The IQ of Lint

Encrypted gibberishEver heard someone say that computers are smart? The real implication is some kind of software running on the computer, but the idea is there's rudimentary intelligence at work in these machines. I've had the idea a few times over the years myself—back in the early days of personal computers, mostly—but the more time goes by, the more I realize how artificially unintelligent my computer really is. Sure, it's so useful that I'd have a tough time living without it at this point, but it's still an idiot. Maybe I am, too.

Say you create a folder, using Windows XP, to hold some kind of personal information. If you want to, XP—the so-called professional version anyway—allows you to specify that folder as encrypted, and whatever you put in that folder after that is automatically scrambled for you. It's an easy, transparent operation. There's no password to enter every time you need to use one of those files; it's all based on your Windows log-in. Life is good, until, of course, something in that monstrosity known as Windows goes terribly wrong. And as we all know, that part is inevitable; it's a matter of when, not ifEventually, something doesn't initialize properly during the boot sequence, resulting in psychotic behavior from one or more applications or processes, if not complete meltdown. It's an old story, and probably too familiar among Windows users.

Knowing this, the last thing you want to do is put too much trust in this system. If you really need to secure your stuff, you don't rely on some built-in piece of Windows to do it. If the OS fails, your information is inaccessible, and besides, you don't sleep well with all those nagging doubts about whether your files were really encrypted in the first place. If it's something that matters, you use a third-party application to back up and secure your data, preferably one that doesn’t live on the same machine. With this in mind, the comedic dimension of today's events can't be overstated.

Three days ago, in a moment of madness, I decided to try out the built-in Windows folder encryption for the first time. The little voice that comments on right and wrong suddenly became a big, loud voice. It called me a moron. At first, I just encrypted a few folders of low importance, stuff that I could stand to lose if things didn’t work out. Then, for reasons that remain unclear, I decided to encrypt my Quicken folder. No, not just part of it; I actually chose to encrypt The Whole Freaking Directory. The voice became a hysterical scream, so I muffled it with a roll of duct tape while I watched the progress bars in the encryption-status window. Afterward, I tried it out a few times to make sure I could still get into my Quicken files. No problem. I went back to doing other things, but I had a bad feeling inside.

Today began in the usual way: heave myself out of bed, drink coffee, blink my eyes, more coffee, boot the computer. Everything was normal, but then I started Quicken. The first-time user dialogue welcomed me, and asked if I wanted to create a new file. I sat there, staring in disbelief, but the little voice—evidently having extricated itself from the duct tape—began to laugh. No to the new file, exit Quicken, then restart it again. Same thing again. Thinking (I mean delusional hoping, because I knew what had really happened) there had been a glitch in the file path, I opened the file menu. This is where everything really melted down, because the entire Quicken directory was, of course, still encrypted, probably due to a failure in the Windows initialization sequence. So Quicken just locked up; it was staring at a heap of unintelligible mumbledy-goo, and couldn’t figure out why it was all so strange. Anything with an IQ above that of a squirrel would have taken one look at all that encrypted gibberish, and immediately backed away with its hands in the air. But since this was taking place within a computer, the obvious solution was to stand there, trying to make sense of something that would never, ever become any clearer. The way I see it, this means my computer, taken as a whole, has an IQ roughly equivalent to that of lint.

Yeah, I can laugh now, because I was fortunate enough to be able to simply remove that infernal encryption status from my folders. That is, after I finally regained control of my system. I didn't have to search for my backup disks, or worse, reinstall an entire application. Or an entire operating system. I've given the Little Voice a nice raise, and I slapped myself, too. I'd like to think I'm smarter than my computer; I'd like to believe I'm more intelligent than lint. But after this, can I ever really be sure?



  1. Anonymous12:19 PM UTC

    Same thing happens when you encrypt just the /data folder. I heard the same voice, but just kept plowing ahead...

  2. Anonymous5:05 PM UTC

    Yeah, especially in the world of Windows, we ignore that voice at our peril. Thanks for the comment.