Ah,the second of two days off without the need for some sort of road trip or other time- or energy-consuming venture. It's good to have added another Christmas to the Past category.
I did try to induce an aneurysm by attempting to venture into the sordid world of computer diagnostics, but I wasn't even able to get to started. Past attempts to install XP service pack 3 had resulted in a blue-screen-level message of doom followed by an automatic uninstall when I restarted the computer. My plan was to write down the message and contact Microsoft. This time,however, the attempted installation managed to kill my internet connection and failed to restore the system after restart. After a lengthy telephone call with Midcontinent's ISP people - who were incredibly helpful and patient - confirmed that it was probably some sort of software blockage, I manually attempted to restore the system to three different points before one worked, putting me back where I started.
So it seems that this computer has reached the age where automatic updates are not an option anymore. From now on it's manual updates (which I haven't tried and which may not work any better) or flushing everything out, reloading the operating system (for which I don't have the disks) and rebuilding everything. I did the latter on my previous computer, but if I have to locate disks anyway I may move to Vista or 7 since Microsoft has already taken XP out behind the barn and is just waiting to shoot it when the kids aren't looking. Of course once that point is reached it may do just as well to buy a new computer since this one is about (gasp!) 5 years old (said the man with an 11yo car that functions quite nicely).
On the other hand, my second wife's computer reached a similar point a few years ago (with a similar internet-killing symptom) and I was able to manually install updates until the divorce made it her problem. In the end it'll probably come down to disgusting filthy lucre.