If you run Ubuntu, and unpack the Firefox source code, your computer will die

Updated: I received a notification from Launchpad that the bug has been fixed in an upstream version of w3m.

Every once in a while, for what seemed to be no explicable reason, my work machine (a quad-core 27″ iMac running Ubuntu 10.04) has been slowing down to an absolute crawl, falling over and dying.  It’s been infuriating, and I haven’t had any luck trying to work out what might be causing it. Until now.

As it started slowing down and thrashing, I was able to run ps, only to find this process sitting there chewing up almost all the memory and half the swap on my 4 gigabyte machine:

tom      14334  1.7 53.3 3096296 2159932 ?     DN   \
16:49   0:06 w3m -o indent_incr=0 -o multicol=false \
-o no_cache=true -o use_cookie=false -o display_charset=utf8 \
 -o system_charset=utf8 -o follow_locale=false -o \
use_language_tag=true -o ucs_conv=true -T text/html
-dump /home/tom/firefox-src-jssh/firefox-3.6.6+nobinonly/\

For some reason, a text-based web browser (w3m) is sitting there going quietly insane while trying to make a dump of an HTML file in my home directory.  That HTML is a regression test that’s sitting in the firefox build tree.  That means it’s a bad file. It’s supposed to make web browsers crash.

The parent process for w3m is “evolution-data-server-2.28″.

I have questions.  For brevity, I shall abbreviate “What the FUCK” as WTF and “Why the HELL” as WTH.

  • WTF is evolution-data-server anyway?  Why do I have it? Why do I need to run it?  I don’t use evolution.
  • WTH are you scanning my home directory?  What are you looking for?
  • WTH is w3m trying to parse random HTML files buried in firefox source trees in my directory?
  • If there is some valid reason for it, then WTH isn’t evolution-data-server putting some kind of resource limit on w3m, to prevent it from crashing the whole damn computer?
  • WTF, man? Just, WTF?

At this point, I’m actually hoping that it’s all much simpler: that somehow my work machine has been compromised, and w3m is actually running a rootkit of some kind.  At least that way it’s just me who’s been monumentally stupid.

Otherwise, the moral of the story is simple:  If you’re running Ubuntu, and you unpack the firefox source code for some reason, your computer will die.


If I’m actually going to write in this thing on a semi-regular basis, then we might need to get some ground rules sorted out.

  1. It’s probably going to be kind of eclectic. Let’s just, for the sake of fantastical argument, say that I actually end up with some kind of audience on here.  I’d be surprised if they have any interest in more than half of what I’m going to write about.  Some of it will be highly technical (I’ll be cross-posting certain posts on my work blog) so there will be all kinds of stuff about what I’m coding, what I’m working on, and how I’m doing it.  But I’m also going to use this as the place to feature my photography, my music, my hobbies, and my friends.  There’s not going to be any overriding theme, it’s going to be whatever the hell I feel like writing about.  It has to be that way, otherwise I’ll always be second-guessing myself — “should I write this? should I write that?” — and I’ll never write anything at all.
  2. So yeah, to reiterate: there might be some variety in the content that is presented. This is important, because my next post is either going to be about Unit Testing Frameworks (work related, highly technical), or suicide (non-work related, less technical).
  3. Long years working on my thesis taught me that the only way I’m effective at writing is if I turn off all my filters and just give myself permission to write whatever comes into my head, on the trust that I’ll come back later and delete the most egregiously shitty stuff.  Even so, I have a tendency to meander.  Also, weirdly enough, when I let myself just free-associate when I write, my choice of language is sometimes — expressive.
  4. Finally, and of greatest importance: I accept absolutely no liability, explicit or implied, for anything I write on this site. If I find myself offended by anything I write, I’ll simply refer back to this point and be reassured. It’s kind of a relief to have that kind of protection, because there’s a lot of crazy stuff on the Internet. I wouldn’t want to take it too seriously.
  5. See point 4 again.  I’m probably going to write about ways to make you feel good about life and live it to the fullest, but I’m also going to be trying really hard to convince you to inject blue food colouring into your newborn child’s veins, because it would be awesome.  It’s going to be up to you as rational (just go with it) human beings to decide which advice to take. I know you’ll make the right choice (You know it’d be awesome).

The world in which I live

I want you to imagine yourself walking down the street. Any street, it doesn’t really matter. You’re walking to work, or walking to lunch, or just walking, generally.  Ahead of you you see a group of people coming towards you. There’s nothing inherently unfriendly about them, they are their own people, living their own lives as best they can. Just like you.

Until they reach you, and try to gouge your eyes out.

The attack comes completely unexpected.  You certainly never did anything to them, you don’t even know who they are!  You try to dodge it, and just barely avert your gaze in time to save your vision from permanent damage, but you might not be fast enough to avoid scratches to your temple.  They each wield their weapons with terrible accuracy, it’s coming from several directions at once. If you move your head to the right, another cold, hard, sharp point is waiting for you right there, waiting to be the last thing you’ll ever see.

In despair and bewilderment, you look pleadingly at your assailant and try to understand their motivation. They don’t look back. Their gaze is fixed on their destination, on their future. You don’t register in their world. You are no-one, of no consequence. There’s no malice, no twisted expressions of vengeful fury. There is simply — nothing. All you see are the cold dead grey of emotionless eyes reflecting the storm clouds in the skies.  They look right through you, and yet every time you pass them on the street, they aim their sharpened spokes as if driven by a hateful bloodlust.

This is the world that I, and pretty much every person over about six feet tall lives in, every single wet rainy day.

Fuck I hate umbrellas.