Swallowing a worm makes you think

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 18, 2003

I’ve got worms. Easy, now. It’s not that kind of worm we’re talking about. Nothing is eating the inside of my body, though on Wednesday afternoon, that’s kind of how it felt.

Like hundreds of thousands of others around the world &045;&045; and even in Demopolis &045;&045; my computer decided to swallow the worm.

In technological terms, the task master of my XP didn’t adequately protect the security hole that allowed the process function of my settings function to create a dos function that terminated the rest of my functions. As a result, I couldn’t play Solitaire for a couple of hours.

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Actually, I have no idea what happened (and to the people who hired me, I don’t actually play Solitaire at work.)

In terms of actual knowledge about the worm, MSBlaster, which entered my computer, here’s what I actually know: Nothing.

I don’t know how the worm found its way to 315 E. Jefferson Street. I don’t know how it got inside the building without having a key. For that matter, I don’t know how it slivered its way into my office, climbed on my desk, found the hard-drive to my computer and fit in those tiny holes.

Now we’re just being silly, though. Somewhere in my experience with this computer worm, I learned something important about society and the way we’ve grown accustomed to living.

Among the many reasons I became so disheveled at the thought of not having a workable computer was the fact that I am currently compiling my company’s fiscal year budget. This isn’t your average check-book and savings account budget either. No sir, this puppy has more tabs and sections and pages than Alabama’s constitution. The only difference, of course, is that Alabama’s constitution is in English. This budget, on the other hand, was written in the personalized language of Einstein.

We digress yet again.

The only way to complete this budget is via a computer. But not so long ago, company budgets and solutions requiring math weren’t so easy. The man guiding me through this budget told me of a time when he sat down with the same sort of budget and had to write the entire thing in pencil.

The budgeting process isn’t the only thing that has changed thanks to a computer. Newspapers, at one time, required block type, bloody fingers and midnight oil. These days, we write our allotted stories, hop on a computer and quickly place those stories in text blocks.

Computers, for the most part, have made our lives much easier. They’ve taken extraordinarily long tasks and made them 30-minute projects. They’ve turned difficult processes into simple button-pushing.

Is that a good thing? If you saw the budget I’m compiling, you’d agree that computers are the best thing around.

Then again, I sometimes wonder if society is any better off because of a tool that makes work so much simpler. One look at young people today offers plenty of evidence.

Remember when your teacher assigned the dreaded "research paper" to you? The 15-page paper forced heart burn upon you faster than a rotten Mexican dish.

The first step was to pick a topic, which for some of us took three or four weeks. The second step meant going to the library, poring over periodicals and finding enough articles to formulate an opinion.

Once you found the articles and created an opinion, you went to the copy machine, emptied your nickel-filled pockets, and stapled the pages together to begin the night-long process of reading the articles.

Eventually, you began the writing process, and after hours of endless mess-ups, you finally figured out how to insert a footnote.

Two weeks later, you created the rough draft, which you half-heartedly edited.

When the editing process was completed, you went back to the typewriter and reset the entire paper.

Today, things are a little different. First, you can search for any topic you want on the internet, find 2 million articles, and copy those articles straight onto a Word document. In a matter of hours, you can have a completed research paper that requires little personal thought.

And if that’s too difficult of a task, you can even go to a search engine on the computer and type in "research papers." The first item says "12,000 papers for sale."

Having information on hand in an instant has certainly changed the pace of the world, and I don’t know that punching a few computer keys is always the best thing for this society. Imagine if young people had to visit the library three or four times a week. What if they actually had to search through the card index at the library again? What if they had to make copies of articles and read through every one of them?

Yeah, things are a little different today. Maybe it’s better that the world revolves at such a quicker pace. Then again, slowing down wouldn’t be so bad, either.

It sure would beat getting worms.