A Close Call

Stephen Yagielowicz
The following is a brief cautionary tale about a bit of chaos I suffered last night that at its zenith put me into a panic attack and near emotional meltdown – and it could happen to you too, if you’re not careful…

While we all know to make backups of our most important files as a mitigation effort against catastrophic disk drive failures and other hardware failures, and we’re all smart enough to use firewalls and anti-virus programs to protect our software, I encountered a new problem last night that was as serious as any other, but one that (thankfully) had a happy ending.

It was after dinner; my lovely wife Dawn had gone to the gym, I was finishing up some loose ends and my pal Jack was whining at me, letting me know it was time to take him for his walk, and that he would really appreciate it if we went to the local park to do so.

We were just about to leave the house when the doorbell rang: it was my two stepsons, who had come over to use the pool on this near 100 degree day. While they would only be here for an hour or two, Jack was already excited about our pending adventure and didn’t want to wait, so I told the boys to lock up the house if I wasn’t back before they left.

The boys aren’t children, with the oldest half-way through college and the youngest half-way through high school; and they’ve been here alone many times before. While my home and office are nowhere near being child-proof, I trust that neither of them will get shot or the neighborhood accidentally leveled, but boys being boys, I decided to lock down my computer. Although they have access to their mom’s computer, they know that mine is off-limits – but as I said, boys will be boys.

So, I turned on my screensaver and checked the “on resume, password protect” option and took Jack to the park for a pleasant romp along the river. When I returned home, the boys were still in the pool, and after giving Jack his treat, I went back to work.

Or tried to, anyway...

It seems the password I entered was incorrect, and Windows XP Professional was not going to allow me to gain access to my computer. No problem, it must be “my other” password. Nope. Hmmm… how about this one? Nope. How about this one? Nope.

Of course, I don’t have them written down, but there are only a handful of passwords that I will commonly use, with various permutations of each, so I took my clipboard and began writing down my password list along with their usual variations. Satisfied that I had them all down, I began methodically working my way down the list of a dozen or so passwords, from my most basic to my most secure, becoming increasingly unsettled with each successive login failure.

By the time I had tried every password on my list (not once, but twice), I was well past the point of yelling obscenities (thankfully my office door and window were closed) and actually started to hyper-ventilate as I contemplated the loss of all of my valuable data and my inability to access the machine that provides for my livelihood. This wasn’t good.

I decided that I needed to step back and cool down before something got broken or I put a hole in my wall. Dawn’s great with Spackle but I try to be calmer than that, so as I went to click the ‘cancel’ button on the login box that was taunting me, I accidentally hit the ‘enter’ button instead, sending a blank password field through. Guess what? It worked!

After giving profuse thanks to God, I went in to my administrator’s panel and discovered that there was no longer a password set on my system. This was the way that Dawn used to ‘secure’ her computer from the kids; putting up a login box that would thwart their efforts when they were much younger, but not requiring her to memorize a password!

While I had set a password previously, it had been quite awhile since I used this security feature – so long, in fact, that I had done a complete OS reinstall since, and hadn’t ever reset the password. That’s my “logical” guess, but I’m just as willing to accept that this was a case of “Divine Intervention” to keep my sanity intact.

The moral of this story is that no matter how sure you are that you’ve got all your bases covered or how often you backup your data, there are endless surprises to be had when dealing with computers – and if your livelihood depends on them, you had better make certain that you have a “Plan B” ready to go at a moment’s notice. Now it’s time to check how current my backups are…