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Word, Email and Lava Lamps

9/8 Update:  Well, Microsoft caught on to the bug, and now redirects to a Microsoft page. The owner of the 5iantlavalamp domain tells me that Microsoft asked the favor of him, and that he will be transfering ownership to MS within the next few days. Nice guy. I hope he got $omething for his trouble.

I'm pretty sure, though, that Soap Lake still wants its giant lava lamp.

Let's take a break from PeopleSoft this week to look at a small, entertaining bug apparently delivered to us by Microsoft.

Do you use Windows XP? Have you ever noticed words underlined with those little purple dots in your Outlook email, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or even web pages? They look like this: USA. Word somehow identifies people's names, place names, addresses, dates and other items, and then inserts special tags into the file. I don't know how it identifies these, but it seems somewhat random in my experience—it finds some but ignores other obvious candidates.

These are called "smart tags", and according to this Microsoft article, they are an "exciting new feature in Microsoft Office XP". There's even an SDK to help you "develop ways to take advantage of all this power". I'm sure these will become even more exciting and powerful in the future; for now, I just find them distracting.

If you hover the mouse pointer over one of these smart tags, a tiny "i" pops up. Move the mouse pointer there, and a down-arrow appears. Click on that and a menu pops up. The options depend on the type of text that's underlined. If it's a person's name, you can open an email window with the name in the "to" field, or add the person to your contacts. The last time I clicked on an address, it just took me to Microsoft's mapping website. Feature or spam? You decide...

But hover over an underlined place name. Try it here: USA. (This may work only under XP.) The popup menu helpfully informs you that this is a place. But there is also another option: "Check for new actions". Click on that and you are taken to


This is a page written by someone in Texas who saw this strange behavior, found that nobody owned the "" domain name, and bought it. He noticed it happening at his company starting about a month ago but doesn't know how long it's been going on. I tried a search on "5iantlavalamp" at and on Google and found nothing but documents that appeared to have this string embedded in them (from Word?).

Why "5iant"? Well, if you write "giant" quickly on a piece of paper, the "g" might look like a "5". I'm guessing that someone at Microsoft wrote "giant" down, and then maybe someone else copied it into the code as "5iant" and forgot to remove it later. That's two bugs, I suppose.

Go to and you'll see the connection. This is a proposal to construct a giant lava lamp in Soap Lake, WA, in order to make it famous. (Would I make something like that up?) Soap Lake is around 100 miles east of Redmond—Microsoft's headquarters.

I'll pass up the obvious segue to testing and leave it at that for today so that you can go to the site and admire the picture of the giant lava lamp!

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