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Another case from the files of Mack Rowe.

The night was as clear as California’s energy policy. I was up late working on a big case, and I had just figured out the whereabouts of Carmen Sandiego. Someone knocked on my door.

“Come in.”

He had the look of someone who’d just read his personal information on Microsoft’s server. “Mr. Rowe?” he asked timidly.

“Mack Rowe, private consultant,” I said with a smile. I popped a cigarette into my mouth and lit up a stick of gum. “What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Rowe, my name is E. T. Crowe, and I’m in a desperate fix. It started about three weeks ago with an e-mail message. I opened it, and pornographic Web pages exploded all over my screen. I closed them as quickly as I could … well, most of them, anyway. But new ones kept opening. I rebooted my system, but that didn’t stop them. Now every time I open my browser the porn pages just keep opening. Everyone thinks it’s my fault. My wife is making me sleep on the sofa, and my kids keep asking to use the computer. What should I do?” I named a price and he gave me the URL.

Unwholesome cargo

As soon as he left I tried out the Web site. Sure enough, more bare flesh than a Weight Watchers beach party. And just as he’d said, the windows were popping up like gophers on crack.

I closed them all, then reloaded my browser. Up they came again. I smiled my patented toothy grin. The site had altered my home page. This was going to be easy. I changed my browser settings back where they belonged, shut down my computer, and went to bed. Case closed. Or so I thought.

The next morning I fired up the computer again and loaded my browser. I wanted to check the status of some Enron stock I had just picked up for a song. But instead of news of my sudden wealth, I got photographs of a dame with attributes the size of Kentucky. The site was back.

After a bit of sleuthing, I figured out how to get rid of it for good. I had to change my browser settings, uncheck every option in MSCONFIG, remove all references to the site from my Windows Registry, and reformat my hard drive. Convinced that I’d found the solution, I e-mailed Crowe with detailed instructions.

The case was closed, but I was mad. Someone had played me for a sucker, and I was going to make sure he paid.

I started my investigation by returning to the Web site. That got me a name, an e-mail address, and a phone number.

Within five minutes, I’d discovered another very valuable piece of information: The name, e-mail address, and phone number were all phonies. But with a little more sleuthing, I found out who owned the domain name. It was a dame with the handle Nola Noire. She was local, so I decided to pay her a visit. At least, I would after I’d changed my browser settings, unchecked every option in MSCONFIG, removed all references to the site from my Windows Registry, and reformatted my hard drive.

Footwork

Noir looked surprised as I entered her inner office. Maybe she recognized me. Maybe she sensed her doom was at hand. Maybe she wasn’t used to people crawling through the window.

“You can use the door, Mr. Rowe.” She knew me.

“Okay, Toots, what’s the story?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Rowe. I run a clean, respectable pornographery. Have you checked our bestiality page recently? We have a nice new spread on kangaroos.”

But I wasn’t in the market for marsupials. “Fatale, everyone knows you run a dirty business. You insinuate your filth into people’s lives. You take over their browsers and don’t give them back. You’ve ruined the computing experience for who knows how many people.”

“I’m just an honest businesswoman trying to make a profit. That means bringing in a lot of hits. I do that by forcing people to return to my site.”

I was surprised to get a confession so soon. “So you admit it’s a racket?”

“A racket? Of course not! People love my site. You should see the numbers we have on returning visitors.”

“Okay, Toots,” I said, reaching for my .38 and realizing I didn’t own one, “I’m bringing you in and taking you down.”

She came at me slowly, in sections. “I like a man who talks tough.” She soon had me enveloped in a long, slow, passionate kiss. But there was something different about this kiss–it wasn’t like any other long, slow, passionate kiss I’d ever experienced.

Of course! That was the difference! This one was real. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see the guy sneaking up on me with the blackjack. At least I hope it was a blackjack.

I woke up in the gutter. One of these days, I thought, I’d like to get a long, slow, passionate kiss and not end up in the gutter.

As soon as I returned to my office, I checked my e-mail. There was a message from Crowe. Always eager to hear from a client groveling in gratitude, I opened it up. But there was no groveling to be found. In fact, he’d discovered my solution on his own, and had used it to rid his system of the offending Web site.

Then he’d opened my e-mail, and the problem came back.

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