Archive for April 6, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Apple, Microsoft Join Hands to Stop Software Patent Reform

Reuters (via Graham Lee and OSNews):

Major U.S. companies including Ford, Apple and Pfizer have formed a lobbying group aimed at pushing back at some changes to the patent system members of Congress have proposed, saying these measures would hinder protection of valuable inventions.

Funniest Software Bugs

Trey Harris:

“Yes, and she’s produced a map showing the radius within which we can send email to be slightly more than 500 miles. There are a number of destinations within that radius that we can’t reach, either, or reach sporadically, but we can never email farther than this radius.”

Ashish Mishra:

A jpeg parser, running on a surveillance camera, which crashed every time the company’s CEO came into the room. 100% reproducible error.

Harold Rabbie:

An address database that crashed when given street addresses on the upper East side of New York City. It worked fine for any other address in the country. It interpreted “149 E 72” for example, as a floating point number.

David Maynard:

One of the localized versions of the video game “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” had name of the movie studio translated as “Carriage Return Linefeed Cinema” instead of “New Line Cinema” in the credits.

Eric Limer:

A Windows Phone 8 error that asks you to put in your Windows installation disc and restart the computer. It sounds too funny to be true, right? Apparently it’s not. According to some digging by WMPoweruser, it’s rare, but real.

Update (2018-07-24): Here’s an updated link for the Harris story (via Heather Flowers).

Update (2023-07-25): Jason Kottke:

Still one of my favorite internet things: The case of the 500-mile email.


Here’s a FAQ that addresses some of the questions the more technically inclined among you may have about this story.

Risks in Creating a New User Interface

Katie Fehrenbacher:

Case in point: last week Nest decided to halt the sale of its new Protect smart smoke alarm because it found a flaw in the sensor and gesture-based UI. It turns out that the function that enabled users to pause an alarm by waving at it could also be unintentionally triggered by other types of movement. The fear was that if there was a fire and the alarm was going off, a nearby movement could falsely pause the alarm.

20th Anniversary of Netscape’s Founding

Brian McCullough interviews Netscape’s founding engineers:

Though not technically the first internet startup per-se, Netscape was the first internet startup that mattered. It produced the first widely popular internet application, Netscape Navigator, and it grew symbiotically with the explosion in popularity of the World Wide Web. Navigator was the way millions of people around the world were introduced to the web. Many web technologies and standards, such as as SSL, Java, Javascript, open APIs and support for online media, were innovations that Navigator made mainstream.


As part of the Internet History Podcast project, I’ve collected oral histories from the founding engineers who made Netscape possible 20 years ago. I’ve lightly edited and transcribed the interviews chronologically below, but if you want to hear each interview in its entirety, you can do so.


There was a definite schism between us young kids and especially Tim Berners-Lee, who wanted to keep the web essentially lowest common denominator. I wouldn’t say that he was opposed to adding images and other things, but he was opposed to the methodology at which it was going about. We had a bunch of discussions around that at the conference and came up with some interesting ideas. That’s where the idea of <alt> text came from.


Marc basically sends mail, says, “Hey, I met Jim Clark. He’s a cool guy. He’s looking to start up a company. And I’m talking with him about what we should do.” At that point Jim was very interested in doing interactive TV. He was trying to convince Marc to go do interactive TV. And the more they talked about it, the more Marc basically just said, “What we really should do is go do Mosaic right. Do a Mosaic killer.”


We were originally accused of taking the [Mosaic] code and then we said, “No, we haven’t take a line of code.” And we were audited and of course proven that we didn’t. But we didn’t want to take any of the code, that’s the thing! We wanted to start from scratch. We wanted to do it right. There wasn’t any code we wanted to take. Look at how it works much much better. Obviously, it’s not the same code base!


Marc [Andreessen] basically drove a lot of that discussion. One was obviously a shared code base between the three versions, which is pretty much unheard of at that point in time. That you’d have Mac, Windows and Unix all sharing a code base. The biggest other thing was the invention of SSL and that basically, if this is going to be a commercial product, we have to come up with how to make it secure—such that people can use it for things like putting their credit card in and shopping and business and all the stuff that people use it for today. Fast was the other thing. We realized as we worked on it that there were a lot of things we had done wrong in terms of how we had written Mosaic and that we could get at least a 10x perceived speed improvement in redoing it.


At the time, Marc Andreessen was really throwing the gauntlet down at Microsoft. Foreshadowing what I think eventually has come to pass, which is that that whole native platform is considerably less a focus than the web platform. He made this well-publicized comment about turning Windows into a poorly debugged set of device drivers.


But the funny thing about us and Microsoft was, from day one, people would ask who our competition was and our answer pretty much was Microsoft at that point. And people would look at us like we’re crazy. First of, you’re 20 guys and they don’t have any clue what the web was. But we fundamentally understood that if we succeeded that we were going to be in their crosshairs. They were the 800 pound gorilla and anyone who succeeded was in their crosshairs. There wasn’t a product category in software that existed that if you succeeded, you know, Microsoft was your competition.


I’ve always been a Mac guy. Although everybody laughed at me. The whole Mac Daddy? That was not a cool thing at Netscape. Everybody was like, “Why are you working on that crappy little computer with no virtual memory?” And then Apple decides to ship Internet Explorer with the Mac because Microsoft gave them like a hundred million dollar investment. That was kind of the stuff we were fighting. We made some technical mistakes here and there but the fight was really lost in Microsoft’s kind of business assault. Cutting off our air supply.