Daily Archives: October 8, 2014


I went on a bit of a spelunking expedition on a shared drive. I needed to find a certain set of files. It was almost like trying to get to the bottom of the Oak Island Money Pit (q.v.). I lowered a rope and eased myself down through the trapdoors, one after another. OK, main folder. Content folder. Working subfolder. General project folder. Specific subproject subfolder. Subdivision of subproject subsubfolder. Specific item subsubsubfolder. Final file subsubsubsubfolder. Ah, there you are.

Eight folders deep. The file path was 129 characters long, not including the file name.

That’s not a file path. That’s an oubliette.

Fun fact about file paths on Windows: they can’t be more than 256 characters long, including the file name. If you try to save a file with a longer path than that, it won’t let you. It used to be the case that if you put a file into a folder such that the total path then exceeded 256 characters, you would be able to see it there but you would never be able to do anything to it ever again. The far side of an event horizon.

But never mind that. Before you get to that you’ll probably have lost it in the Byzantine dungeons of your file structure. Dropped into an oubliette. A hole of forgetting.

Those of you who know French know that oublier means ‘forget’. The sense of oubliette should be somewhat evident. Specifically, it’s a secret dungeon accessible only through a trapdoor in the ceiling. A place you can drop people and forget them.

In this case, it’s dropped eight levels deep. When you run money through that many bank accounts, it’s called money laundering. When you nest a clause that deep, people just lose track. Try it: The cat that the woman that the dog that the man that the truck that the dealership that my uncle who died sold recalled hit owned bit petted purred.

It’s like being covered in oobleck, isn’t it? The core of it is eminently oubliable (forgettable). It leaves you loopy, googly-eyed and babbling.

And that’s what really makes an oubliette: not just the one trapdoor, but the total distance from the nearest windows or outside door. With just one trapdoor, you might still hear the screaming. But if the trapdoor is in a closed room at the end of a hallway at the bottom of a staircase off an anteroom of a locked room in a quiet wing of an isolated castle, well, who keeps track of these things? Who has all the keys?

I know who. Probably that rubicund soubrette. She may be bamboozled into helping you with her keys if she’s sufficiently blotto… but if she is, then she forgets. Better to take a long rope, some lock-picking tools, and a lot of chloroform.

Or just forget about it.