On April 10th, I hosted The Daily WTF: Live! in Pittsburgh. It was a blast. We had a great crowd, and some great performances.

Our first story is one of my own- a tale about how one computer virus finds its violent end.

Direct Link (mp3).

This episode is brought to you by our sponsor, Puppet Labs. Check out their intro video, it gives a pretty good overview of how they help their customers get things done. Start a free trial today!


Host (Remy Porter):
Today’s Daily WTF Live is brought to you by Puppet Labs. Manage your infrastructure as code across all environments with Puppet. Start your free trial today!

Welcome to The Daily WTF Live. I’m your host Remy Porter, and over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing a series of stores that were recorded at The Daily WTF Live show, held at the Maker Theater in Pittsburgh. We got local IT professionals up on stage to share their real-world, from-the-trenches stories in front of a live audience. Everybody who attended had a blast, I really enjoyed putting this together, and I look forward to doing this again sometime in the future.

For the moment, let me give a little bit of a shout-out to Puppet Labs. It was their sponsorship that made this show possible.

Our first story is one of my own. This is from a time when I was much, much younger, and much much braver. This particular story involves a little swashbuckling, a little derring-do… and in the end, something gets stabbed to death. Enjoy!

Storyteller (Remy Porter)
Like so many IT professionals, our lives from the trenches start quite young. Who here, you know, their first computer was a childhood memory? Right? So many of us, right? My first computer was a VIC–20. I remember as a wee lad my dad plugging it into the television, ‘cause that’s what you plugged computers into back then.

And I grew up with a computer in the house the entire time. We had the VIC–20, we had the Commodore 64… eventually we got the PS/1, which is the really really crappy version of the IBM PS/2. Like, imagine, you know… it was awful, it was a terrible computer. But, it was what I had when I was growing up. I thought it was the greatest thing.

And so, when I turned sixteen- like all aspiring nerds, I’d been saving up a lot of money, and it was not so I could go and buy a car. It was so that I could go to the Kingston Armory, where they were having a computer show. And I had, you know, all of my money saved up. I emptied my entire bank account to buy my first computer, the one that was mine to own.

This, this changed my life- or at least it was going to, right? Because I no longer had to get yelled at by my dad when something went wrong on the computer and it was like, “No, that’s your fault.”

I’m like, “I didn’t even touch it today! It’s not my…!” [sigh]

I didn’t have to put up with that anymore! I had my own computer! I could get any game I wanted. I could install it. This was going to be the big moment for me.

So I get home- and this was a computer show, so the computer wasn’t fully assembled. I had a motherboard, I had a processor, I had all of these things. And so I spend hours putting it all together. I had never done anything like this before. Sure it snaps together like Legos, but this is still the late 90s. It’s not fully like Legos, quite like it is today. You gotta mount it to the case right, and all of this stuff.

So, I spend hours doing this. This is my big moment for the weekend. And then I get it finally booted up, and I have to install all my software… hours and hours there… this is- I’m so excited. And the thing that really puts it over the top for me is that I have a friend who’s given me a lovely little floppy disk with… it was probably Doom 2, or Duke Nuke’em, something like that. And I had this illegally pirated floppy disk, and I built this computer just so I could put that floppy disk in there, load that program, and blow something to hell with all sorts of gory violence.

That was the perfect moment for me. Until… things just started getting weird with my computer.

I had just put it together. I had taken everything from my bank account, put it into this computer… my computer started acting weird… immediately after I put this floppy disk in there. I’m like, “Oh, this is… this is a problem. This isn’t good. This is… oh no.”

And I couldn’t pin down exactly what was weird. It was just all sorts of things like sounds wouldn’t play, but then they would, or the monitor would do weird things. I wasn’t really sure what was going on until I talked to the friend who gave me the floppy disk. And he said “Yeah, my computer had a virus. It was AntiCMOS.A, which did something to my motherboard, which destroyed my computer. I just had to get a new one.”

And I’m like, OK… That doesn’t sound entirely plausible, but at the same time, I’m utterly terrified, because I had just done everything. This- If I lost this computer, if I had to get a new one, I was done.

And this was the 90s, right? This was mid–90s. I couldn’t just go online and look up this virus. So I had to sit there and I had to reason about it. I had to think about it. You know, virus programs couldn’t get it because it was actually in the hardware. AntiCMOS.A actually infected the CMOS chip that controls your BIOS.

And I’m like, OK, I know it’s called AntiCMOS.A, so I know, I know, that this virus is somehow tied to my CMOS. And because I was a good nerd, I didn’t read the manuals, but I did have them. So I went to my motherboard manual, and I start flipping through, and I see stuff about the CMOS. And I see that to resolve my issues, or to purge the CMOS- to wipe it- there’s a jumper that you can close on the motherboard.

Now, this was a computer show motherboard, so it did not actually come with any spare jumpers. There were none of those little plastic gates that I could put over those pins- there wasn’t one. I didn’t have an extra one that I could just move from someplace else.

So I just sat and thought to myself and said, “I have a screwdriver.”

And I took the screwdriver and I put it between the two pins, and I hit the power button, and absolutely nothing happened. Nothing turned on, no lights flashed, and I’m like, “All right, that’s it. I’ve just stabbed my computer to death, aaand that is going to be the end of my life for the foreseeable future.”

But I take the screwdriver out, and I hit the power button again, just hoping against hope- and sure enough, my computer boots up. The problem is solved. I no longer have that virus, until I borrow another floppy disk from that friend- but at least then I knew what to do about it.

And as far as I know, this makes me the only person who has killed a computer virus with a screwdriver.

Host (Remy Porter)
And so that was my adventure with my first computer virus. A little bit of a violent ending there. Next week, our speaker will be Jean Lang, and she’s gonna be pulling back the curtain and explaining how the Steel City Ruby Conference came to be. Thank you for listening, tune in next week for more stories.

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