgia that offers no context and delivers cheap comparisons. Lots of us can look back through rose-colored glasses on our own lives, but I’m talking about a particular form of truth twisting, a time-specific chauvinism that focuses mostly on other people and how they’re spoiling everything. And usually they’re young people, who take the brunt of all this judgment.

My kids are young people. I’m a little protective, maybe.

And a big part of this surely is a desire to stay current, to understand how we got to where we are and, by the way, understanding where we are in the first place.

This isn’t sustainable, I know. Moore’s law alone suggests that technology has always been outracing an individual’s ability to evolve along with it, and technology is driving the car here. It’s actually driving the actual car, come to think of it. At some point, most of us will have to accept that we just aren’t going to keep up.

I’m something of a generational chauvinist myself, although not really in the sense that my cohort had to make special sacrifices and were shaped by events. Mostly I think of us as being awfully lucky.

We were, too. People born after 1955 never had their life trajectories altered by compulsory military service, never had to take that into consideration when looking forward (even if it might have been a good idea for some of us).

We entered the job market at roughly the same time as ubiquitous computing did, and as rapid as technologic advances came we were able to keep up, or at least those of us with the interest and that particular kind of work.

We never had to straddle the two eras in popular music. We were teenagers during the golden era of 1970s filmmaking, and by the time we were old enough to sneak into mature movies, it seemed more a rite of passage than an evolution of the art. The most significant political moment of our young lives wasn’t an assassination or an unpopular war; it was the resignation of a president, a confirmation that the system worked the way it was supposed to. Lucky.

But time will always catch you, and keeping up with change will eventually focus more on blood pressure and degrading joints, not messaging apps. The rise of contemporary folklore isn’t the fault of young people; it seems mostly due to older folks who for whatever reason decided to believe everything they read, and pass it along on Facebook. Including a lot of those good ol’ days posts.


I wrote a column this week about some of the issues involved in the United Airlines incident, and tossed out a stray comment toward the end about vertical video (i.e., the video from smart phones not turned sideways). I don’t have strong feelings on the subject and don’t see how it would make a difference, anyway; I just hate having to edit it together with regular, widescreen video, and I assume TV news editors hate it, too.

But someone who apparently is interested if not passionate about the subject, enough to scrape the ‘nets for that one comment in a small newspaper, linked to it and me on Twitter. For a second, then, I felt out of touch, yelling at those pesky kids with their vertical video to get off my lawn.

And then the popup showed up.

I’ve always been pretty snotty about computer security, manifested by more than a few obnoxious conversations with people who didn’t deserve it, and it’s not much different these days. I just tend to keep my mouth shut more often than not. I’m not going to save the world.

But if someone says they’ve been “hacked,” when really someone is spoofing their name or otherwise doing something they can’t prevent without going off the grid completely, I usually roll my eyes and move on.

And if they talk about suspecting they have a virus, I assume they’re just old. There are plenty of bad players out there, and bad code, but I figure it’s either malware or just ignorance of how the modern personal computer actually works. Even if it’s an actual virus, I assume it comes from ignorance about security (file that under the believe everything they read commentary above).

I’ve always been a skeptic, never really trusted anything when it comes to people and computing and good intentions. As far as I know, I’ve encountered one virus in nearly 30 years of personal computing, and that was a dumb VBA macro that a client sent me in a Word document. It wasn’t designed to do anything particularly malevolent, and I caught it right away. I don’t trust but verify; I just don’t trust, and it’s served me well.

Yesterday I started getting this popup on my desktop, a pretty unsophisticated one; it looked pretty much like something designed 20 years ago, and it said something appearing benign, like “A new system setting has been changed; download version 1.20.” Somehow malware had snuck in, annoying and hard to figure out.

A virus scan showed nothing. A malware scan came up with some false-positives, all of them from quarantined malware that another piece of software had waylaid and isolated in the background. My internet connection seems to drop a couple of times a day for a couple of seconds, only noticed when there’s a flash of buffering on a video or my weather widget goes blank, and this I chalk up to a 9-year-old router. My task manager showed nothing suspicious running.

This is also a fairly new build, with an operating system coming right out of the box, and I assumed that System Restore was enabled by default when, it turns out, that’s not the case, so I had no way to turn back the clock other than to roll everything back to day #1. All for a stupid popup that appeared a few times a day. I stewed a little but it really didn’t affect me.

It was my son, looking over my shoulder, who suggested the eventual answer. It was a simple Rainmeter script (Rainmeter is an easy-on-the-CPU skin that shows me weather and system widgets, as below) with, in fact, just an update. I unplugged my Ethernet cable and clicked on the popup, which of course couldn’t connect but showed me the URL. Problem solved.

Rainmeter widgets


Except for the nagging thought that I jumped to sinister conclusions without considering the alternative, which was minor but it still worries me. I don’t want to be that guy. I may be anyway. I start complaining about the kids these days, stop reading. If I tell you that I drank from water hoses and rode my bike all day without a helmet and never glanced at a screen (I note that the average American watched about 7 hours of television daily when I was growing up), understand that I’m a lost cause.

And viruses? I’ll get a flu shot. Life’s way too short.

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1 Comment

  1. You’re right to be paranoid. It is possible to get some pretty nasty stuff these days simply by visiting a legit website that has been compromised. No naughty browsing or other clicks necessary. “I don’t trust but verify; I just don’t trust.” Good policy. Stick with it.


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