Friday, 6 September 2013

I love tech - I hate tech part deux, or how adverts nearly killed my computer.

Followers will know of my struggles with the Mac, poor software design, slow performance etc etc. It was a ridiculous situation where I had a dual-core 2GHz computer with 4Gb RAM and an SSD sweating over a few pages of The Register in Firefox, yet it would regularly bog down to the point where scrolling was a case of rolling the wheel or clicking & dragging, then waiting 15-20 sec before the page would move. From memory Opera also struggled similarly on some pages, though not others, but FF is my browser of choice. Safari - why would I want to use that?

Last week, while browsing the Harmony Central forum (which as small banner ads top & bottom) I rediscovered console-hell for the first time in a decade. For those who didn't use the internet until relatively recently, in the late 90s/early 2000s pr0n sites would run a little bit of javascript that would cause new windows to pop up from a host page that one might have landed on inadvertently. It was the days when we were mostly sweet and innocent, and those looking for the Oil Of Ulay cosmetics site ( IIRC to tie in with their currect advertising program) were greeted with something entirely else if they used (WARNING - I have NO idea where either of those addresses go now, and it's probably nowhere good!). It was all a big hoot, this similar naming of websites (the White House home page was similarly affected) and the sole solution would be to exit the browser as quickly as one could, then re-start browsing from scratch, trying to stay away from the troublesome address.

Within a short time, if you were Firefox/Mozilla/Netscape or Opera, or much longer if you were Microsoft, you created a control that blocked pop up windows and Robert was pater's brother when next you made an error of judgement.

Now I ALWAYS run with pop-up blocking enables, though I notice that it doesn't always stop some sites with surveys and comments for blogs. However one of the ads from HC started opening new pages immediately, with focus on the new page, and then started playing audio, telling me about how I could get my finances in order (could be worse, but let's not go there) and each new page started the spiel in a new place, so it wasn't even in synch.

I cannot be that unusual, that I use FF on a Mac, so I have to wonder what these people were on? I'd rather burn down their business than take advice from them now.

So this afternoon I decided to follow up a couple of links from the weekly summary of The Register, and it's back to the stupid situation again of pages not scrolling, cooling fans running flat out etc etc, and it got me thinking. Is this ridiculous load on my computer down to the ads being served? Now I've made a deliberate policy of not filtering ads generally on web pages, because someone has to pay to run the sites I enjoy, and I don't really want the whole of the www becoming subscription-only, so I tolerate some advertising normally.

Anyway, off to Mozilla add-ons page, adblock edge (that removes even 'good' adverts) installed, following up their suggested pages to add further blocking options, close & re-open browser, open 6 pages from el Reg.

The fans stay quiet, scrolling remains responsive.

OK, so basically what I appear to have established is that ads served to my computer through the web pages I visited loaded it so hard that it simply became buried and couldn't cope. That. Is. Crazy. Don't people know the story of the golden goose?

So it's great that the macbook can still cope after all, but this situation is simply nuts. Maybe all the ads were flash-based (I know the ones on photobucket have been) and OSX simply can't cope with flash, but people have been detecting browser and OS for more than a decade. Surely it's not beyond the realms of competence to not serve flash-based ads to a Mac, if ads can be tailored to previous browsing history (suddenly everyone wants to offer me holidays in Canada).

I guess it's just a mix of greed and meanness. Looks like ads will stay blocked from now on.

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