petite anglaise

January 31, 2005

A new toy (from hell)

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:53 am

The rational part of my brain was berating me for letting a a seemingly insignificant thing overwhelm me. The rest of me was a quivering mass of panic, Panic, PANIC, pulse racing, adrenaline flowing, feeling utterly, terrifyingly helpless.

The weekend began with the purchase of a new computer. Something that had been planned for a while, as my trusty companion since 2000 was not even compatible with XP. Or Ipods. And was starting to labour a bit if I tried to use anything remotely interesting like Dreamweaver or Photoshop. And so it came to pass that I added a a powerful but not too expensive new toy to my shopping basket and Frog, Tadpole and I went to collect it from Surcouf in a borrowed car this weekend.

Surcouf is a computer warehouse shop, located in the seventh circle of hell. Vast, intimidating and filled with swarms of teenage boys with skin problems at the weekends. The salespeople are young, incompetent and – apologies for the generalisation – mostly de la caillera (backslang for racaille: literal meaning = scum; commonly used to describe young folk from the dodgier suburbs, who may or may not be dressed like British ‘chavs’).

I marched straight to the collection room brandishing my internet receipt and queued up in front of a large printed sign which read ‘desktops’. Charming young gentleman at the desk, growling: ‘C’est là -bas, vous savez pas lire ou quoi?’ (‘the queue is over there, can’t you read?’) Ah yes, a handwritten post it note attached to the ‘laptops’ sign did indeed read ‘internet orders’. Cheeks flaming I fled. French customer service: an exercise in humiliation.

Home sweet home and several hours of saving things from the old computer later, I emerged from a spaghetti of computer wiring, covered in the clumps of fluffy dust you only find behind electrical appliances (rather appropriately called ‘moutons’ in French). And switched it on.

It sounded like a HAIRDRYER.

I began to wish I hadn’t made quite such an impulsive purchase. I dimly recall having read somewhere once that AMD processors can overheat and tend to need very strong fans to keep them cool.

Perhaps the fact that the computer was called Aspiro should have sent alarm bells ringing. Not Aspiro as in aspirational or something nice and positive. Aspiro as in ‘aspirateur’ (French: hoover, vaccuum cleaner). The smiling lady pictured on the box was probably wearing cunningly concealed earplugs.

Gritting my teeth, determined to pretend that it didn’t sound like I was sitting in front of a jumbo jet propellor, I loaded up the antivirus, spyware destroyer and firewall first, like the sensible girl I am. I noted, with annoyance, that XP was in French. A lovely language, but one which has no business to be on my operating system. Another point I had gaily overlooked while making my purchase.

I then spent the rest of the day duelling with a particularly resistant browser hijacker. I removed it, it came back. Repeat to fade. Each time the red spyware alert popped up to say that the little f*$@&r was trying to re-install itself, I edged one step closer to meltdown. A cool, white, padded cell started to look soothing and attractive.

And forgive me for sharing what could be seen as too much information, but I note that the laxative properties of viruses and spyware are really quite remarkable.

I think it’s gone now. Fingers crossed. But I have to admit I am dreading going home and switching on the hairdryer from hell just in case that pop up message comes back again. I simply can’t face wiping clean a brand new computer and reinstalling everything. I had nightmares about it last night. I’m an untidy bundle of nerves.

How is it that these machines are able to wield such power over us? And why didn’t I shack up with a geekfrog who could sort these things out. Why oh why?


  1. Petite, I did shack up with a geek (computer programmer and builder of machines to specification, repairer and virus eradicator as well as game designer) who would be happy to offer assistance via remote control at the price of a call – if you are interested you know my e-mail for further details.
    :) I hope I am not being too naughty offering his services in his absence…he is off delivering one of his new silicon babies to a client…

    Comment by Chameleon — January 31, 2005 @ 12:55 pm

  2. My geekfrog is not a professional geek, but a geek nonetheless. You’re welcome to borrow him anytime. :)

    Comment by ViVi — January 31, 2005 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Good luck with your new computer!! I have a Toshiba laptop with an Intel Pen 4 inside and it still sounds like a “hairdryer” with the fan running to keep it cool. I have been told that all Toshibas are like this. :sad:

    Comment by Pat — January 31, 2005 @ 1:10 pm

  4. I really don’t want to be a Harbinger of Doom, but what the hell, I’m very good at it. Just wait til you add iTunes and an iPod to the mix. No implications for viruses or that kind of thing, but (for me at least) an education in why software designed for Macs should be segregated from PC’s in the severest form of IT Apartheid. You will soon be joining in the chorus of “iTunes sucks” and buying the T-shirt. On the plus side, you will have an iPod.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — January 31, 2005 @ 1:14 pm

  5. Ugh, agree on French needing to be kept away from ‘puters.

    As for iTunes, XP, and loud machines… the solution is easy. Buy a mac.

    (posted from a ThinkPad, but I really meant it)

    Comment by Mathieu — January 31, 2005 @ 4:16 pm

  6. Je viens de switcher en achetant un powerbook apple et c’est le jour et la nuit avec mon précédent ordi. Outre l’impression générale de facilité, ce qui m’a le plus séduit, c’est le silence. Un silence que je n’avais jamais connu en informatique. Je veux dire, c’est tellement silencieux que je peux dormir dessus. ;)

    Comment by le roncier — January 31, 2005 @ 4:53 pm

  7. I had a similar problem when I bought a new computer – german XP. First of all it was a nightmare to understand how to do simple things (by then my knowledge of german was a bare minimum). Later I found one of those highjackers and the only thing that actually worked was actually formatting the hard disk. And I always had anti-virus, spyware and addware remover… The little thing had installed itself and it couldn’t even be found. The only reason I found it was that my normal internet connection lost the two computers on the lower left corner of the screen. It was a really odd virus/highjacker/whatever-little-bugging-thing…

    Nice to know about the reason of the noise though – next time I buy a new computer I’ll definately pay attention to that. My current PC drives me nuts with the noise (AMD processor…)!

    Comment by snowgaze — January 31, 2005 @ 5:01 pm

  8. Everyday it strikes me how dependent we are on our little ‘hoovers.’

    What scares me is how much we need these tempermental little boxes to validate some part of ourselves- as if we don’t aquiese to the little buggers, we are somehow made to feel ‘less than.’

    That said, back to that sly master of mine.

    The blog beckons.

    Comment by Sigmund Carl and Alfred — January 31, 2005 @ 5:05 pm

  9. Au risque de passer pour le geek de service, why oh why continuer à utiliser Internet Explorer alors qu’une alternative largement supérieur est désormais disponible ( pour butiner sur ouaibe en toute tranquilité.

    Comment by Nplugd — January 31, 2005 @ 7:32 pm

  10. Let me give the floor to the Hungarian:
    1. There is no difference between an AMD and Intel system in terms of noise. The difference is one between a good quality, expensive and quiet and a mediocre quality fan.
    2. If you encounter hijack problems, you can try to boot the system in safe mode and in the registry file you have to check all the .run and .runonce settings. If you are in luck, you will be able to find and eliminate all the spyware programmes.

    Comment by Chameleon — January 31, 2005 @ 9:14 pm

  11. My VAIO laptop doesn’t make a sound
    Except when you put a CD in, sometimes it gets a bit excited then…

    Comment by witho — January 31, 2005 @ 10:32 pm

  12. Re: browswer hijacker — use Firefox. It has security, as opposed to IE’s “Come and have your way with me!” sign that it hangs out each time it downloads a page.

    Comment by Gary — February 1, 2005 @ 7:25 am

  13. hey people I do use firefox. But you don’t have to launch IE to get spyware attacks and popups from the anti-spyware progs.

    I give up. I hate the noise. I can’t believe it was delivered with XP but not SP2. It’s going back to the shop.

    Comment by petite — February 1, 2005 @ 9:39 am

  14. “…and filled with swarms of teenage boys with skin problems at the weekends…” – my son would love only to have skin problems at the weekends. Poor soul, his face looks like a braille copy of Nicholas Nickleby seven days a week! :???:

    (Sorry – couldn’t resist)

    Comment by Sturat — February 1, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

  15. … remember when computers were supposed to make our lives easy?

    Comment by anan — February 1, 2005 @ 12:34 pm

  16. I seem to have gone to the other extreme – I can no longer cope with applications and software that are in English, even though, despite 12 years spent in France, it *is* still supposed to be my mother tongue.

    Comment by Iain — February 1, 2005 @ 2:50 pm

  17. It’s interesting that nearly everyone I know personally that lives in France equates getting computer help there with getting a root canal.

    I’m really starting to get convinced that anyone who could provide reliable, English-language computer help (and who has a grasp on American expectations of customer service) could make a business of it in Paris.

    *puts on computer consultant hat*

    Hopefully, this will help you to avoid any unnecessary rebuilding of your machine:

    Click on:

    Start => All Programs => Accessories => System Tools

    In System Tools, you ought to see an icon called System Restore – click it.

    On the right-hand side you’ll see two radio buttons – one to restore your computer from an earlier time and the other to create a restore point. Make sure the restore choice is selected and then click on Next.

    At this point you’ll see a calendar and some of the days will be in bold. (The bolded days indicate that your computer had created at least one restore point that day.)

    Select the newest day that has a restore point, and in the both on the right-hand side you’ll see a listing of the restore point(s) that were created that day. Choose the newest one, the click Next.

    The next screen asks you to confirm the selection by clicking Next, and then the machine will reboot on its own and do its thing.

    If the hijacker comes back following the restore, then follow the same procedure as above but choose the restore point previous to the one that was just restore. Rinse and repeat until you find the one that was created prior to the hijacker’s installation.

    As a bit of background, System Restore is something new in Windows XP and is a really useful tool to help avoid having to rebuild a machine unnecessarily. Whenever a piece of software is installed either on purpose, or covertly in the case of a hijacker, the machine will create a System Restore point that will allow you to quickly back out the change without too much of a headache.

    I hope this helps.

    Comment by Lawrence — February 1, 2005 @ 4:03 pm

  18. Frightening-This post together with the last comment from Lawrence (I know he’s only trying to help but he’s succeeded in mystifying me at least) have knocked on the head any idea I had of being tech-smart and saving lots of cash by buying that same Aspire thingy I’d been lusting after at Surcouf, sob, sob.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — February 1, 2005 @ 4:30 pm

  19. Parkin – my approach is to treat buying a computer the same exact way as I would when it comes to buying a major household appliance (since they’re essentially equivalent in terms of price and the amount of use they get.)

    If you shift your focus from price to brand reliabilty, strength of their warranty, and ease of repair, what you’ll gain in peace of mind will almost always outweigh anything you would have saved in price.

    Comment by Lawrence — February 1, 2005 @ 5:24 pm

  20. you don’t have to launch IE to get spyware attacks and popups from the anti-spyware progs.

    Fair point, but OTHO, one has yet to struggle with any kind of browser hijacker on Firefox…

    Comment by Nplugd — February 1, 2005 @ 6:35 pm

  21. lawrence – I agree. My last ‘puter was a dell and it has been lovely. And very quiet.

    The hair I have torn out in chunks is worth more than a saving of a couple of hundred euros….

    Comment by petite — February 1, 2005 @ 7:03 pm

  22. Another message from the Hungarian:
    First of all I have to point out that at the present juncture (desktop) computers are without exception terribly loud. This includes Dell computers. If you would like a really quiet computer I recommend that you do the following:
    1. You need to find a computer specialist who knows what he is doing and is able to put together a machine from components according to specification.
    2. You need to get him to put together a computer with the following parts:
    A. A good quality motherboard (ASUS, Gigabyte, Abit, MSI [Slot A]).
    B. A cheap AMD Sempron processor (2200+ 2300+ or if you prefer 2400+ all of which are more than enough).
    C. A good quality processor cooler (Zalman, or Spire-FalconRock IV)
    D. A 512 MB DDR RAM
    E. A 160GB (IBM-Hitachi) hard drive with 8MB Cache
    F. A DVD player and a DVD recorder.
    G. A Radeon graphics card 9200-9250 without a fan.
    H. An Antec case, an antec or a zalman low noise power supply.
    Keyboard, mouse and any other accessories you might need. An English-language version of M$ Windows XP SP2 which needs to be installed.
    Excluding the monitor, but including putting it together and the installation it ought to set you back no more than 1000 Euros, and might well cost a bit less. It will be so quiet that you will need to remove one side of the box to be able to hear that it’s switched on and working. :smile:

    Comment by Chameleon — February 1, 2005 @ 8:51 pm

  23. Some advice on this sorta stuff which probably everone here knows anyway, but…

    When you get a new PC:
    A) Try to download and install ZoneAlarm prior to connecting it to the net (in other words, download ZA on another PC and install it on your new one)
    B) If this is not possible, turn on the WinXP firewall BEFORE you connect to the net (it is off by default on the base install and SP1).
    C) Do not use IE. Ever. Use Firefox or Opera or something else. Just do not ever use IE.
    D) Once you have a firewall, install the WinXP service packs ASAP.

    I put together a list of useful free software (mostly GPL and no spyware that I know of) to install on your PC on my blog.

    Comment by Neepster — February 2, 2005 @ 12:28 am

  24. What, only one person has implored petite to get a Mac?

    Let me be number two. Bought in Germany, spoke fluent English in the OS from day one with just one change to a control panel. In fact, the only software that insists on still speaking German is Microsoft Office. (And I suspect that’s because I haven’t upgraded Office since ’98, when it was already too full of features I never used.) Of course the machine speaks fluent iPod, too.

    And when the box suddenly quit speaking to the screen? Fixed for free even though it was well out of warranty.

    No really, how many hours of fighting malware do you have to spend before you’ve made up the price difference?

    Comment by Doug — February 2, 2005 @ 6:16 pm

  25. Re Doug’s comment and that above it. Mac mini at €499, including free delivery so no spotty chavs either. Just plug into your old monitor and keyboard, making it green as well. Just a bit bigger than a small stack of CDs. Oh yes and still no viruses.

    Comment by Chaz — February 4, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  26. I. Would. Love. To.

    But I voided the warranty on my new one by putting extra memory in as soon as I bought it. So it can’t go back to the shop.

    I’ve just had the IT guy at work clean off the nasty stuff (which even his super spyware software was unable to remove) by reinstalling everything back to how it was when it left the factory and patching XP, intalling antivirus etc from behind the saftey of the work firewall.

    He’s telling me to get a little hardware firewall thingy. And he told me to stop downloading music on peer to peer. Goddamit. What are computers for if not for that?

    Comment by petite — February 4, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

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