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TBTF for 1997-08-11: Spam-free or die

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 10 Aug 1997 20:15:11 -0400


  • Policy Oversight Committee to expand -- The group overseeing the expandion of domain name space responds to community input

  • Ice worms -- In the Gulf of Mexico, five hundred meters deep, colonies of eyeless worms swarm over sea-floor outcroppings of methane ice

  • Smart dust -- Will the Next Big Thing be micromachines that can respond to the analog world?

Apple's new partner

I went to MacWorld Expo on Friday for old times' sake. The peak excitement was happening in the booth of Be Inc.; I left with a copy of the Be OS on a CD-ROM.

Steve Jobs did the best he could for Apple. No other move could have lent the company such support -- "removed the stink of death," as one analyst put it. The image that ran in all the newspapers was unfortunate: a 40-foot televised head of Gates towering over a live, but merely mortal, Jobs. If Gates had walked onstage in person the message would have been wholly different. This is what I had expected to happen based on anticipatory rumors. Adding to the Orwellian overtones of that image, on Friday Apple re-appointed TBWA Chiat/ Day, the ad agency responsible for its groundbreaking "1984" spot [1]. Wall Street liked the Microsoft partnership [2]: Apple stock gained over 50% in the days following the announcement. (One person of my acquaintence, lacking the courage of his convictions, now kicks himself for having bought a mere 100 shares of Apple after Amelio resigned.) The stock has since settled by 10%, but is still at its highest point in over a year [3]. Apple's new MacOs 8, which shipped on-time and bug-free, is the company's fastest-selling product ever, shipping 1.2 million copies in its first two weeks [4].

The clone makers aren't partaking of the OS8 bounty yet, as the parties are still negotiating over licensing terms. Persistent rumor in the weeks following Amelio's departure hinted that Steve Jobs was applying brakes to Apple's licensing strategy. It was said that Jobs favored moving the company in the direction of the Network PC (Larry Ellison's appointment to Apple's board has done nothing to dispel this notion).

What does the deal mean for Microsoft?

We'll give the last word to Forbes ASAP's George Gilder:

> With a $250 million check, Mr. Gates has managed to change the
> subject in the press from Microsoft's Java battle to a long-past
> conflict over desktop operating systems. But he has not shifted
> the tides of change. He has merely embarrassed Oracle's Mr. Elli-
> son by increasing the price of any purchase of Apple, and he has
> trumped Netscape by buying dominance for the Microsoft browser
> in the next Apple operating system.

Thanks to Mark Baker and Dan Kohn, who will recognize some of their thinking in the foregoing analysis.

[1] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0%2C4%2C13206%2C00.html
[2] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0%2C4%2C13189%2C00.html
[3] http://www1.nasdaq.com/scripts/quote.dll?symbol=AAPL&mode=Graph&range=24&ver=3
[4] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0%2C4%2C13222%2C00.html
[5] http://www.computerworld.com/news/970730javah.html
[6] http://www.computerworld.com/news/news_articles/970728moritz.html


Second-class search results

Back in March John Pike raised a fuss [7] about the indexing policies of Alta Vista, which at that time indexed only a small fraction of the pages in large sites -- the unwritten policy seemed to be a maximum of 300 pages for any site except the most popular ones. Pike's Federation of American Scientists site had 6,000 pages at the time and by dint of constant submittals to Alta Vista managed to get 600 of them indexed. Today the FAS site has grown to 13,000 pages, and Alta Vista has (apparently) changed its policy again, this time limiting pages listed to 40 -- responding to the continuing growth of the Web by sampling ever-thinner slices of it. Pike initially surmised that the limitation applied to .org sites, but in fact it's more widespread than that. Alta Vista lists 40 pages for tbtf.com (the nerve!) and for some other .com sites I checked. The TBTF site has over 200 pages, and Alta Vista used to list most of them (albeit not up-to-date). Here are the numbers of pages Alta Vista returned recently from a selection of searches for url:xxx.yyy.

fas.org 40privacy.org~79
epic.org 40harvard.net ~616
vtw.org 40eff.org ~911
cdt.org 40microsoft.com~1854
patents.com 40w3.org ~3905
polymer.com 40netscape.com ~4517
polymers.com 40sun.com ~4831
pureatria.com 40geocities.com~14427
tbtf.com 40yahoo.com ~32582
internic.net 41stanford.edu ~49274
aol.com ~78651

The number of visitors who arrive at TBTF from Alta Vista has dropped noticably in the last month, and the 40-page rule may explain why. I invited Alta Vista's architect, Louis Monier <monier at pa dot dec dot com>, to elaborate on the search site's indexing policy, but he did not respond.

[7] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-04-04.html#s08


"Death penalty" imposed on UUNet for condoning spam

A group of activist Usenet administrators imposed the Usenet Death Penalty [8], [9], [10] on UUNet Technologies, the Net's largest backbone carrier. All Usenet postings originating from UUNet addresses were cancelled over a period of more than a week. The UDP was imposed because activists viewed UUNet as insufficiently responsive and vigilant in fighting spam, both email and newsgroup. The final straw leading to the UDP was a message, now identified as a forgery, purporting to be from a UUNet administrator and stating that UUNet "does not have the resources" to deal with spam and that "other, more important matters take priority" [8]. UUNet says that its antispam policies have always been tough, and blamed the problem on its downstream ISP customers, including Earthlink and the Microsoft Network. The penalty was lifted when UUNet announced that it was adding three strict new policies against spammers [11], while insisting that its actions were not inspired by the UDP or the resulting national publicity. Uh-huh, yeh right. UUNet rumbled about taking legal action against the blockers, but was vague about what laws might have been broken.

[8] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,13122,00.html
[9] http://www.nando.net/newsroom/ntn/info/080797/info23_10799.html
[10] http://www.wired.com/news/news/culture/story/5829.html
[11] http://www.usa.uu.net/press/spampolicy.shtml


Java Mischief bug affects MSIE, Netscape, HotJava

This bug was discovered by Ben Mesander <ben at tiki-lounge dot com> in Microsoft's implementation of the Java Virtual Machine in Internet Explorer.

The bug allows a Java applet to establish a TCP/IP connection to an arbitrary host, something that should be impossible under Java's security model. Mesander's exploit page is here [12] and Microsoft's response here [13]. So far there is no fix for the bug. Mesander discovered on investigating further that the same or a similar bug may be present in the Netscape and HotJava implementations of the Java VM as well. Netscape is vulnerable only in certain HTTP proxy configurations. HotJava and MSIE are susceptible to subversion of their Java class loaders. The Macintosh platform is not affected.

Java Mischief becomes #12 in the TBTF list [14] of Microsoft security exploits uncovered in 1997. Thanks to Glen McCready for the forward.

[12] http://neurosis.hungry.com/~ben/msie_bug/
[13] http://www.microsoft.com/ie/security/javamischief.htm
[14] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/ms-sec-exploits.html


Policy Oversight Committee to expand

Continuing its stance of responsiveness to community suggestions, the group overseeing the IAHC process to expand the supply of domain names announced last week that it will enlarge its policy board [15]. By the end of 1997 the POC could expand by 3 or 4 members to include representatives from the ISP community and other interested organizations.

[15] http://www4.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/970806b.html


Ice worms

In the Gulf of Mexico, five hundred meters deep, colonies of eyeless worms swarm over sea-floor outcroppings of methane ice [16], [17]. Who knew? The ice worms form part of a previously undiscovered but hypothesized deep-sea ecosystem. Scientists believe that the worms are grazing on or living symbiotically with bacteria that colonize the ice mounds. Methane ice forms naturally at the high pressure and low temperature of the deep sea, but is normally buried in marine sediment. The Gulf of Mexico is one of the few places where the ice can be found exposed on the ocean bottom, occasionally in mounds six to eight feet across.

[16] http://www.apnet.com/inscight/07301997/graphb.htm
[17] http://www.eurekalert.org/releases/ice-worms.html


Smart dust

Paul Saffo, resident futurist at SRI, gave a talk at the CFP conference last March on his vision of the Next Big Thing: micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS. It turns out that the talk had been premiered at the Millenium Conference several weeks before [18]. Here is a summary, from the science-week mailing list, of a 7/26 Science News article on MEMS. The article itself is not online; the magazine posts only a small selection of its content.

> Material utilizing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) is
> almost sentient in that is can sense (strain, temperature,
> pressure, motion, etc.), actuate (push, squeeze, deflect,
> switch, etc.), communicate (with fibers, antennas, wires,
> etc.), and calculate (with microprocessors). Machines or
> even arrays of millimeter and micron-sized machines on a
> chip, made with integrated-circuit technology, are still
> at an early stage of deployment, but researchers foresee a
> micro-industrial revolution: clouds of meteorological smart
> dust sent to keep an eye on a hurricane, programmable sili-
> con cilia to sort blood cells or position tiny machine parts,
> and microflaps to control a plane's wing shape.

Note added 1997-08-11: Fred Baube <fred at kirjasto dot kaarina dot fi> writes to remind us that Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age provides an engrossing look at a society in which "smart dust" technology is old news.

[18] http://pele.nando.net/newsroom/ntn/info/030697/info21_1620.html


none Today's TBTF title tips the Tasty Hat to the state of New Hampshire, whose official motto [19], emblazoned on its license plate [20], has aroused patriotism, outrage, or mere bemusement in the hearts of motorists since 1971.

[19] http://webster.state.nh.us/nhinfo/emblem.html
[20] http://danshiki.oit.gatech.edu/~iadt3mk/jpglps/USA_NH_2_s.jpg


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none science-week -- mail prismx@earthlink.net without subject and with message: sub science-week Archive at < http://members.aol.com/sciweek/ > .

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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
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