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TBTF for 1996-05-31: People know you're a dog

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Fri, 31 May 1996 09:33:44 -0400


A slow news week

Harvard hosted a conference on the future of the Net at which Bill Gates spoke (he also spoke for free at MIT the next day). I saw little news coverage from this conference; it was quite upstaged by the two events reported below.

Sun Microsystems sponsored the JavaOne Developers Conference in San Jose with featured speaker James Gosling, the father of Java. On Wednesday Sun gave details of JavaOS, a design for implementing the architecture-independent Java virtual machine in silicon, and announced licensing deals for manufacture with Mitsubishi, NEC, and Samsung. Chips should be available by fall of this year for incorporation into network PCs, telephones, pagers, or doorknobs. JavaOne's most quotable quote, overheard at the first-night party at the Museum of Modern Art: "If your development tools don't suck, you're not on the bleeding edge of technology."

On May 30 the U.S. National Acadamy of Sciences' Committee to Study National Cryptography Policy released its breathlessly awaited report [1]; see the overview at [2] and a summary of the recommendations on the TBTF archive at [3]. Bottom line: the committee suggests allowing U.S. corporations to export without restriction encryption products incorporating keys up to 56 bits in length. Corporations wishing to export stronger crypto may be required to escrow their keys. But the government is advised to "eat its own dogfood" on key escrow -- to test such a scheme extensively for its own communications needs before imposing it on others. No legal restrictions should be placed on U.S. citizens communicating within U.S. borders. Crypto policy should be developed in the open, i.e. in Congress and without classification or secrecy. Phil Zimmermann, author of PGP, opines that the recommendations don't go nearly far enough. (Anyone seriously interested in key escrow should see the review [4] of all such systems extant, published by the pro-escrow cryptographer Dorothy Denning.)

[1] <http://www2.nas.edu/cstbweb/28e2.html>
[2] <http://www2.nas.edu/cstbweb/2646.html>
[3] <http://www.tbtf.com/resource/nas-recom.html>
[4] <http://guru.cosc.georgetown.edu/~denning/crypto/Appendix.html>

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Tired of coding HTML tables?

Visit Two Clicks Instant Tables [5], a free Web service that automatically converts tab-delimited data, such as that from an MS Excel spreadsheet, into HTML tables. The form interface offers lots of table formatting options -- including those supported only by the latest beta versions of the Netscape and/or Microsoft browsers. To use it you can simply copy a range of cells from an Excel spreadsheet and paste into the form on the Two Clicks page. When your table is returned you can use your browser's View Source function to capture the HTML coding.

The author, Drasko Markovic <drasko at twoclicks dot com>, offers Instant Tables for sale to install on your own Web site (for Unix or Windows 95/NT servers only). The site also offers a free version you can download and install, but why bother? Its functionality is quite limited and the free Two Clicks server is speedy (so far) and versatile. I personally think Markovic has overpriced the commercial version at $500 -- the only advantage I can see to running it on my own server is the ability to develop templates for different styles of tables, a feature that the free service doesn't support. I couldn't develop a paying business of formatting tables over the Web, as the author is already doing it for free.

[5] <http://www.twoclicks.com/cgi-bin/tabdemo.pl>

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Over the transom

Transoms are the little horizontal rectangular windows above office doors in many pre-WW-II office buildings. The story goes that desperate authors would clandestinly visit publishing houses and toss their usually unreadable manuscripts through the publisher's transom window. The publisher of a Net newsletter gets a large and ever-increasing volume of over-the-email-transom PR announcements and other loosely targeted semi-spam generated by freelance website developers and publicists. Herewith a sampling from this week's arrivals in TBTF's Eudora folder named "OTT."

[6] <http://www.shotpeener.com/>
[7] <http://www.stylemaster.com/>
[8] <http://rogue.northwest.com/~mushro19/>

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The Bandwidth Conservation Society

These guys [9] are serious about low-impact pages; the site is a tutorial and a resource center for the bit-stingy. Unclear when to use GIF and when JPEG? Don't know how to reduce the bit-depth of a GIF? Ever heard of CRLI (Consecutive Run Length Insertion), a way to reduce GIF sizes even further? Visit and learn.

[9] <http://www.infohiway.com/faster/index.html>

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Too many hits

Beginning in the afternoon of Saturday 1996-05-19, traffic on the TBTF Web site suddenly jumped three- or fourfold from its historical levels, and held at these levels for the next several days. I'd been accustomed to seeing over a hundred hits per day on average, representing perhaps 80 to 100 visitors, trending upward with the growing subscriber base (which recently crossed the 1000 mark). Suddenly the hit count soared above 400 each day. I wondered whether TBTF had gotten a favorable mention and a link from some high-traffic site. But a quick scan of the server logfile revealed the true picture: all of the excess hits were requests for one particular file, banned-newsgroups.txt. This was the list of 251 Usenet newsgroups that Compuserve censored in reponse to pressure from German prosecutors (see TBTF for 1995-12-31 [10]). The log revealed that those visitors who downloaded this file rarely if ever touched any other pages on the site. With the help of Alta Vista I quickly discovered several "sex on the Net" pages that linked my list. Judging from the suddenness of the traffic increase I assume that the list's URL was distributed Saturday morning on some mailing list or newsgroup.

I renamed the list on the TBTF site and repointed the internal links to it, then created a file named "banned-newsgroups.txt" consisting of a single space, to assure that the the actions of the world's adolescents would not balloon my site's error log.

[10] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1995-12-31.html>

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People know you're a dog

The famous George Steiner New Yorker cartoon [11] nonwithstanding, the Internet privacy provider Community Connexion has opened a public beta trial for the Anonymizer [12], a free service that lets anyone surf the Web anonymously. To try it visit [13] and type any URL. Alternatively, prepend <http://www.anonymizer.com:8080/>" to any URL in your browser's Go To URL dialog. Either way, you will thereafter leave no footprints on the Web. The Anonymizer works like a proxy server, with the added feature that you can prepend its URL to another; you need not configure it as a proxy in the browser's options (but this works too). Sites that you visit via the Anonymizer will log a request from "atropos.c2.org." The service strips out all the other personal information normally retrievable from your Web visit -- your ip address, browser type, computer type, referring URL, and email address -- before contacting the desired URL's server. (For a graphic demonstration of the information a server normally receives about you, visit [14] or [15].) The service anonymizes http, ftp, news, and gopher requests. For other types of requests, such as https (secure HTTP), the user is warned that anonymity cannot be maintained. Code for the Anonymizer was developed in 1995 by Justin Boyan <jab at cs dot cmu dot edu>; it has been in wide use on the CMU campus.

[11] <http://ryker.itech.cup.edu/~jsumey/humor/dogs.htm>
[12] <http://www.anonymizer.com/>
[13] <http://www.anonymizer.com/open.html>
[14] <http://www.anonymizer.com/cgi/snoop.pl>
[15] <http://www.patents.com/status.cgi>


>>Notes: I'll be travelling on business for a week. It's conceivable but unlikely that I'll be able to publish an issue of TBTF over that time; look for the next one on 1996-06-16. If you come to Comdex in Chicago, stop by the Atria booth (# W-1603) and say hello.


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______________________________________________________
Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.