Viruses R Us 

It’s officially flu season, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not sure which of us is sicker, me or my computer. I’m shivering on the couch, sipping flat ginger ale and hoping against hope that the pounding in my head and the aching in my limbs is really just an especially virulent strain of vino inveritas, or common hangover.

"Have you run Norton AntiVirus? I hear that helps," says the Lizard of Fun, checking my throat and looking concerned. "Your hard drive could be corrupted – at least, that’s what happens to me whenever I’m feeling under the weather."

"I think I’ve got a computer virus," I whine. "I mean, does anyone really know how viruses work, anyway? What’s to say computer viruses and people viruses couldn’t cross-pollinate? Clearly, it’s only a matter of time."

Just as epidemiologists worry about some new strains of the flu virus that could be more dangerous than ever, computer experts are busy worrying about a new kind of computer virus, one that’s a harbinger of even worse things to come.

On first examination, it seems there’s nothing really scary about the new Bubbleboy virus, which is named after the "Seinfeld" episode where George finds himself engaged in a Trivial Pursuit match against a boy in a plastic bubble.

"Hey, I’ve heard of that one," says the Lizard. "Isn’t it the virus that changes your username to ’Bubbleboy’ and renames all your files after ’Seinfeld’ characters?"

"Something like that," I say.

"I want that one!" says the Lizard, gleefully. "I want to see just how clever it is. It’s about time those computer hacker types figured out how to make pop-culture references."

But the anti-virus researchers who have been dealing with Bubbleboy are especially concerned because, unlike most previous viruses that came as attachments to e-mail files, this one doesn’t even need to be opened to infect your entire computer. And while "Seinfeld" references are kind of funny, less witty virus-makers could tell such a program to do much worse things.

"Like shut down the office coffeemakers?" asks the Lizard. "Man, talk about evil!"

Big businesses are especially worried about computer viruses. Not only can they infect important files and make them disappear faster than shareholders during a market downturn, they can also cause an enormous loss of productivity, as workers sit idle while their computers get fixed.

"Ah, yes, of course. There’s valuable time lost that they could have used to actually read the e-mails that carry the viruses," says the Lizard.

"Um, yes."

"So, there are millions of computers that could be affected by this, and all that needs to happen is for viruses to get spread between them? OK, I’ve got a solution," says the Lizard.

"You usually do," I say, reaching for the Tylenol. "I’ll take some of these, just in case."

"No, really, it’s the perfect cure. We’ll create immunity, starting right here."

The Lizard explains that there are groups of parents in England who don’t want to give their kids the chicken pox vaccine, so they just have parties where they invite a kid with chicken pox to come and infect all the others.

"Now there’s a sucky party favor," I say, schnerking into a tissue.

"The point, O mucilaginous one, is that once they’ve had the disease, they’re immune to it," says the Lizard.

"Wouldn’t they be immune if they got the vaccine, too?" I ask. "Seems like much less effort."

"Yeah, but no party, either."

"Right. So what’s your plan?"

The Lizard hauls out my laptop from under the mountain of blankets, cushions and used Kleenexes that I’ve created from what was once the couch. It rubs the computer against my cheek, and then holds it under my nose. "Sneeze. Or at least cough a little."

"I’m pretty sure computers still can’t get people viruses," I say.

"Oh, yeah? Then who created all those computer viruses, if not people? Certainly not lizards. We’ve pledged only to use our powers for good, not evil."

"Uh-huh."

"Besides, I think there should be a computer virus named after me," says the Lizard. "It could be the Virus of Fun."

"Oh, great. Isn’t that illegal? Besides, there’s nothing fun about having your important files go haywire," I say.

"Naaah, it wouldn’t do anything like that," assures the Lizard. "But it would capitalize on that downtime thing."

The Lizard explains. First, the Virus of Fun would make everyone’s computer screens go blank. Then, a jazzy tune would play for a bit, and then a message would pop up on the screen. It would say, "Go home. Walk your dog. Play with your kids. Dance. Eat ice cream. Read a book. Do something more meaningful than sitting here all day working as a subservient corporate drone!"

"That’ll be a big hit," I say. "What about the techies who have to fix the computers? Do they get to go home, too?"

"Of course," says the Lizard. "After 24 hours, the virus cures itself. Instead of a 24-hour flu, it’d be a 24-hour flee."

"Ohhhhhh," I groan. "That made me feel worse. C’mere and let me cough on you."

"No way. I can’t get sick. I’ve got a hot date tonight," says the Lizard.

"Oh yeah?" I ask. "Where’s she from? I hope she doesn’t have any nasty diseases."

"Naah, not possible," says the Lizard. "I met her on e-mail. I think her name’s Melissa."

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