The case of the disappearing laptop


I was behind schedule on a performance test. Way behind. The hardware was performing admirably, but the parameters of the test (specified by the customer) were designed for failure. So I decided to stay late at the lab and work on a way to complete the test.

By 8 p.m. I was going back and forth from the performance lab to my office in about 15-minute intervals while the test started and began execution. I would baby-sit the execution for a few minutes and, as necessary, restart processes that terminated. Then I'd go back to my office to check mail, surf a little, and so on. Watching a performance test run can be as exciting as watching paint dry. The test was slowly failing, and I got frustrated and walked back to my office.

When I walked through the door, something didn't look right. The corner of my desk that I never see -- it's always covered by my laptop computer -- was completely bare. I did a double take that would have made Lucy Ricardo jealous. I scanned the room, wondering if someone had played a joke, but no one was in the building but me and the janitors vacuuming the carpets at the other end of the building. Then my eyes fell upon the broken glass at the bottom of the window frame, where a large sheet of glass had been. The blinds were closed (as they always are in my office) but they were hanging OUTSIDE the building. The bare ends of the UTP network wires were sticking out of the wall. Shards of glass were everywhere. No doubt about it -- I had just become a statistic.

The police showed up over an hour after I called 911. The 24-hour glass repair service showed up about 2 hours later with boards to cover the windowless, gaping hole.

I didn't let the waiting time go to waste, however. Since I'm responsible for computer hardware in our office, I had the key to our storage room, and I pulled out a brand-new laptop and began to configure it. Fortunately, I do practice what I preach: all my important data was safely stored on a server and from there to backup tapes. However, the applications had to be reinstalled since I do not normally do a full backup of my laptop. So I now have fresh copies of my software and a brand-spanking-new registry. My roaming profile did bring back my desktop or most of it, anyway. The scanned picture of my daughters disappeared with the laptop, but I can get another copy from the server at home. I don't keep any passwords on my hard disk but, just to be safe, I've been changing all my passwords.

I finally got home about 1:45 a.m. The shock wore off a few days later. We convinced the customer to change the parameters of the test, and it's running -- successfully as I type this column. So far the results have been very promising. Of course, the chances of recovering my laptop are slim and none and, as the saying goes, Slim left town. That was the third break-in in the past three years or so. The previous one was just a few months ago. To protect my laptop, I always take it home with me at night. But what can you do while you're still at work? Other than chaining the laptop down and requiring a key to unlock it to go home, not much. A laptop, by its very nature, is highly portable and an easy target for a snatch-and-run.

I'm just grateful I wasn't in the office when the glass started flying.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.