February 17, 2019

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Phantom Pictures from Out of Nowhere

  • October 4, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

I did a little frantic searching and emailing in hope of figuring out who was putting pictures on my screen and why--and, more important, what else might be coming into my machine. Friends offered possibilities: the cable company might be doing something; maybe I had a browser open. I had installed no cable company software, and I had no browser running.

Okay. Time to return to first principles, which is to say time to read the documentation. Because it had had control of the screen in the time leading up to the arrival of the phantom pictures, I looked at the XScreenSaver README (which I had because I'd built it from source). XScreenSaver is one of my favorite applications; it is unrelentingly cool. When a new version comes out, I grab it and build it. I usually scan the README, to see if there are any new bumps in the GL road.

Now, looking at it again, I found this:

"* Updated `webcollage' to handle recent Altavista URL format changes; made it search the AP photo gallery."

Oh, yeah. I vaguely remembered, now, that there was an XScreenSaver module that looked someplace for images, performed some artsy transformations on them, and displayed the results. I'd paid little attention to it when I installed the program for the first time. I was on a dialup, and I certainly wasn't going to stay online all the time just so it could roam around, looking for pictures and stuff. By the time the continuous connection came, the module was long forgotten. (And now I eagerly nuked it.)

The mystery was solved. But the uneasiness was unrelieved.

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