MonthJanuary 2005

Earth *still* calling Scoble, and why Microsoft doesn’t discover memory leaks

Jings, perhaps we should send Robert Scoble to explore the outer moons of Saturn, because he seems a long way from the ground just now. Andy Orlowski wrote a neat piece about a memory leak in Tablets – one in the handwriting recognition which means that if you leave them on long enough they, um, effectively fill up with digital ink. (Andy’s splendid imagery, not mine.)

Has Robert Scoble noticed this bug? Well, he’s noticed being taken to task over it, and throws up his hands. But read on. Scobletalk in italics:

The Tablet team tells me they have identified the bug and are investigating a fix for it…Why haven’t I hit it? I shut down my Tablet PC most evenings and start it up from a fresh boot. Why do I do that? Because I’ve been using computers for 20 years and have learned that’s the best way to work.

Flipping heck. Hey, Robert, I’ve been using computers 20 years too – actually, rather longer, since I had a play on one of the first Apple Lisas in the UK, plus the Prime machine at university, and of course Multics, and my Sinclair Spectrum… and I’ve learned that modern machines, you don’t have to turn off. True, you don’t get memory leaks eating up everything if you turn them off. But you also get big chunks of the day back, mostly at the end of the day when you have to save all your documents and half-done work. I have a lot of half-done work.

His defence continues: This was a behavior I learned on [Apple] System 7.0 back in 1992 when I was a page designer at San Jose State. It takes an extra minute in the morning to boot up, but that’s why I never hit this bug. The interesting thing being that there must be lots of people at Microsoft (yes, I know he hasn’t always been at Microsoft; but anyway) who do the same, shutting down their machines at the end of each day. This means that devastating bugs like the famous 49.7-day time-counter crashing overflow don’t get found until it’s wayyy too late.

By the way, fixing these kinds of bugs isn’t easy and even if they were, deploying the fix isn’t easy either. Well no, but that’s why they pay the MSoft folk the big bucks. If it was easy, everyone would do it and we’d call it “breathing”. Though breathing isn’t that simple when you break it into bits like calcium ion cycling. Ask anyone with cystic fibrosis.

Someday I’d like to introduce Andy to some of the developers here so that he can see the process that changing one line of code would take. I believe that whooshing sound is Andy seeing how cheap flights to Seattle are right now.

I’ll let you know if I hear more.

Final Scoblepoint: he says “Jonathan Hardwick has more on this here“.

Ink-deluged Tablet users – both of you – rejoice, just rejoice.

Nothing personal: an interview with a “link” (and blog) spammer for The Register

Since the people who try to spam this site are doing it for money, I thought it would make sense to turn the question around and get one of them to tell me how it’s done, why it’s done, and whether it’s going away.

Read the results at The Register (which for reasons known more to themselves than me have called it a “link spamer” interview, but if they correct it then that’ll break the link…).

Interesting to find that those who actually do it think (by proxy) that Robert Scoble is wrong in his rosy outlook about “nofollow” links solving the blog spam problem.

Will the initiative by Google, Yahoo and MSN, to honour “don’t follow” links defeat Sam [the link spammer] and his ilk? “I don’t think it’ll have much effect in the short, medium or long term. The search engines caused the problem” – we didn’t quite follow this bit of logic, but Sam continued – “and they’re doing this to placate the community. It won’t work because most blogs and forms are set up with the best intentions, but when people find hard graft has to go into it they’re left to rot. To use this, they’ll all have to be updated. The majority won’t be. And there’ll just be trackback spamming.”

In fact I’ve already had a trackback from a site of, um, search engine optimisers, at, which sort of tells its own story. Sort of. The trackback pointed to the wrong post, but I’ll fiddle with my system to make it show up. (Update: OK, the fiddling is done, as Michael Jackson would say. Damn! That’s me off the jury.)

Flying / amphibious cars, courtesy of Microsoft: no, really, don’t thank us

Wonderful work by Andrew Orlowski over at The Register, where he’s hot on the trail of Microsoft’s marvellous project to give Scandinavians flying, amphibious cars. Or at least make it a requirement before you buy Microsoft Maproute or Autopoint.

And not every one believes the explanation can be so simple.

“I believe this to be a decoy tactic,” writes Simon Walke. “They are involved in something far more sinister, potentially involving the relocation of thousands of Norwegian citizens.”

Oh, just go and read it. Go on go on go on go on…

Updated 7.40pm: hmm, yes, it would have been good to include the URLs too in the first version, wouldn’t it? Now there, courtesy of Anna. I think that’s close to “technology physician, heal thyself”.

Clear days on the reporting front

Seen in the Cambridge Evening News: the intro to a report into a school reads

There are ‘no significant weaknesses’ at a primary school, according to inspectors.

Ah yes, news – what someone, somewhere doesn’t want printed. And then there’s the rest of the stuff in the paper…

Quantum computing, and the continuing Trojan diallers scams

The Independent’s science and technology pages for the week are online: and I’ve been busy.

First, I’ve tried to give some insight into quantum computing and quantum cryptography (and believe me, the subject gets harder to explain without a lot of arm-waving every time I return to it), and in particular why banks and governments are rushing to get a lead in it.

If you’d like a downloadable, free book explaining some more about quantum computing and cryptography, read The Temple of Quantum Computing. Warning: flexible mind required. May contain science.

I’ve also returned to the topic of Trojan dialler scams – since the letters pages of The Independent show that people are still being hit by them. Solution? Get broadband and unplug your dialup modem. (And then install a firewall, spyware monitor, etc etc…)

Save the world: take it out of slavery

One of those remarkable stories that comes along from time to time is The Independent’s front page from Monday, saying we have ten years before we’re on the downhill ride to ongoing global catastrophe.

The global warming danger threshold for the world is clearly marked for the first time in an international report to be published tomorrow – and the bad news is, the world has nearly reached it already.

The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics from around the world – and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached.

The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed to coincide with Tony Blair’s promised efforts to advance climate change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries and the European Union.

And it breaks new ground by putting a figure – for the first time in such a high-level document – on the danger point of global warming, that is, the temperature rise beyond which the world would be irretrievably committed to disastrous changes. These could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests – with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as “runaway” global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream.

I know, you’re thinking it’s “The Day After Tomorrow” sort of hyperbole. And you’re thinking (in the manner of Björn Lomborg) that the market should decide whether climate change or (for example) AIDS is a bigger priority for spending our money. (That’s a thought: next opportunity I get to see Bill Gates, I’ll lobby him to fund initiatives to ameliorate climate change.) There are robust scientific studies which show that the market economy fails very significantly in one respect, because of the assumption that the Earth will keep on providing, no matter how much you dig out of it and abuse it. People, it won’t. We use the world like our last slave.

From a story I wrote from the AAAS meeting in February 1997:

According to new studies, the natural world, with its interlocking ecosystems of plants and animals, provides humans with a 20 trillion (thousand billion) pound “service economy” which never shuts down or takes a holiday, yet we think is free. But we should put a price on it and begin to see it as economically valuable before we destroy it, said Gretchen Daily, of the biological sciences department at Stanford University, California.

Professor Daily now advocates saving the planet by making it profitable. I think it’s the only way, given the market-oriented nutters in charge at the moment.

I’m with Tosh on this one: no, Google won’t do VoIP for you and me

Neil McIntosh is calling this right, and the analysts are wrong, in my view. In this post he tears down all the ludicrous supposition that The Times (of London) (which people in the US seem to regard as having some sort of authority, whereas it’s just another bunch of hacks desperately trying to Phil Space with 400 words that could be headlined Smells Like Teen Zeitgeist) has picked up from elsewhere suggesting Google is going to offer a voice-over-internet telephony service.

Quoth Neil:

..there’s no reason that one of those services couldn’t be telephony over IP – or even that the story might be entirely correct. But the evidence, as shown, is scant – a vague job ad (that doesn’t mention Voip once) and an analyst saying ‘well, if they did this…’ does not a story make. The BT angle is clearly being played up to give a local taste to the story.

As Danny Sullivan, probably the savviest search industry watcher there is, tells, the new job might just be about improving the stuff they have to do in the background to keep it all running. ‘It may just be that they have a lot of bandwidth costs and this could make things cheaper,’ he says.

Durr. Times: “A recent job advert by Google’s on its website calls for a ‘strategic negotiator’ to help the company to provide a ‘global backbone network’ — a high-capacity international infrastructure.” Which Google has. As in, offices in lots of countries. Of course they’re looking at VoIP. For themselves.

Neil Mc again: That’s quite a big old jump – given Google’s apparent plans to create an array of services, that backbone could be ‘logically’ used for anything – from speeding up search to offering a suite of online applications.

(Via Complete Tosh.)

From the fate of the world, to the fate of my corrupt Finder

(And I know which post will garner more comments..) Alternative title: why you should keep Script Editor and Terminal in the Dock.

Last night, after roughly 32 days’ uptime, my iBook froze. Hard. Perhaps because earlier in the evening it had been sitting on the carpet, deprived of ventilation. But anyhow, I scrolled down a page and abruptly, nothing. Keys did nothing. Power key did nothing. Only the three-key salute (power, command, ctrl) rebooted it. Which seemed to go OK.

Except on logging in, nothing happened. The Finder started; but then didn’t fill in the top menu bar. Startup login items, um, didn’t. It was all hung. Ooh-kay, three-key reboot. (While trying to keep reasonable about this, having just rebuilt the directory on the wife’s old Wallstreet Powerbook, on which IExplorer for OS9 had simply decided to always die with an error 2 – which it still does. Something deeply corrupted there; even after the directory rebuild, it still wouldn’t launch, and Netscape complained of unreadable prefs.)

Startup, login… spinning pizza of death on the Finder. Ugh. Force-quit the Finder. Ah! The startup items start up! But not the Finder, which is still dead to the world. Must be time to verify the disk. But how do you start Disk Utility if your file navigator is dead?

Happily if you have Script Editor in the Dock, you can type:

tell application "Disk Utility" to run

or in the Terminal:

open -a "Disk Utility"

which is why you should always have at least one, preferably both, in your Dock for situations like these.

Began checking permissions, and after a while, coincidentally, Finder starts up. Seems to be fine. Experimentally, tried logging in to another account on the machine. Finder hangs. Gah. So it’s not user preferences; the Finder seems to be borked. Boot from a 10.2 disk (I’ve lost my 10.3 disks somehow, possibly in a wife-inspired cleanout of “all that software you never use”), run Disk Utility, it finds some minor problems, fixes them. Reboot from the hard drive.

Finder still borked. It works fine once it works, but quite how you get it to start is a mystery. Clues welcomed. I will see if I can replace or update it from the 10.3.7 combo update, but I suspect something deeper may be wrong..

And do read the other post about saving the world.. it’s much more important than my Finder.

At last – the ‘stop the bid’ website (against the London 2012 Olympic bid)

Thanks be to NTK: this week’s issue points to

As NTK tells it, this is

a new site aiming to prevent perhaps similar white elephant wastes of public money, giving everyone the opportunity to voice why they might not want London to host the 2012 Olympics, and so to provide some balance to the current, dubiously-representational “Text LONDON to 802012” poster campaign. It’s hoped that the site will also become a hub for anti-Olympic campaigning of all kinds, possibly discussing the appropriate typeface and font size for printing stickers that could transform the first two letters of “Back The Bid” posters to “Ha” or “Fu” – that sort of thing.

Damn well gets my vote. Look, I don’t want London put into hock and the lives of millions of ordinary people upset for a reality TV event involving celebrities and micro-celebrities and non-celebrities who may or may not have taken drugs, in order eventually to provide a load of training facilities that will be in the wrong part of the country for the majority of athletes, and which will be in areas too expensive for those athletes to live near enough to use, given the absurd house prices and rents in the capital and the pittance that athletes get if they’re not vastly successful (in which case they noodle off to foreign parts to train in more appropriate weather).

I mean, isn’t this what Big Brother is meant to do so much more efficiently by locking them in a house in the East End?

Thought for the day: when you shop at Tesco…

Someone mentioned this today at a lunch table and we all went “Eeeewww!”

Think of this: every time you shop at Tesco, you make Dame Shirley Porter (do I have to call her “Dame”? Even though she gerrymandered Westminster Council and then fled the country to escape the entirely legal surcharge imposed on her, as such surcharges are always imposed on council officers who act ultra vires?) a tiny bit richer.

I know – makes your stomach clench, doesn’t it?