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Adventures in Vermiculture

The Diet of Worms

As Franz Liebkind once sighed when he ran out of bullets, "Boy, when things go wrong...."

The headaches associated with the downfall of my computer, narrated in the previous posts, continue. Here is our latest episode:

Somehow or other -- no doubt again through human error -- before my firewall and antivirus software were reinstalled, I managed to acquire a worm in my system. When I restarted the machine after firing up Norton Antivirus, that program sent me a continual series of alerts that I was playing host to the verminous W32.Gaobot.YC. Removal of the creature entailed running in Safe Mode, spelunking through the registry, strong emetics and iron fortitude. At one point, I inexplicably lost my DSL connection: it simply disappeared from the computer and could not be reinstalled without first reinstalling Windows XP Service Pack 1. Small birds and mammals were not sacrificed, but the temptation was great.

I think the tricksy wormses are gone now, but they seem to have left a peculiar side effect: My antivirus software is now unable to download updates. What is even more puzzling, I am unable to access the Web sites of the primary antivirus vendors: Symantec, McAfee, et al. are denied me. (I can access those same sites perfectly well via the dial-up connection on my laptop, so it's not a case of their servers being down.)

Googling leads me to no clues: there is no sign of this being a symptom of the worm with which I was infected, nor does my machine show signs of some other process at work. Methinks a call to the handy folks at technical support is in the cards for Monday, unless perhaps my readers can offer up wiser, less costly insights.

That's the trouble with sagas, isn't it? They just go on and on.

Hard drive, he said: A Tale of Slavery and Reeducation

Some Notes of Thanks to begin:

Thanks to Ken Arneson at the Will Carroll Weblog for succumbing to the temptations of Double-Dactylism. Ken has posted a double dactyl of his own with a politico-sectarian bent, which I commend to my readers’ attention.

Thanks as well to Evan Schaeffer at Notes from the (Legal) Underground for his link to the double-double-dactyl fast food/weight gain post below.

And particular thanks to all those who felt my pain yesterday, as I wrestled with the apparent downfall of my principal computer. Here is an update on that situation:

First, while I am no apologist for Windows operating systems, Microsoft cannot be blamed for this one. Truth to tell, it’s my own darned fault: I inadvertently interrupted the workings of a non-Microsoft disk utility, resulting in the corruption of one or more files needed to launch Windows. The result was a message telling me that the necessary file was missing and suggesting that I restart with CTRL-ALT-DEL . . . which simply produced the same error message every time.

Unable to salvage the situation myself, I entered upon a series of conversations with several helpful young women -- from Bangalore or someplace equally subcontinental -- at Dell technical support. They were knowledgeable and genuinely helpful, putting the lie to reports I had read of a decline in support quality at Dell. We ran diagnostics, for hours; we tried extracting the needed file from the Windows install disk; we tweaked and tickled, all to no avail. Faced with the prospect of reinstalling the operating system from scratch, I shuddered at the thought of losing all of the useful data that -- but of course, Mr. Murphy! -- I did not have currently backed up. At that point, Ms. Dell proved herself invaluable: she suggested that because the hard drive itself appeared to be fully functional, perhaps it could be swapped into another computer as a second, “slave” drive, permitting me to copy out the critical data.

This proposal I immediately put into effect. After overcoming my trepidation at physically fiddling about inside of a complex electronic device, I successfully extracted the errant drive, consigned it to slavery in a second machine that I had conveniently laying about and . . . Eureka!

This morning, the wandering lambs of my data are safely loaded on to recordable CDs, contentedly bleating as they await their return to the fold. (Bah!) I have liberated the hard drive from its durance vile. I have returned it to its proper place and it is running through the Windows XP installation routine as I type. God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world, or soon will be. I do wish, however, that HAL would stop rubbing it in.

You Would Cry, Too, If It Happened to You

Durer's Melancolia I: Some Days You Just Can't Win, eh?  Out for two days of colossal tedium in a deposition.

Returned to discover mysterious conditions keeping principal computer from functioning.

Diagnostics in progress to see whether the situation can be salvaged without undue loss of difficult-to-restore data.

Numerous other matters requiring professional attention (by me, not yet for me).

Having no fun just at this moment. Posting from backup laptop.

Regular posting -- which will include thanks for those who linked here in the past few days -- will resume as soon as practicable. Meanwhile, as is so often the case, Albrecht Dürer says it all.

The Infernal Laughter Machine

Playwright (Noises Off, Copenhagen), screenwriter (Clockwise) and novelist (Headlong) Michael Frayn, in an interview with The Paris Review, has this to say about farce:


* * * When I first started writing farces, interviewers would ask me, “Why do you do farces? Why don't you write about life as it is?” and I couldn't understand what their lives must be like. I mean it seems to me that everyday life has a very strong tendency towards farce, that is to say, things go wrong. And they go wrong often in a very complex and logically constructed way—one disaster leads to another, and the combination of two disasters leads to a third disaster, which is the essence of classical farce: disaster building upon itself. It seems to me that the same thing happens in life, in my life anyway. I would like to live a life of classical dignity, and write plays in blank verse or alexandrines.

[omitted material omitted here]

I think what most farces have in common is the element of panic. People lose their heads. They find themselves in an embarrassing situation, and they tell a lie to cover up. The lie doesn't make things better, it makes them worse, and they then have to explain not only the initial embarrassing situation but the lie as well, and the panic escalates. In Noises Off it doesn't happen quite like that. It's about a group of actors putting on a play and things going wrong. They don't have to lie, but they have to find a way out of the difficulties, and of course the things they invent, like lies, make the difficulties worse. It is the same in Clockwise. Each solution to the central character's problems doubles them.


It was very much like a nightmare, except that a nightmare is not funny. How does one turn nightmare into comedy? Is it because it happens to someone else?


Yes! In every farce, in every comedy, there has to be an element of pain and difficulty, and we laugh as a relief that it is happening to somebody else and not to us.

The line between farce and tragedy is a fine one. In either form, the essence of the story is the manner in which forces that have gone beyond the characters' control tick along with unfeeling mechanical inevitability, with the characters in the end either mocked or destroyed. Farce differs from tragedy most often by playing for lower stakes (sex most commonly in farce vs. matters of life and death in tragedy) and by emphasizing human folly as the cause of the characters' predicaments rather than the gods or an uncaring universe. While Frayn has shown a gift for true, comic farce (as in Noises Off) he has a strong sense of how easily farce can veer toward the tragic: John Cleese's punctilious schoolmaster in Clockwise has lost nearly all his certainty in life and the narrator/protagonist in Headlong -- a novel which is not quite a farce, but which uses some of the mechanics of the form and gives a strong sense of what it would feel like for a person who actually was living in one -- is left to soldier on through the rest of his life knowing that he has lost a great deal but altogether uncertain how much.

Beyond their other appeals, the best farces or tragedies offer the satisfaction of watching a beautifully crafted engine doing the thing it was designed to do. Re-watching the complete Fawlty Towers recently, I was again impressed with how flawlessly the best of the episodes (which is to say most of them) run their course: at least two plots or circumstances -- often three or even four -- are set in motion in the early portion of the episode, any one of which might have been avoided but for Basil Fawlty's lack of self-knowledge, only to bring our hero down, mortified to varying degrees, when they collide and pile upon one another at the climax.

In each case, once the mechanism starts running the character is as doomed to his fate as Oedipus (whose fate is sealed even before his first entrance) or whichever character in Act 3 is to receive the bullet from the pistol we were shown on the mantle in Act 1. Har har har.

[Link to Frayn interview via Arts & Letters Daily]