January 31st, 2006


foiled again

So I finished my earthquake widget about a week or so ago. I was waiting to send it to the Yahoo Widget Gallery so that the screen snapshot they take would have a nice big earthquake on it. Sure enough, on friday morning there was a 7.6 earthquake near Indonesia, which was big enough.

So I uploaded the widget on friday evening, and they only post new widgets on weekdays, so it went online yesterday afternoon. Today, there were several comments with vague comments about a load error (nobody actually bothered to specify what the error was). Since my desktop at work is Linux, I couldn't try it out there. I did notice that the USGS had redesigned the layout of their Earthquakes web site. The RSS feed seemed fine, though.

When I came home I found that my widget at home didn't work either. Further investigation showed that the USGS had set up a redirect from the old RSS URL to the new one, but the widget engine wasn't smart enough to automatically follow the redirect. So, I fixed the RSS URLs that it uses.

Furthermore, the RSS feed has links to the web pages for each specific earthquake. This is used by the widget to open a browser window when you request more info by double-clicking on the earthquake circle. However, the RSS feed currently points to .htm versions of the earthquake info pages - but they are now .php. I coded a workaround to simply strip off the ".htm" extension if present, because it appears that the pages work without having to explicitly include the extension.

Anyway, how frustrating that the very next day after uploading a shiny new widget to the gallery, and after over 3000 downloads, the USGS switches over to a new web site that breaks the widget. Oh well, I'll upload a fixed one right now that Yahoo should post tomorrow, that should be more resilient in the face of future changes.

public service announcement: nyxem.e

The Nyxem.E virus is due to hit in a couple of days. This one has been infecting computers through mass-mailing, and disables anti-virus software and will start destroying files (DOC/XLS/PPT/ZIP/RAR/PDF/MDB) on hard drives on 3 february (and, I think, every 3rd of the month thereafter).

F-Secure has a free disinfection tool called F-Force that will scan your computer for some of the worst of the worst viruses, including this one. I'd recommend downloading it and running it if you have a Windows machine (be sure to read the included instructions as you will need to download another zip file too).

Personally, I haven't been hit by a worm or virus or found any spyware on my machine in the last 15 years or so that I've been using Windows. I consider this partly due to luck and partly due to a high degree of familiarity with what my computer ought to be doing at any given time (being a programmer, I've learned to watch for anything unexpected because it might be one of my programs that's got a bug). Nevertheless, I don't consider myself immune and I'm running F-Force right now.

Remember, this virus is destructive. If you have it and the 3rd of the month rolls by, you will lose a lot of files you probably wanted to keep.