Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lockups in Windows Vista / IE9 - Problem Solved!

I was experiencing some computer lockups on an old Vista machine using IE9.  It's been happening for a while so I finally decided to try and track it down.  This was a total lockup, where nothing in the system would respond except the mouse movement, and after clicking several times, even that would stop (with a short beep).

Ok, I know - why am I using Windows Vista and why on earth IE9?  Well this is an old machine that is basically used as a TV/YouTube-sort-of device.  My main machine is a newer machine with other browsers on it.  And this is a relatively new problem - it never happened several years ago.

Fortunately, the problem is easy to reproduce.  If I just go to facebook.com from IE9, the computer will lock up for a couple of minutes.  The funny thing is it only happens the first time after booting the computer.  After it happens once, it doesn't happen again, until a reboot.  And only with the facebook homepage, not other facebook pages, though there are quite a few other websites out there that cause the problem as well.

At first I thought the problem might be Adobe Flash Player, as it often happened on sites with Flash video.  But then again, half the sites on the Internet seem to contain Flash video, and youtube never seemed to cause the problem.  But anyway, the first step was to remove Adobe Flash and reboot.

After rebooting and trying facebook again, same problem.  I also tried uninstalling SpyBot just in case - also no effect.

So then I decided to disable Windows Defender, since that seems to do some real-time checking.  Around the same time I noticed that one of the IE add-ons was some sort of Java plug-in.  So I decided to uninstall Java as well - just went into Control Panel and looked for anything beginning with "Java" in the uninstall list.

After rebooting again - the problem was gone!  Ok, so was it Windows Defender or Java causing the problem?  I turned Windows Defender back on and once again rebooted.

So, who do you think as the culprit:
Windows Defender or Java?

After the reboot - problem was still gone!  So it looks like the problem was actually Java.

Update: I spoke too soon.  The problem resurfaced later in the day, with both Windows Defender disabled and Java uninstalled.  So it looks like the answer is: neither.  Still investigating...

I re-installed Adobe Flash Player, and the problem still seems to be gone - no more random 2-minute lockups.

I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised - Java seems to cause a lot of problems these days.

Back in the mid-90's Java had a lot of promise.  It was all the rage to see something running in HotJava - platform-independent code that could run on Windows, Macs, Linux!  It was seen as this technology that could change the world, and break everyone's dependence on specific operating systems.

Perhaps the first major stumbling block for Java as a client software platform happened when Corel made a fairly major effort to release Java versions of its WordPerfect suite.  I remember trying an early version of it - it was pretty terrible.  They gave up on it, and other players probably figured if Corel couldn't make it work, it wasn't worth pursuing.

And performance seemed to be a constant issue for Java.  Installing it took forever, and even when just running things - whenever that Java logo popped up, I would wince, knowing it would be a LONG time before the thing loaded.

It just felt really heavy and cumbersome.

Shortly after that, Macromedia came out with Flash Player.  I remember the first time I installed Flash Player was when someone sent me an e-card.  I'm not sure if this was part of their strategy, but it worked - Flash Player started getting installed on a lot of machines.  And they should thank IE6 for part of that too.  At one point I tried uninstalling Flash and browsing the web, but it seemed like every website I went to would cause IE to pop up this dialog asking you to install Flash.  There was no (obvious) way to just tell it "no and don't ask me again".  So I ended up re-installing Flash Player, just to avoid the annoying dialogs.

Flash has not been without its own problems, but one thing they did right was keep it light and fast.  It essentially became what Java was probably trying to be on desktop machines.  From the late 90's through 2010 or so, if you wanted to do something across multiple platforms, Flash was probably one of the most likely solutions.

Of course, nobody likes seeing one player dominate so thoroughly - some estimate about 95% of machines had Flash installed several years ago.  Starting with the iPhone in 2007 as well as the push for HTML5, companies started to actively resist Flash.  Companies like Firefox and Google would love to see a world where you can do anything you need using just the native browser capabilities, and HTML5 was a fairly big step forward, with support for videos, fancy new CSS tricks, more powerful Javascript, etc.

Java meanwhile became the standard server programming environment - at least for a little while.  Once again it seems to have taken on a stereotype of being a heavyweight system, powerful, but difficult to configure and pain to get set up.  I think it's safe to say the vast majority of startups probably do not use Java as their programming language (now the confusingly-named Javascript is another matter - from its early days to do little blinky things on websites, it seems to be growing rapidly in usage with full "single-page" applications written entirely in Javascript and using the browser as the environment).  Java today seems to be mainly used on the server by fairly large companies, probably the same sort of companies that require timesheets from their employees.

And then of course there's Android, which uses Java.  Well, sort of.  Android applications are written using the Java language, but apparently Android doesn't use the true Java environment or even Java bytecode - some more information from zdnet here.

But anyway, enough of this long winding historical post.  The conclusion is, if you're running into weirdness on your machine and you don't have a specific need for Java, I would recommend uninstalling that cr... - software!  (Update: Java apparently wasn't causing this issue.  After quite a bit of trial-and-error, it appears the problem is related to a .css file that has a @font-face definition with inline font data.  At least, that seems to be the problem with facebook.com.  There probably is no solution since this is an IE9 / Windows Vista issue).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Vocal Competition

There is a new vocal competition that a friend of mine started and that I helped out with on the website.  It's the 2013 US New Star Vocal Competition, and applications are being accepted now.  The entries for the competition are via video file (online or email submission) or by DVD.  The judging will take place at the end of May.

If you know of any aspiring singers out there, this is a great opportunity for them to showcase their talents!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pandali Blog

I've created a blog for Pandali.  This will separate the posts for my startup business efforts and everything else.

Incidentally, I've concluded the free forum site Lefora pretty much sucks.  My forum got removed there with no explanation or warning.  And if you try to go to it, it redirects you to some random place like rapmusic.com after a few seconds.  Just a word of caution for those considering starting a free forum at Lefora.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why are Yahoo and Bing search results so bad?

I've been working on a few new websites that I've created, and SEO is definitely a strange and interesting art.  But one thing I've noticed is that Google seems to be doing a much better job at ranking pages from the website I'm working on for relevant searches than Bing or Yahoo.

Ok, now I know you're saying, "Well, you're biased - of course you expect your site to be ranked high."  All right then, here's a little challenge.

I made a word search puzzle creator at Knowledge Mouse.  Someone created a word search puzzle about geology, and the title is "Layers of the Earth and Tectonic Plates".  For the HTML title of the page - it's "Knowledge Mouse - Layers of the Earth and Tectonic Plates Word Search Puzzle".

Now, let's consider a web search for "Layers of the earth and tectonic plates word search".  I would argue that my site is probably the #1 most relevant result for that search.  Possibly there are a couple of other pages you might feel are pretty relevant, but I bet most would agree that my page belongs in the top 5 - I mean, how many other word search puzzles about earth layers and tectonic plates are there on the web?  And indeed it shows up as #1 on Google.  Great!

Now, let's try Bing and Yahoo.

For Bing, the first result is a usgs page that actually is a word search about plate tectonics.  Not bad; I still think the Knowledge Mouse page is probably more relevant, but the usgs page at least seems to be somewhat relevant.  Now that page seems to require a Java app to show the puzzle, plus the page seems to have problems rendering in IE9, but we'll ignore all that.

The rest of the first page of results on Bing has one other relevant site, a word search puzzle on Layers of the Earth from wordsearchfun, but the rest seem pretty irrelvant, including a dictionary.reference.com page defining "tectonic plate" and a Wikipedia article.

How about Yahoo?  The first result is that same usgs page.  And wordsearchfun also appears.  As well as the dictionary.reference.com definition of "tectonic plate" again.  And again the rest of the results are pretty much irrelevant (including another Wikipedia article).

And for both Bing and Yahoo, I clicked on the next page of search results, and the next, through at least 20 pages, and nowhere was the Knowledge Mouse puzzle to be found.  Suffice it say that most of the 20 pages contained irrelevant results.

Maybe the page is too new and hasn't been indexed yet?

Nope, if you add "puzzle" to the end of the search query, then all of a sudden Knowledge Mouse pops up to the top on both Bing and Yahoo.  Hmm, are these guys sharing algorithms?

So why are Google's search results so much better than Bing and Yahoo?  I don't know, but if you're reading this, I bet you didn't arrive at this page through a search on Bing or Yahoo!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fireflies in California!

While it is generally pleasant that here in California we seem to have fewer insects than on the East Coast where I grew up, one thing I do miss are the fireflies that would come out around July 4th.  Wandering around just after sunset you would see these little yellowish lights blinking on briefly then off again.

These were just "normal" fireflies, not like the synchronized ones of Southeast Asia and apparently the Great Smoky Mountains.  Still there's something magical about them.  And, just like Dunkin Donuts, they don't seem to exist on the West Coast.  Surfing the web, I have found people who claimed that long ago at various locations in the West they did see fireflies.  Who knows how reliable those accounts are, but I've also heard that there are fireflies in California, but most of them don't glow as adults.

So imagine my surprise when the other evening around dusk I caught a glimpse of something glowing in the air just outside the sliding door of my house here in the Bay Area.  A Bay Area firefly?  Couldn't be!

So, I went outside to where I thought I had seen the glowing object.  I didn't see anything at first, but then I felt something brush against my fingers.  I looked down and saw an insect tumble onto the ground.  I managed to find it and picked it up again.  It looked like a cross between a soldier beetle and the fireflies we used to see in the Baltimore area.

And sure enough after a few seconds, it started to emit a faint glow!  I was so excited - I called my wife to come and take a look, and I thought to myself, "Boy, I have to write about this on the Internet!"  There it was, a firefly whose light I could see blinking faintly on and off right in the palm of my hand outside my house in California.

And then I woke up.  Darn, I guess there are no fireflies in my backyard here.  But at least I did remember to write about it though.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Goodbye, Gwyneth

redbud tree
I was visiting my parents in the Baltimore area in March 2012 to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday, and on the way back from the airport I noticed trees with many red flowers and no visible leaves.  "What are those?"  "Those are redbud trees."  "Is that a kind of cherry tree?"  "No, they're just ... redbuds."  I had grown up in the area, but for some reason had never noticed them before.

Later, my wife and I were walking by an REI near my parents' house when I noticed one of these redbud trees.  We had lost our inflatable travel pillow on the flight over, and we had purchased it from REI which we were members of since living several years ago in the Seattle area where REI is based.  So I stopped to take a closer look at this mysterious redbud tree, trying to see if it looked like some other tree I might be familiar with.  Then I looked down and noticed a sign that said, "In Memory Of Gwyneth Jones Spangler."

Huh.  I went to school with a Gwyneth Jones many years ago, but certainly this must be someone else.  After all she would be around my age.  And there are a surprising number of people named Gwyneth Jones, including a famous singer and a well-known novelist.

Later, at my parents' house we were looking at some old photos, including some grade-school class pictures, and my mom mentioned something about Gwyneth and cystic fibrosis.  I didn't remember her having cystic fibrosis and had no idea what that disease was, but I decided to Google Gwyneth Jones Spangler on our Kindle Fire.  An obituary article from the Baltimore Sun popped up.  She passed away in 2008, four years ago.  It also mentioned that she grew up on Seminary Avenue and her mother Drusilla - sure enough this was the Gwyneth I knew a long time ago.

I don't remember exactly how we met but it probably involved our parents looking for carpool partners at Lida Lee Tall Elementary.  I went there from 1st through 3rd grade, which is when Gwyneth and I hung out the most.  And then I transferred to Timonium Elementary.  At that point we kind of lost touch for a while.  Until she agreed to be my high school prom date.  But of course, it's a really long time between age 8 and age 17.  We had both changed and I don't think there was any real connection at that point unfortunately.  And it didn't help that I was a shy, geeky teenager, and after six years of all-male schooling, completely hopeless at interacting with girls.  I last saw her at another friend's party shortly after that, which was a reunion of ex-Lida Lee Tall students.

After finding the obituary, I started trying to remember her from back in my early grade school years, but there's not too much remaining in my brain from age 7 - just some vague snippets and random images.  Some memory about a card game popped into my head - I don't really remember the game, or what it had to do with Gwyneth.  I remember she liked telling classmates that she had naturally curly hair.  I remember her red house on Seminary Avenue.  There was an area near her house that we thought was haunted.  She gave me a ring once that said I love you.

But one memory that sticks out is when she told me not to cry.  It was just after school and we were waiting for our ride home.  And with wisdom typical of 7-year-olds, somebody, I don't remember who, had the idea that it would be fun to hide from whichever parents were picking us up that day.  So we hid for a while.  And when we came out nobody was looking for us.  I got scared and started to cry, and Gwyneth tried to reassure me, wiping my tears with her jacket.  After what seemed like an eternity but was probably more like 5 minutes, the parents found us, and we rode home.

Even though it had been such a long time, finding out that she's gone was strangely haunting, possibly because she's the first classmate I know of who has passed away.  Ah, Gwyneth, thanks for being a good friend, and for all the fun times way back when.  And thanks for getting me to my high school prom.  Goodbye, and rest in peace....