Wednesday, March 09, 2011

SiteMeter issues

A few days ago I started having problems with Internet Explorer 8.*  Big problems.  It would lock up at various times in a non-repeatable manner.  Sometimes it would lock up when I opened too many tabs.  Sometimes it would lock up when I tried to close a tab.  Sometimes it would lock up if I was typing a comment in Facebook and made a mistake or wanted to make a change and used the left-arrow key. Sometimes, but not always.

I tried everything.  I remember once I started having random problems that seemed to be related to my mouse - more specifically, my mouse cord - and finally tracked the source to my drawing pad pen, velcroed to the side of my tower. Once I removed that, the problems went away. (Spurious signals being induced in the mouse wire by the magnet present in the tip of the pen? I have no idea.) I looked for something similar. I have a pair of headphones hanging from a stick-on hook on my tower. Could the magnets in the earpieces be causing a problem? I took them down. I had pulled my now-expired passport out of my passport pouch and propped it against the side of the computer. Could there be a magnetic strip embedded in the cover? I moved that. The problems persisted. I finally tried running an anti-virus scan and I found - something. Mal/GlFlframe-A. Not a virus, but an object that exhibits virus-like properties. Something that hadn't been there on the previous day's sweep. I removed it.

The problems persisted.

This had graduated from being annoying to something much worse.  It wasn't something physical, it wasn't something extrinsic like a virus.  Was it something intrinsic to one of the sites I had open?  My habit is to open my Hotmail, then Facebook, then SiteMeter, then Blogger. From Hotmail I may open links in new tabs.  Ditto for Facebook.  From SiteMeter I may open detailed information about individual visits in new tabs, and sometimes use those as jumping-off points to sites that directed traffic to my blog. From Blogger I will open my blog, and check for updates on friends' blogs.  Within a minute of going online I may have a dozen or more new tabs open.  Could one of them be causing the problem?

I tried opening each of my first four sites in separate windows.  I thought maybe these would each invoke individual sessions of IE8, and a crash on one would not cause a crash in the others.  In a few minutes I found I was wrong.

OK.  Four sites.  Open them three at a time.  There are four ways of doing this, assuming the order in which I open them is irrelevant.  (If it is relevant, there are 4x3x2 ways of choosing three items from a group of four, so I would have to run twenty-four tests.)  On a hunch I decided to eliminate the third site first: SiteMeter.

This wasn't just a random choice.  SiteMeter, once opened, is a static site - it won't update unless I refresh it.  All it does is show me reports. But the SiteMeter homepage was once apparently infected with a virus.  This came in the immediate aftermath of the August 2008 incident in which SiteMeter managed to crash most of the Internet for the better part of a weekend, apparently because someone decided that a Friday night would be the best time to implement some changes that had not yet been tested. (Perhaps the virus was a parting gift from the employee who was blamed for the problem?)

(This was not the only disaster of 2008 for SiteMeter.  They rolled out the new, exciting, revised SiteMeter in mid-September, to universal condemnation - and rolled it back, to their credit, the same day.  I don't know how much these two fiascoes hurt the company, but I'm guessing "a lot."  Since that time they have made occasional posts to their news and announcements blog, but most of them have been removed.  The last post there is from February 19, 2009 - more than two years ago at the time of this writing.)

So I opened Hotmail, then Facebook, then Blogger.  It took an enormous effort not to open SiteMeter.  And then I surfed and clicked and commented away to my heart's content without so much as a hiccup.  I soon forgot I was running a test.  Eventually I remembered.  I finished off any business I had, closed any extraneous tabs, and opened SiteMeter.

Within a minute Internet Explorer locked up.

I shut down IE and re-ran my virus scan.  It came up clean.

I re-opened SiteMeter by itself.  Within a minute it locked up again.

OK, test over.  SiteMeter was to blame.  Not very scientific, but so far this conclusion is holding.

So what's wrong?

I have no idea.  I'm not seeing much scuttlebutt about SiteMeter online, other than  some speculation that the precipitous drop in Gawker Media readership after a site redesign might actually be a problem with how their SteMeter thingie is reporting visitor statistics.  But I don't see any other recent praise or criticism of SiteMeter.  And the SiteMeter site itself is remarkably comatose. It's possibly little more than a zombie at this point, a zombie that happens to be generating enough revenue to keep it running.

I still check SiteMeter, sometimes.  Usually at the end of a session, when I'm done with everything else, when I don't care if IE crashes or not.  But it does.  Every damned time.

*Yes, I know.  Well, there's your problem right there.  Blah blah blah.  Shut up.  Has anyone resolved the Firefox js3250.dll issue yet?  I still get lots of hits about that every day.  SiteMeter tells me that.

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