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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

The text message that's crashing iPhones

Here’s the story behind the iPhone text message that makes your phone reboot. Cult of Mac:

Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, the bug has nothing to do with your iPhone not being able to deal with the Arabic language, and it is definitely not a secret plot by terrorist group ISIS to hijack ur phonez. The issue comes from the Unicode at the end of the message which, according to some users, decodes to an infinitely repeating message that overloads your iPhone’s memory and causes it to wig out.

My daughter sent it to me yesterday. She found it unnerving, which didn’t stop her from trying it out on everyone she knew. As one of the commenters says:

I want to know who the hell has the time and the ambition to find THE text string that does this to a phone. Who the crap sits home and says “I think I’ll find out if a really odd text string will crash a messages app”. Who does that?

My money’s on young, bored, Russians.

GEEK The top story on Digg this morning appears to have been chosen for its subject, not the brilliance of the prose. It’s high-school quality. Remember how you padded out an essay with meaningless opening paragraphs? Did you begin the  piece with an assertion that was undone by your first example?

There are many unsolved mysteries in the world. What exactly is a smell? How do magnets work? Why is it that wasps are mean but bumblebees are nice? Scientists have studied these cryptic matters for centuries but have repeatedly come up empty-handed; teachers have been forced to shrug in front of classrooms full of expectant students, some of them even turning their pockets inside out to emphasise how truly stumped the academic world is by almost everything.

Criminey. The turning-out-of-pockets communicates poverty, not ignorance.

Perhaps the most enduring mystery of mankind is the grand mystery of space. It was precisely the allure of this big empty bastard that inspired many early games developers to set their games in the infinite and unknowable cosmos just outside our atmosphere. That, and televisions had black backgrounds anyway, so it was very easy for games to draw space.

That’s two paragraphs spent on nothing. Will the third paragraph reveal the point? We press on:

Elite was one such space game. David Braben’s space-postman classic was released in 1984 for the BBC Micro and allowed players to explore a pixelated simulacrum of our own galaxy, laser-joust with space pirates, trade space goods and discover new space worlds. Ask literally anybody about Elite and they’ll say ‘phwoar, what a game,’ while rubbing their thighs. It really was that good.

Literally everybody will say “phwoar.” While rubbing their thighs. It was really thigh-rubbing good.

If this makes you despair about the quality of writing on the internet, read Sadie Stein's short tale about an old man and a pineapple request. You will feel much better.

ART I had no idea the same guy did all the early Elvis Costello albums, or that he was a legend in the industry, or that he killed himself in 1983. Barney Bubbles was his professional name; Colin Fulcher was his given name. Says wikipedia about his demise: “He had considerable personal and financial worries. His sleeves were being rejected by musicians, such as Elvis Costello.” Wonder what he would have designed for “Goodbye Cruel World.” Just looking at that cover you knew it was a dud.

SCIENCE! The movement to get rid of people never goes away. FastCo asks: “These Photos Tackle An Uncomfortable Question: What If There Are Just Too Many People On Earth?” Here’s one of the photos:

You’re supposed to think that’s pollution instead of steam. The countryside doesn’t seem particularly overcrowded, does it? Anyway:

The subject of population control wasn't always taboo. "The bestselling environment-related book of the '60s and '70s was not Silent Spring, it was Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb," says Butler. "So this was a huge and integrated topic of conversation decades ago, and then it fell off the radar screen.”

I wonder why! Ehrlich’s predictions were so spot-on. You can read the entire book online here, which would seem to be preferable; the resources required to print it out, and the industrial infrastructure required to tote it around the planet, would seem to be contrary to its intention.

An excerpt:

States with mandatory retirement assistance programs that require younger workers to pay for the older ones. Next question?

VotD Since I've been complaining and snarking a lot, here's something nice: five seconds of cute bears, wrestling.



It seems that everything that can be faked has been faked.

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut say they're getting rid of artificial colors and flavors, making them the latest big food companies scrambling to distance themselves from ingredients people might find unappetizing. Instead of "black pepper flavor," for instance, Taco Bell will start using actual black pepper in its seasoned beef, says Liz Matthews, the chain's chief food innovation officer.

Why would anyone invent black pepper flavor, when there’s black pepper? Probably because it doesn’t go stale, but when you use as much of the stuff as Taco Bell presumably uses, that’s not a problem. Perhaps it’s cheaper. Just makes you wonder what the main ingredient in Black Pepper Flavor really is. Whether it’s a chemical made in huge vats and sprayed on minced chuck bound for Taco Bell.

By the way, happy bulk consumer demographic, your masters have your welfare in mind:

Brian Niccol, the chain's CEO, said price increases are based on a variety of factors, and that the company would work to keep its menu affordable.
"I do not want to lose any element of being accessible to the masses," Niccol said.

The Massies! You’d think they’d use the term only in private, when testing contemptuous things like, oh, black pepper flavor.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s a beautiful thing, Winston, the destruction of language.

. . .We are still without a simple ‘wing’ emoji. We will now have newly minted ‘owl’ ‘eagle’ and ‘duck’, in addition to the ‘pigeon’ () and five different kinds of chicken ( ), but most of those are just heads without wings. If you want to express ‘flying’ or ‘soaring’ or ‘feeling light’ or ‘winged’ you have very few options. If you’ve ever tried to communicate exclusively in emoji, you know the language desperately needs more ways to express action.

While that’s true, the solution would seem to be communicating in ways that do not rely entirely on tiny pictures. The list of new emoji is here, and the proposals include the Shrug:

Loses something in the translation.

VotD Wassa matter you? Hey! Gotta no respect. What-a you t'ink you do? Ay, slappa you face. 

Remember, when slapping an employee awake, set up the camera first.