Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Cautionary Tale: MoneyPak Can't Buy Happiness

Engaged in my now standard morning routine of drinking coffee, perusing various online news stories, and navigating Facebook bromides, I was violently assaulted a couple of days ago. Without fair warning, my computer—access to any and all of its components—was snatched away from me.

While leisurely reading an article from a local newspaper, the words suddenly disappeared. They were replaced on my screen with a bloodcurdling notice from the U.S. Department of Justice, or so it said, informing me that my computer had been locked pending further investigation of criminal activities. However, I could unlock it for $300—payable via MoneyPak only—and perhaps stave off further investigation of what were some pretty serious crimes my computer and I were alleged to be involved in.

The U.S. Department of Justice was quite thorough here, I thought, in its decidedly chilling message. I was informed where I could purchase MoneyPaks—Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, 7-Eleven, et al. However, something rang a wee bit unethical to me that the feds could be bought off so easily. But then, this government entity made no iron-clad promises they wouldn’t proceed in the investigation after it got its $300 via MoneyPak. Giving me three days to pay this extortion to the U.S. Department of Justice may have seemed fair, but not when the due date was March 1st and I received the notice on March 26th.

Needless to say, I didn’t run down to Rite Aid, a nearby retailer that sold the U.S. Department of Justice’s preferred form—actually only form—of payment: MoneyPak. Instead, I shut down my computer, hoping against hope that all would be well when I turned it back on. It wasn’t, which didn’t surprise me. That hideous notice appeared before I could even put my computer into Safe Mode and try any number of things. For a non-computer savvy person, like me, I feared I might have to exercise the nuclear option—System Recovery—and begin anew. And, with my very old computer, that meant returning to prehistoric virtual times. It had happened to me once before and it wasn’t pretty.

The insidiousness of acts like this—anonymous, computer wrecking, and extortion of monies from the frightened and gullible—are downright sickening and more than a bit scary. The fact that these attacks come out of the blue—when we are blissfully going about our business—is a cautionary tale from the age we live in. What will tomorrow bring? God only knows. And, as for the persons behind these viruses—this particular one has been dubbed Ransomware—you deserve nothing less than being boiled in heart-healthy, hot Canola oil.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Note to Self

While thumbing through a box of grammar school ephemera recently, I encountered an uneven scrap of notebook paper with some scribbling on it. Turns out that it was a bona fide “Note to Self” and dated 2/26/80, which places its author—me—in my senior year of high school.

What can I say for certain about this day in February 1980? It was a Tuesday and a leap year, so there was a Friday, February 29th. I took a sick day from school, but I can’t say for sure whether I was physically under the weather or not. I’d hazard a guess that I wasn't. I was, though, experiencing some measure of teenage angst—the “I dread returning to that sickening place” is a dead giveaway.

Funny, but I have no recollection of writing this “Note to Self” and headlining it “Feelings Tonight.” I don’t recall what exactly was troubling me thirty-three years ago on that winter’s eve. Suffice it to say, I didn’t enjoy my high school experience all that much, which was more about me than the institution of fine learning I attended, which really was better than most in the Bronx. As I recall, I found my senior year the least unpleasant and objectionable of the four. So, the timing of this “Note to Self” surprised me a little.

As far as I'm concerned, the most intriguing note within this particular “Note to Self” is: “To be taken out on June 27.” This was the scheduled day I picked up my high school diploma, I believe, and the last day I would ever again set foot—by necessity—in that “sickening place.” Strange, but I do remember penning occasional notes with the “To be taken out on” tag and date—when enumerated troubles, which seemed so all consuming and even insurmountable, would be no more. It was my crude teenage way of convincing myself that “this too shall pass.” Oh, I believe in tomorrow.

There was, however, a serious glitch in this particular “Note to Self” and all the others, too. The words I penned ended up not being read—“taken out” as it were—on the prescribed days. And this was integral to the "Note to Self" concept. Still, it's probably a positive thing in the big picture—proof that so many of my problems were indeed fleeting.

On June 27, 1980, I was supposed to exclaim, “Hey, that awful angst that I wrote about in my 'Note to Self' is no more—gone with the winds of time.” Well, having missed that key date, I have finally gotten around to reading it thirty-three years later. And, yes, whatever was the overwhelming burden that confounded me on that February night a long time ago has been lifted from my shoulders. As for other “Notes to Self” that exist in the miscellaneous ephemera that I have yet to uncover, I’m certain, too, those assorted tribulations have also dissipated.

I do, though, have a few brand new “Notes to Self” that need to be written—notes befitting my life in the new millennium. To be taken out on when—now that’s the big question. Perhaps I'll publish them in thirty-three years and let everybody know how they turned out.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)