I don't need a new PC, thanks

Microsoft has a new ad in which a woman doesn’t think she needs to upgrade their PC, so Microsoft employees go into her house when she’s not there, and they refashion her living room into a PC store. She sees the lovely new PCs and of course immediately changes her mind. She then chooses a new PC and her life is complete.

Microsoft has the ad on their site.

Putting myself in the woman’s place, I have words for Microsoft:

Dear Microsoft,

If you come into my place while I’m not there, expect the same look of surprise when I arrive home…but then expect me to dial 911 as soon as I realize what’s going on. Depending on my mood, I may then do my damnedest to kick the asses of all the Microsoft employees intruders before the authorities arrive. Of course I will start with the person wielding the camera.

If I smile as I enter my apartment, it’s not because I’m pleased to see strangers in my home. Rather, I’ve recognized that there’s money to be made by taking legal action against Microsoft. Profit makes me smile.

Your pal,


And yes, I’m aware that Microsoft would have had permission, if the living room we’re shown is even the woman’s actual home. So either it was a home invasion or complete fiction they want us to believe. Neither is likely to have me look at Microsoft in a favourable way. The idea is just so dumb.

They should change ad agencies and fire the person who gave this campaign the green light.

We know you don't want spam, but…

Whenever you sign up with a site on the web, you usually get spam. The better sites allow you to opt-out of e-mail ads when you register, but most only offer that option when you get the first spam message.

Microsoft isn’t known for their warm customer service, and they seem to have no interest in cultivating such an image. Case-in-point is a message I received today from Samantha Goldman. She’s Director of Customer and Partner Experience with Microsoft Canada.

The message begins:

Dear Rick,

You may not know this, but your contact preferences do not allow us to send you e-mail communications about valuable Microsoft product offers, services, and events that might benefit you.

So let me understand this. Since I signed up for an account, they, by default, feel free to send me spam. I therefore change my account settings to stop the spam. As a result, they send me spam to inform me that I configured my account so they don’t send me spam. And while they’ve got my attention, they thoughtfully include instructions on how I can change the settings to allow them to send me spam.

Fuck off, already. How clear do I need to be?

Imagine that a friend of yours works the evening shift and he’s up in the middle of the night. He likes to call you so you have to tell him not to call you in the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous that your friend thinks his behaviour is acceptable because he knows you sleep at night, but you’ve taken care of it. How would you then react if he called in the middle of the night to ask if you’re sure that you don’t want him to call in the middle of the night?

Same thing. A message informing me how to change my settings to allow spam is spam.

My first thought was that I need to write Ms. Goldman and suggest that since she thinks her message was a good idea, I am directing her to remove any account information they have on file for me, as well as any other information. But really, why bother? If they don’t get it, they won’t understand any explanation of why they have their heads up their asses.

What I’ll do instead is log in and change my contact e-mail address to her e-mail address, or some other Microsoft address. Spam me all you want!

Postscript: Damn it. They make you confirm an address change by sending a message to the new address and requiring that you click a link in the message. Oh well, I’ll just have to be satisfied with creating a temporary e-mail address, changing my contact address to the temporary address, then deleting it. Done and done.

Microsoft: fail

When you use Google to search the Web, Google doesn’t rush out and look for what you need after you ask. It’s already done its research using web crawlers. These are programs that ‘crawl’ the web, following links, and recording the contents of the web pages they discover, as well as how they’re all connected. Crawlers scour the web for changes and new pages all day, every day.

Much like when you visit a web page with your web browser, a crawler sends a request to the server, and the server delivers the page for the crawler’s use. What happens then is different because you read the page, and then decide what to do. You may close it or click a link to go to a new page, whether on the same site or a new one. Crawlers digest the page contents far more quickly so they limit how often they load pages from a site in a given period. Otherwise, they could swamp the server, and while that’s going on, no one can load any pages.

The server administrators has a tool at their disposal called the ‘robots.txt’ file. This is a simple text file that crawlers read before getting to work on a site. Using the file, the server admin can restrict crawlers to only certain parts of the server, or even block them entirely. They can also set different limits for each crawler, and specify a maximum crawl rate, to ensure people can still get through.

The weakness of the robots.txt file is that it’s not technically enforced. If you can program a crawler, you can program a crawler to ignore the robots.txt file. Most crawlers are well-behaved, however. Site owners want search engines to bring them traffic, and search engines are nothing without large indexes, so it’s a symbiotic arrangement. The site administrators hold the upper hand because they can take further measures to block a crawler. It’s a little more trouble, but it’s not difficult. In this way, the search engines generally respect the robots.txt file because they’ll be locked out entirely if they don’t behave themselves.

With that backgrounder, you’ll understand my amusement at the article, “Microsoft Bots Effectively DDoSing Perl CPAN Testers” I read on Slashdot earlier today. CPAN is a group of group of PERL users and developers who maintain a number of servers both for testing and for hosting their code.

A post on the CPAN Testers blog describes an attack that brought down some of their servers by overwhelming them with what they describe as a distributed denial of service. Abbreviated DDoS, this attack is simply a large influx of traffic from multiple sources. Although it took down servers and botched things up for them, it appears not to have been intentional. It was a bunch of crawlers harvesting content for Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Amazon or Google servers wouldn’t notice 20-30 crawlers doing their work simultaneously, but CPAN’s servers don’t get that kind of traffic so they don’t maintain the hardware to handle it. Further the Bing crawlers ignored the robots.txt file they have in place to limit crawler activity. As I suggested, this is extremely bad form.

So what did the CPAN admin do? He simply blocked Microsoft’s crawlers in a way they cannot ignore. Done. And when admins set these blocks, they typically leave them in place until it’s necessary to remove them, which is usually never.

To his credit, the product manager of Microsoft’s crawler wrote a reply to the blog post:


I am a Program Manager on the Bing team at Microsoft, thanks for bringing this issue to our attention. I have sent an email to barbie@cpan.org as we need additional information to be able to track down the problem. If you have not received the email please contact us through the Bing webmaster center at bwmc@microsoft.com.

That credit evaporated when he failed to come out from behind his title, gave only a generic e-mail address, and made no apology. If the program manager were serious, he’d make it as easy as possible for the CPAN admin to contact him directly, acknowledge that the problem is theirs, and ask for the information they need to fix it. Simply saying they need the information is a demand, and despite their obviously inflated feelings of self-worth, they are in no position to demand anything.

I doubt anything will come of it. The CPAN admin has solved the problem. The crawlers will no longer harass his systems. Why would he lift a finger to help dumb-ass Microsoft fix their problem and make more money? Maybe if the product manager expressed believable concern and contrition, but the product manager wrote to cover his own ass. He can now say that he tried working with the CPAN people, despite the gesture being transparently hollow.

Windows 7

I’ve installed Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 on my laptop. Why? Why not!

I didn’t steal it. Anyone can get it. Download it and get as many product keys as you’d like until July 2009. To my surprise, it’ll keep working until June 1, 2010. The only catch is that it’ll only run for two hours at a time after March 1, 2010.

So far, I’m not really impressed. It’s not bad, but it’s not very different than Vista. Oh sure the task bar has some nice changes, but by and large, Windows 7 is simply Vista with a slightly prettier face. I haven’t used it enough to judge the performance, but I’ve read it’s slightly better than Vista. I had no real problems with Vista either, as I had the hardware to run it well. The only issue I had with it was that it insisted on running the way it wanted and took quite a bit of effort to change certain aspects of its configuration. Otherwise it ran well and was fine. Meh.

I’m running Windows 7 RC1 on a Toshiba Satellite with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83 GHz processor and 2 GB RAM. It’s no gaming powerhouse, but it’s no netbook, either. I could use this OS comfortably. I question whether I’ll ever use Windows 7 thoroughly on my own hardware. Why? Because I much prefer the Mac. Windows XP in a virtual machine is enough windows for me.

If you want me to be excited about an operating system, give me some Snow Leopard.