Tag Archives: humor

Compressed

The probabilistic guarantees of a web browser

We’ve all been there. Something goes all sideways in our browser and we’re stuck with a spinning throbber as the fan kicks into overdrive. Tempted to see what might be going on, we roll up our sleeves and pop the virtual hood and our world goes from rainbows and unicorns into a stinky mess of barbwire orc-speak of the Inpect Element window.

James Mickens, writing for ;login: magazine, has a style of writing all his own. His last column for the magazine is a tour de force of the current state of HTML and how the whole thing is a teetering mess that can easily come tumbling down.

Each browser is reckless and fanciful in its own way, but all browsers share a love of epic paging to disk. Not an infrequent showering of petite I/Os that are aligned on the allocation boundaries of the file system—I mean adversarial thunder-snows of reads and writes, a primordial deluge that makes you gather your kinfolk and think about which things you need two of, and what the consequences would be if you didn’t bring fire ants, because fire ants ruin summers. Browsers don’t require a specific reason to thrash the disk; instead, paging is a way of life for browsers, a leisure activity that is fulfilling in and of itself. If you’re not a computer scientist or a tinkerer, you just accept the fact that going to CNN.com will cause the green blinky light with the cylinder icon to stay green and not blinky. However, if you know how computers work, the incessant paging drives you mad. It turns you into Torquemada, a wretched figure consumed by the fear that your ideological system is an elaborate lie designed to hide the excessive disk seeks of shadowy overlords. You launch your task manager, and you discover that your browser has launched 67 different processes, all of which are named “browser.exe,” and all of which are launching desperate volleys of I/Os to cryptic parts of the file system like “\roaming\pots\pans\cache\4$$Dtub.partial”, where “\4$$” is an exotic escape sequence that resolves to the Latvian double umlaut. You do an Internet search for potential solutions, and you’re confronted with a series of contradictory, ill-founded opinions: your browser has a virus; your virus has a virus; you should be using Emacs; you should be using vi, and this is why your marriage is loveless.

This choice bit is from, To Wash it All Away. There’s more where this came from. Someone pulled together a collection of a few choice essays over on MSDN which includes such gems as, Mobile Computing Research Is a Hornet’s Nest of Deception and Chicanery. Prose that only a frustrated Microsoft researcher could spawn. Peals of laughter, tears of joy – go read him now.

Internet of Things Gone Wrong – My Kitchen Just Crashed

It started with devices such as Nest, the connected thermostat, and Withings, the connect scale. As more and more devices hook into our home network, the opportunity to have them talk to each other begets scenarios that harken back to the Connected Home visions from the 90s. Remember the internet-enabled refrigerator? Samsung now makes one.

All this reminded me of this piece about the Connected Home that was floating around on usenet way back in the day. It’s enjoyable to read as a lens into the mid-90s and what they thought of the future. It also reminds us of how far we’ve come. Thanks to Google Groups’ archive I was able to dig up the original which unfortunately was never signed. Enjoy.

The Diary of a Digital Homeowner:

Nov 28, 1997:
Moved in to my new digitally-maxed out Hermosa Beach house at last. Finally, we live in the smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything’s networked.  The cable TV is connected to our phone, which is connected to my personal computer, which is connected to the power lines, all the appliances and the security system.  Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface I’ve ever used. Programming is a snap.  I’m like, totally wired.

Nov 30:
Hot Stuff!  Programmed my VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with the car phone, remotely tweaked the oven a few degrees for my pizza. Everything nice & cozy when I arrived.  Maybe I should get the universal remote surgically attached.

Dec 1:
Had to call the SmartHouse people today about bandwidth problems.  The TV drops to about 2 frames/second when I’m talking on the phone.  They insist it’s a problem with the cable company’s compression algorithms.  How do they expect me to order things from the Home Shopping Channel?

Dec 3:
Got my first SmartHouse invoice today and was unpleasantly surprised.  I suspect the cleaning woman of reading Usenet from the washing machine interface when I’m not here.  She must be downloading one hell of a lot of GIFs from the binary groups, because packet charges were through the roof on the invoice.

Dec 8:
Yesterday, the kitchen CRASHED.  Freak event.  As I opened the refrigerator door, the light bulb blew.  Immediately, everything else electrical shut down — lights, microwave, coffee maker — everything. Carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing.

Call the cable company (but not from the kitchen phone).  They refer me to the utility.  The utility insists that the problem is in the software.  So the software company runs some remote telediagnostics via my house processor.  Their expert system claims it has to be the utility’s fault.  I don’t care, I just want my kitchen back.  More phone calls; more remote diag’s.

Turns out the problem was “unanticipated failure mode”:  The network had never seen a refrigerator bulb failure while the door was open. So the fuzzy logic interpreted the burnout as a power surge and shut down the entire kitchen.  But because sensor memory confirmed that there hadn’t actually been a power surge, the kitchen logic sequence was confused and it couldn’t do a standard restart.  The utility guy swears this was the first time this has ever happened.  Rebooting the
kitchen took over an hour.

Dec 7:
The police are not happy.  Our house keeps calling them for help.  We discover that whenever we play the TV or stereo above 25 decibels, it creates patterns of micro-vibrations that get amplified when they hit the window.  When these vibrations mix with a gust of wind, the security sensors are actuated, and the police computer concludes that someone is trying to break in. Go figure.

Another glitch:  Whenever the basement is in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won’t let me change the channels on my TV.  That means I actually have to get up off the couch and change the channels by hand.  The software and the utility people say this flaw will be fixed in the next upgrade — SmartHouse 2.1.  But it’s not ready yet.

Finally, I’m starting to suspect that the microwave is secretly tuning into the cable system to watch Bay Watch.  The unit is completely inoperable during that same hour.  I guess I can live with that.  At least the blender is not tuning in to old I Love Lucy episodes.

Dec 9:
I just bought the new Microsoft Home.  Took 93 gigabytes of storage, but it will be worth it, I think.  The house should be much easier to use and should really do everything.  I had to sign a second mortgage over to Microsoft, but I don’t mind:  I don’t really own my house now–it’s really the bank.  Let them deal with Microsoft.

Dec 10:
I’m beginning to have doubts about Microsoft House.  I keep getting an hour glass symbol showing up when I want to run the
dishwasher.

Dec 12:
This is a nightmare.  There’s a virus in the house.  My personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access
network.  I come home and the living room is a sauna, the bedroom windows are covered with ice, the refrigerator has defrosted, the washing machine has flooded the basement, the garage door is cycling up and down and the TV is stuck on the home shopping channel.  Through-out the house, lights flicker like stroboscopes until they explode from the strain. Broken glass is everywhere.  Of course, the security sensors detect nothing.

I look at a message slowly throbing on my personal computer screen: WELCOME TO HomeWrecker!!!  NOW THE FUN BEGINS …  (Be it ever so humble, there’s no virus like the HomeWrecker…).

Dec 18:
They think they’ve digitally disinfected the house, but the place is a shambles.  Pipes have burst and we’re not completely sure we’ve got the part of the virus that attacks toilets. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) are confident the worst is over.  “HomeWrecker is pretty bad” one of them tells me, “but consider yourself lucky you didn’t get PolterGeist.  That one is really evil.”

Dec 19:
Apparently, our house isn’t insured for viruses.  “Fires and mudslides, yes,” says the claims adjuster.  “Viruses, no.” My agreement with the SmartHouse people explicitly states that all claims and warranties are null and void if any appliance or computer in my house networks in any way, shape or form with a non-certified on-line service.  Everybody’s very, very, sorry, but they can’t be expected to anticipate every virus that might be created.

We call our lawyer.  He laughs.  He’s excited!

Dec 21:
I get a call from a SmartHouse sales rep.  As a special holiday offer, we get the free opportunity to become a beta site for the company’s new SmartHouse 2.1 upgrade.  He says I’ll be able to meet the programmers personally.  “Sure,” I tell him.

Matt, meet Andy

I love hyperbolic prose. Especially when it’s used to sell something. Better yet when it’s pitching you or something you do.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune is hiring and Matthew Doig penned what is perhaps the all-time best Want Ad ever. It reads more like a call to arms than a job spec.

We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed  office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

Interested? Click through to apply. I bet you this is a job Friendster Andy could handle.