Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Who can you trust after you're dead?

I was asked on our chat reference desk recently for a program that will wipe a computer's hard drive in the event that the owner dies or is suddenly "put out of commission" for a long time.

"Why do you need that?" I typed back, but Mr. "Al Kyda" gave no reply.

But that had me searching for some solution to this problem. What would you do if you were suddenly hospitalized and didn't want someone poking around in your computer, spying at all your personal crap? Sure, you might have a password to protect an unauthorized logon, but seriously, we all know it's "chocolate."

What if you're in a car accident and end up in a coma? Or you have a heart attack and spend two weeks in the hospital? What if you have a stroke and can't move and the doctor pronounces you dead, and because your insurance requires an autopsy to determine if there is any fault or negligence to avoid paying on your policy, the ME is about to cut you open, but you're alive! And you know you saw that TV show where the guy couldn't move and the doctor was about to cut him open, so he tried to cry so someone would see his tears, and they did! So you try and try to cry and you strain too much so you fart; what then? A fart isn't proof you're alive, so they cut you right open. And now, who is going to delete all that porn from your computer?

Maybe it's not porn you don't want anyone to find on your computer. Maybe is just a picture of you in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. Or maybe it's a Kenyan birth certificate. Or it's the recipe for Ice-nine.

Whatever it is, you don't want anyone to find it.

In the old days, you might leave a letter to a trusted friend with instructions on what to do with your personal effects. For example, I have all of my private items up in the attic sealed in a cardboard box labeled, "not porn."

In the event of my death, my attorney or named associate would take that box of "not porn" from the attic and drive it out into a field where it would be burned, its contents a mystery forever. Until the flames hit the inflatable Sailor Moon love doll that I got from Japan: those babies explode when you put a match to them.

But anyway, that's how we would do it in the old days. But now? My computer hard drive is loaded with tens of thousands of files, any number of which could prove embarrassing if found by the wrong party.

I've looked, but I haven't found a program that will wipe a folder or partition if nothing is done for a period of time. If a password is not entered or if something else hasn't been done, I don't see anything that will perform this function. I guess one could write a batch file that would execute and format the partition, but is that good enough to keep my love letters to Leif Garrett private?

I don't think so. I don't think any solution is as good as the one from the old days, the trusted friend.

So I'm going to keep a card like this in my wallet, next to my "mullet donor" card (yes, that's a thing: in the event of my death, my mullet will be removed and transplanted onto a prematurely balding singer in a Southern rock band).

In event of coma or death:
call 202-555-1235
tell Joe,
"the salamander has left the pond"

If you would like to participate, you have to be willing to travel anywhere in the Continental U.S. at a moment's notice. You need a cordless drill with a metal drill bit, safety goggles, gloves, a plastic bucket and some muriatic acid. Okay, you don't really need the acid.

But in the event of my death, I expect you to respond when you hear, "the salamander has left the pond," and then spring into action. When you get to my house, be courteous and knock. The dog's gonna bark a lot, but she won't attack if you give her a treat; that's how we lost the TV in the last burglary. So give the dog something. My girlfriend likes wine coolers, but since she'll be grieving, bring a bottle of tequila.

Go upstairs and open the computer. Be careful with my stuff. Those Ikki Tousen action figures weren't cheap.

Get out the hard drive and drill some holes through it. Put the drive on a phone book first, you dummy! You want to drill through the floor? Four holes all the way through should be enough. If you brought the acid, drop the drive in the bucket and pour some acid over it.

And you're done.

Get up, pet the dog. Look, she likes you. Leave my girlfriend alone. Yes, I know she's hot, but come on, I'm not even in the ground. Show some respect.

Now, I just need your phone number. Anyone?