Sunday, January 09, 2005


Blogging for Books

[Following is my entry in the Blogging for Books contest #7, hosted by The Zero Boss. This month, entrants are to choose which genre of fiction best represents their lives - mystery, romance, horror, SF, fantasy, whatever - and write a fictionalized account of a life incident using that genre.]

Of all the escapades in which it has been my fortune to take part with my friend Sherlock Holmes, few illustrated the quick wit and extreme perceptiveness for which he was famous, as did the mystery that confronted us early in January of aught-five.

It was a wintry Thursday morning when I woke to find Sherlock Holmes standing beside my bed, fully dressed, with his pipe in hand – thankfully, as yet, unlit.

“Sorry to knock you up at this hour, Watson, but I am expecting a visitor presently, and I should like to know your impressions of him once we have spoken. Would you be so kind as to join me in the drawing room in half an hour?”

“On one condition only.” My voice was, I fear, a bit harsh, owing to my just having awakened, but Sherlock Holmes took no offence.

“Name it: it shall be seen to.”

“I should like to have a cup of Earl Grey awaiting me when I arrive downstairs.”

Holmes was agreeable, and thus it was that I arrived in the drawing room twenty-nine minutes later, my face speckled with a band of plasters as a result of my haste with the straight razor. But the sting of my many small wounds was soon eased by the steam from my hot cup of tea. I was surprised to see a familiar face sitting in the room.

“Why, Elisson! A pleasure to see you once again!”

“Ah, the good Doctor Watson. It is, as well, a pleasure for me to see you, but my reason for being here is no pleasure – no pleasure at all!”

At this our visitor sank down into an armchair and covered his face with both hands, shuddering. After this momentary paroxysm had passed, he sat upright, images of the Klees and Dalis that adorned the walls reflected in his spectacles. Then he began to speak in a low voice.

“All is lost, and I fear I shall never find it again.”

Holmes responded instantaneously. “Why, Elisson, surely a Blog-Poster such as yourself knows that That Which Is Lost May Always Be Cached.”

At this our visitor started and his eyes flew open wide.

“You are familiar with the relatively recent technological phenomenae of the Inter-Net and the Blogo-Sphere?” asked Elisson. “How... how did you... how did you know I am a member of the Society of Blog-Posters?”

“Why, my dear Elisson, that required the most minimal of deductive skills to uncover. You hold your hand in the attitude of one who is on the verge of suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and your fingertips are flattened approximately 0.25 millimetres from their normal shape. Both of these conditions may be explained by repeated contact of the fingertips with a Keyboard Mechanism. But there were two additional clues that were even more telling.”

“And those were...?”

“First, I overheard a brief snatch of your conversation with the housekeeper as she admitted you to our lodgings just now. Surely, no-one but a Blog-Poster would use a word such as ‘Crap-Tacular.’

“And second, you are in my drawing room here at 221B Baker Street dressed in your pyjamas. What more need I say?”

“Mr. Holmes, you amaze me,” said Elisson. “Perhaps you can indeed be of service.

“My present situation has presented me with a genuine conundrum. I operate a Blog-Post Repository, into which I deposit Blog-Posts regularly. You are familiar with these?”

“Yes,” replied Holmes. “Go on.”

“It is but a simple Blog-Post Repository, consisting of a Main Body, and a Side-Bar, the latter being the place where are located the basic Navigational Tools, Useful Hyper-Links, and Stupid, Useless Flash. Yesterday evening, upon starting my Computational Device, I saw that, while the Main Body and Header of my Blog-Post Repository were intact, the Side-Bar was gone! Fie upon those villains at Blogger, with their wretched software!”

“That is serious, indeed,” said Holmes, who spent the next several minutes in a brown study. The study looked much more somber since it had been painted brown; its former teal and mauve colors had been brighter, but had had a deleterious effect on Holmes’s digestion.

Holmes’s next question was unexpected. “You say the Side-Bar is missing. But is it gone completely? Or does it appear in any way? Think carefully, man!”

Brows furrowed, Elisson considered this question for several moments, then answered as follows: “The Side-Bar appears momentarily, when I first navigate to my Index-Page. But, moments before the page finishes loading completely, pouf! It is gone, as though through a conjurer’s trick!

“But that is not all! If I should navigate to an individual Blog-Post, rather than the Index-Page, why, the Side-Bar is there in all its glory!”

At this, Sherlock Holmes leaped up and paced the room excitedly. Fixing me directly in his piercing gaze, he expostulated: “Watson! Have you heard all this? This is a new phenomenon! Not at all like the Case of the Missing Pre-Haloscan Comments... you recall how I discovered a means of resurrecting those old comments that a previous Blog-Poster client had feared were lost in the ether. But I am quite sure that the instant difficulty will be resolved as well.

“Mr. Elisson, pray tell me, has this difficulty ever happened before?

“Why... why... yes! Two times in the past several months! Each time, it about drove me mad, but after a day, the Side-Bar reappeared as though nothing whatsoever had happened!”

“A day? One day, no more, no less?”

“Yes – one day,” answered Elisson with a degree of assurance. “But what bearing could this have on the instant matter?”

Sherlock Holmes smiled and began lighting his pipe. As the vapors from the carefully contrived blend of Turkish Latakia tobacco and Jimson weed swirled about his head, he announced, “Come back in exactly six hours, at which time I shall have resolved this mystery to your satisfaction.”

* * *

It was three o’clock that afternoon when we three reconvened at 221B Baker Street. Elisson handed his topcoat and hat – a peculiar white fedora – to the housekeeper, and immediately sank down in a well-upholstered armchair. Sherlock Holmes, for his part, paced excitedly, to and fro, in front of the glowing fireplace, pausing only occasionally to launch a gobbet of sputum towards the flagstone hearth.

“Your problem is solved. The culprit, it seems, is not the maleficent programmers at Blogger, but rather an insignificant piece of Java-Script provided by TrueFresco-Org. Remove the Java-Script, and your Side-Bar will be safely in place once again.”

Elisson shook Holmes’s hand warmly. “My good friend, if I may be so bold as to enquire, how did you deduce the source of my difficulties?”

“Quite simple,” responded the Sage of Baker Street (for so he was known). “This afternoon, I paid a little visit to my friends at the Blog-Patrol.”

“You mean,” our visitor said, “that organisation of Hit-Counters and Referrer-Trackers?”

“Just so,” said Holmes. “It appears that a recent visitor to your Blog-Post Repository had an extraordinarily long name. To be specific, the name was over seventy characters long, the sort of name that a Ceylon Hindoo would have. Or, more significantly, the sort of name one would have if referred by a Search-Engine, one that was tasked with an especially complex search.

“What happened then was clear. The TrueFresco-Org Java-Script lists referrers to your Blog-Post Repository for the immediate past twenty-four hours. When this long-named referrer came along, it overwhelmed the Java-Script, causing your Side-Bar to vanish – but only at the moment that part of your Side-Bar loaded. Thus it was that you would see the Side-Bar momentarily, only to have it vanish.

“Because the Java-Script does not operate on individual Blog-Posts, you were able to circumvent the difficulty and view your Side-Bar by navigating to them. But this was no cure, only a temporary palliative measure, and one that would not be of use to the casual visitor to your Repository.

“As for the previous instances, it is clear what must have happened. The Java-Script, as I have just described, lists referrers for the immediate past twenty-four hours. At the end of that period, the long name would drop off the list, and the Side-Bar would be restored!”

“So,” said Elisson. “It was the TrueFresco-Org Java-Script at fault all along. I cannot thus blame Blogger for my immediate difficulties, then?”

“No,” replied Sherlock Holmes, as he adjusted his deerstalker cap in the looking-glass. “In fact, to properly assess blame, one must look to both TrueFresco-Org, who provided a Java-Script that could so easily be subverted, and to, whose Search-Engine is configured in such a way that its referrer names are so impossibly long. Yes,” he said, “it is that latter organisation that is chiefly the author of your woes.”

“You mean...?” I said in astonishment.

“Yes,” said Sherlock Holmes with a grin. “The butler did it.”

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