Skype crash: Software bug and server overloads blamed


Server overloads and a bug in Skype for Windows caused the two-day outage for the net phone firm.

Details of what caused the service to be unusable for millions of users prior to Christmas have been posted on the firm's blog.

The two events combined to create a cascade of problems that managed to knock out much of the network underpinning the phone service.

Skype is assessing how its network is built to stop the problem recurring.

Traffic cascade

Writing on the Skype blog, Lars Rabbe, chief information officer at the company, said the problems started on 22 December, when some of its servers that handle instant messaging started getting overloaded.

This meant that the responses they sent to Windows machines running Skype were slightly delayed. Unfortunately, a bug in one version of Skype for Windows meant this delay caused the program to crash.

About 50% of all Skype users ran the buggy version of the software, said Mr Rabbe

This caused problems for Skype because of the way the network supporting it is organised. Some of the data travelling round Skype's network are passed through all those machines logged on to the service.

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Within moments, a rather scruffy figure loomed into view on my phone - and I was video calling an old friend and colleague.”

Rory Cellan-Jones

Those participating machines act as what Skype calls "supernodes" and carry out some of the administrative tasks of the global network and help to ensure calls get through.

With a huge number of these machines offline because of the crash, the rest of the network quickly became overloaded.

Mr Rabbe wrote that the disappearance of the supernodes meant the remaining ones were swamped by traffic.

"The initial crashes happened just before our usual daily peak-hour and very shortly after the initial crash," wrote Mr Rabbe, "which resulted in traffic to the supernodes that was about 100 times what would normally be expected at that time of day."

Traffic levels were so high that they blew through the safe operating specifications supernodes usually use. As a result, more supernodes shut down.

Compensation offer

The "confluence of events", said Mr Rabbe, led to Skype being offline for about 24 hours as engineers put in place hundreds of dedicated supernodes and gradually brought the service back to life.

To ensure the outage does not happen again, Mr Rabbe said Skype would look at its update policy, to see if it should automatically move users to newer versions of its software.

A version of Skype for Windows that is free of the bug already exists, but is not automatically given to users.

It said it would also look at its network to improve capacity and get on with an investment programme that would boost this resilience.

Mr Rabbe apologised again on behalf of the company and added: "We know that we fell short in both fulfilling your expectations and communicating with you during this incident."

Skype has offered compensation to customers in the form of vouchers for pre-pay users and a free week of service for subscribers

Anger grows in New York over slow snow clean-up


Anger is mounting in New York and New Jersey over the slow pace of snow removal following the severe storms which brought the region to a halt.

Major thoroughfares in Manhattan have been cleared, but large parts of the city have yet to be ploughed.

Many residents are stuck in their homes unable to get to work, and piles of snow are hindering ambulances.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called the clean-up operation the worst in memory.

"We're hearing reports from all over of people not even having seen a plough by the afternoon of the day after," Ms Quinn told reporters. "This is a level of lack of clean-up that I really can't recall."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended his administration's response to the blizzard, telling reporters that his staff are working as hard as they can and "using every single resource at our disposal".

The city has hired 1,900 labourers over the past two days to shovel snow from pavements and streets, and deployed 28 front-end loaders to help dig out stranded vehicles.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Bloomberg said only 50 city buses remained stuck on city streets, down from 600 the day before.

He noted that the unusually large number of vehicles stuck in the snow had made the clean-up extraordinarily difficult.

Mr Bloomberg has been criticized for not putting enough effort into clearing New York's outer boroughs compared to the downtown Manhattan area.

Ms Quinn has announced that she will hold hearings to investigate problems with the clean-up.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is under fire for taking a holiday at Disney World in central Florida while his state is reeling in the aftermath of the storm.

Electricity has been restored to most homes in eastern Canada after the storm caused widespread power outages. About 800 customers reportedly remain without power in the New Brunswick area.

More snow is forecast in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada's easternmost province.

'hid cocaine in Easter eggs'


US officials say they have arrested a man who tried to smuggle cocaine into the country hidden in fake Easter eggs.

Esteban Galtes, 23, was arrested at Los Angeles airport on Thursday after federal agents found more than 6kg (13lb 3oz) of the drug in his luggage.

Much of it was hidden inside coloured candy eggs, which he said he was taking for his children.

If convicted on drug trafficking charges, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mr Galtes, who lives in Miami, was returning to the US from a one-week trip to Colombia.

The cocaine had an estimated street value of more than $100,000 (£64,400).

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said their suspicions were raised by the sight of Easter eggs in a traveller's luggage two days before Christmas.

"Drug traffickers are always trying novel ways to conceal their contraband," ICE agent Claude Arnold said.

"But cocaine camouflaged as Easter candy is one of the more unusual tactics we've come across."

Five teenagers die in Florida motel room


Five teenagers have died in a motel room in southern Florida, in a case of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

The young men, aged 16 to 19, had left a car running in a garage below the room they had rented to celebrate one of the group's 19th birthday.

A door to a staircase leading to the garage was left open and high levels of carbon monoxide were found in the room.

Police were called after a maid saw the unconscious bodies through a window. She reported a strong smell of petrol.

"They're all there, and they don't respond," the maid told the emergency services in Spanish. "They're sprawled on the floor. I haven't wanted to touch them. I'm scared."

Friends of the teenagers told the Miami Herald newspaper that the car had needed a jump-start earlier in the day and might have been left running to keep the battery charged.

Authorities do not suspect foul play. No drugs or alcohol were found in the room at the motel in Hialeah, outside Miami.

California Voters to Decide Question of Marijuana Legalization


Marijuana laws are complicated – several states have legalized medical marijuana, while the federal government continues its blanket prohibition on the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana. The federal government is still perfectly free to arrest and prosecute people for growing and selling medical marijuana, even if it’s completely legal under the laws of the states they live in. The Obama Administration has directed the Department of Justice to cease prosecutions of people who grow medical marijuana in compliance with state law, leading to an uneasy and paper-thin truce between growers and users of medical marijuana, and the federal government

If the backers of an initiative headed to the November ballot in California get their way, the legal status of medical marijuana might get a little bit more complicated, at least when examining the relationship between federal and state marijuana laws. California’s Secretary of State is expected to certify for placement on the November ballot an initiative which would essentially legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. The blogs have gone crazy over this, and with good reason. This is kind of a big deal

Nowhere in the U.S. is the recreational use of marijuana legal. If this initiative passes, it will be legal for anyone who is 21 years old or older to buy and use marijuana. The sale of marijuana will be tightly regulated, and vendors will likely have to obtain licenses to sell it

Perhaps more importantly (and the reason I think this initiative may actually have more than a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing), every legal sale of marijuana in California will be taxed. Marijuana, whether we like it or not, is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s obvious that there’s a demand for the product, and people are meeting that demand. We’re simply seeing market forces at work. As a result, massive amounts of revenue are being generated from the sale of marijuana, all of which is going untaxed


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