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Bug of the moment 2007-05-26

I am seeing some disturbing trends forming on the Web as of late. In my referrer log, I found a certain MySpace page that must at some point have been thieving my bandwidth (since I rarely receive positive links). Now, MySpace pages have for a long time tended to display embedded music players, and I have ensured these get blocked using AdBlock (I have my own music playing, thankyouverymuch). However, what flabbergasted me with this user is that he or she had not one, but two embedded music players, streaming two very constrasting tracks one atop the other in what can only be called a cacophony. Do people never check their own sites, or have they acquired Commander Data’s heretofore unique ability at processing audio?

What worries me is that anyone I mention this to, seems to find it perfectly normal. I must be lagging behind the world, as I still cannot deal with e-mails comprised of sentences the size of paragraphs lacking any punctuation, and short stories and articles written without paragraph breaks. The latter seem to defeat how my short-term memory deals with reading comprehension, by flushing at paragraph breaks. Take away punctuation or paragraph breaks and my brain feels like it’s about to explode. (And here I was thinking that I wrote in long sentences.)

The other disturbing trend is for blogs to show not just the most recent twenty or so entries on the front page, as they used to, but enough entries that the scrollbar thumb is bordering on uselessness. It is becoming common for me to watch Firefox grind to a halt while parsing and rendering these pages, and loading in some stupid number of embedded YouTube videos (a blight inherited from MySpace). Firefox usually spends five minutes on this, downing a couple of hundred megabytes in the process.

I suppose this is one of the things you need a modern, fast processor for: coping with information overload. However, despite having a relatively old computer (around nine years old) it is fitted with 512 MB of RAM. 512 MB is not a bad figure: my contemporary StarMax clone has a capacity of 160 MB and has 144 MB fitted. With EDO memory, my Pentium PC can take a whole gigabyte.

So when a site that has tied up Firefox triggers the following error message, you’re justified in worrying a little:

Windows - Virtual Memory Minimum Too Low

In addition to RAM, I have a 1200 MB static page file on drive Z, and clearly Windows was still swamped out.

As the page was rendering, I had been watching Firefox’s memory allocation increasing in Process Explorer: 500, 600, 700, 800 … It didn’t seem to be ending. The computer was grinding down, and Paint wouldn’t load (hence no screenshot of the above). Process Explorer crashed and burnt from the load and refused to restart. Pidgin locked up. Thunderbird fell apart and had to be terminated later. Firefox’s usage went above 1 GB and was showing no sign of levelling off. I shut down one of my apps to free up 50 MB.

Firefox finally levelled out at 1.4 GB. Windows stabilised and Paint and Process Explorer could finally be loaded. This is the best graph that I could produce; the step is where Process Explorer loaded:

I had actually been trying to close the offending tab but Firefox just wasn’t listening. By the time the system was stable and I closed it, the memory was leaked and irrecoverable by Firefox. Like Thunderbird, the socket capabilities of Firefox had been destroyed in the drain, and Web access was down. I closed the Firefox window, but it hung on quit and had to be terminated. You can see the drop in memory at this point:

System memory usage drops from 1.6 gigabytes to 230 megabytes

With luck, this site with an appetite of Cookie Monster was a rogue site and I will only have to suffer 2-300 MB pages in future. I really hope so, as I am going to be an unhappy bunny if this trend gets any worse.

Posted 26th May 2007 – Comments and questions?