Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, often irreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solely for the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions and answers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life in general, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns, if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography

Dear Dr. Photography,

I am just entering the digital side of photography and am scared by computer viruses. I am told they can actually kill a computer and that they work just like a deadly human virus. Is this true and how do I keep my new (expensive) computer from getting the disease?

Hypochondriac in Hayward


DP: Computer viruses have been around for a number of years now. They are created intentionally by humans, generally rogue programmers or mischievous hackers, who attempt to inflate their own egos by causing unexpected occurrences in the computers of others. Some of these viruses are relatively harmless -- causing, in one case, a simple greeting to appear on screen. Others are far more destructive and are actually designed to cause the infected computer to destroy its own data files. As yet, programmers have been unable to create a virus that can actually cause a computer to rewire itself or cause physical destruction. So, while viruses can destroy data, they are not capable of actually "killing" your machine.

Computer viruses are similar to biological viruses in the fact that they are spread by host contact. If you exchange disks with other computer users whose systems are infected, your computer is likely to get their virus. Accessing infected computer systems via modem can also result in infection. On extremely rare occasions, software publishers have unknowingly released infected software disks in their new software packages.

As a doctor and recognized expert in the field, Dr. Photography recommends the following preventative measures:

The most effective virus prevention is abstention. If you never remove your new computer from its box, leaving it sealed within the cardboard and plastic casings, you can rest assured that it will never get a computer virus. While this solution may seem a bit boring, you can at least still tell your friends "yeah, I've got one of those new Mac Dodecas with 128 gig of RAM sitting in my office... and I am immune to virus infection."

Secondly, practice safe computing. Do not exchange software or data disks with other computer users. Notice that every new floppy disk comes in its own plastic sleeve. This sleeve is affectionately known as a disk condom. If you must share disks with other computers, always use a disk condom. If you keep it on your disk when you insert it in the drive, you may get a few read/write errors and perhaps a crashed drive head, but you're fairly well protected against virus infection.

Compute monogamously. If you compute around with every Mac, DOS or Amiga in town, or if you're a regular customer of online services, you're likely to find yourself with a virus before you can say "gamma globulin." If you have a computing partner, it is safest for you both to keep your computing relationship monogamous. That way, there is less chance for infection to occur from others. Keep in mind that there is no evidence of any increased risk in homocomputer, heterocomputer or any other category of computer relationships. You are no less at risk computing Mac-to-Mac, than you are IBM-to-Amiga, Mac-to-Mini or with the entire North American Defense network.

Finally, readers should be aware of an ominous development for computer users everywhere. Underground researchers at a major institution in New England recently announced the development of a computer pheromone. Pheromones, in the biological world, are chemical substances produced by animals as a stimulus to other individuals of the same species for one or more behavioral responses. They are the chemicals which drive every male dog within a quarter mile crazy when a female is in heat, and the substances that cause thousands of ants to invade your kitchen after a lone worker discovered last night's leftover cheesecake on your counter.

Computer pheromones are not quite as threatening as computer viruses, since they can only stimulate computers of the same type and only when in proximity with one another. Their effect is basically to cause your computer to continuously check its SCSI and serial ports for input or output. This results in your computer sitting around in a lethargic, sort of lovelorn, state until connection with the affecting computer can be made. Once connection occurs, however, viral infections are free to pass.

Pheromone prevention is accomplished simply by moving the two computers into a less proximate range. Also, the effects of a computer pheromone can be minimized by never having two computers of the same kind operating near each other. This is one instance where it is to your advantage to mix your Macs with IBMs, Hewlett Packards and Sun Workstations.

Next month, we'll discuss the best SCSI ports in California and where to meet them.

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©1993 Scott Highton
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