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The Notorious Poisoned GIF

This all started out on a dreary January afternoon when it was just warm enough for the snow to be turning to filthy slush. Bill & I were surfing the 'net and watching the pictures appear on pages in the usual sequence: the "picture loading" icon, followed by an interminable wait, followed by a small red X when the file failed to load.

Bill said something along the lines of, "I'm tired of all these stupid red X's! Why didn't they make the icon something more interesting, like a skull and crossbones?"

You begin to see where this is leading...

So I forgot all about it, and Bill went back to Rhode Island a few days later, and that was that. Until one night when I was once again staring at a screen full of little red X's, caused by the failure of the graphics to load. I closed the web page in disgust and opened up Photoshop. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to reproduce the first icon. I spent a fair amount of time searching through obscure folders on my hard drive, to see if I could locate the original, but I had no idea where it would be stored, or what the filename would be, so I simply painted another one, pixel by pixel. The skull and crossbones was considerably easier, since it didn't have to look like anything official. I assembled my first simple two-frame animation and sent it to a half-dozen or so friends.


Most of them tried to open it in a regular graphics program, and only saw the first frame. They sent me replies along the lines of, "That picture you sent me doesn't load...try sending it again." Brian, who uses Outlook Express Outlook 98, had a more interesting response:

"...I think that file you sent me was corrupted or something. The browser tries to load a picture and then a little skull and crossbones appears."

Giggling quietly to myself, I set about making more animation frames. I mailed out the improved version and succeeded only in confusing the issue further. Brian again:
Please listen to me: You send me gif files and URLs, but the gifs don't work! I get a little skull and crossbones icon that I think symbolizes a corrupted file or bad link or unsupported file or something. Please explain what the file is supposed to be so I know it when I see it. Perhaps something is going screwy when you upload the file?? Maybe IE5 hates it. I don't know. I never have problems with other gifs, but the ones you send me never work. What gives?


PS It didn't even work when I looked at Bill's page. (Same tiny skull & crossbones).

Tim said:
diddle-le-dit-dee-dee I like it! it confused the hell out of me, and my prof.( i tried to open it during drafting class, he caught me, so i asked him how to open the gif., he couldn't do it, i was still in trouble, 50 lashes for timmi! I like it!)

Clearly, I was on to something.


Late April, a new development. I've just finished installing Internet Explorer 5...and it doesn't have a "picture loading" icon at all! What fun is that? I guess I'll just have to animate other things instead.

The Fizzgigious Fish
who always walked about upon Stilts.
because he had no legs.
--Edward Lear

One final note: "gift" is German. It means poison.

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