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TBTF for 1998-04-27: Language is a virus

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Sun, 27 Apr 18:16:55 -0400


Contents


Netscape invokes the Mozillans in a patent fight

Calls on the armies of the Net to help find prior art

Last fall Wang sued Netscape for infringing a 1985 patent [1] that it claims covers the Save As command and the idea of bookmarks in a browser [2]. Now that Netscape enjoys the loyalty of tens of thousands of developers, it is asking this community for help in finding prior art to bust the patent. Netscape puts its request in provocative terms on the top page of mozilla.org [3], suggesting a connection between the lawsuit and Wang's recently expanded alliance with Microsoft. Neither news stories [4] nor discussion in the developer community [5] have turned up any indication that Microsoft actually has anything to do with this lawsuit.

In the early 1990s Wang was in Chapter 11 and seemed to be systematically mining its patent portfolio for revenue. The company sued a number of chip makers who it said infringed its patents on the SIMM technology widely used in memory modules [6]. In 1993 Wang filed against Kodak for infringing imaging software patents. On the same day Wang sued Microsoft over OLE technology used in imaging products from a Microsoft partner, Watermark, which was also named in the suit. Today's close Microsoft/Wang cooperation stems from discussions arising out of that lawsuit.

[1] http://www.patents.ibm.com/details?patent_number=4751669
[2] http://www.mozilla.org/legal/wangsuit.html
[3] http://www.mozilla.org/
[4] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,21472,00.html?pfv
[5] http://www.slashdot.org/articles/9842491146.shtml
[6] http://www.law.emory.edu/fedcircuit/jan97/95-1276.html

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ISPs are immune from content suits

Another court ruling affirms their "common carrier" status

A federal judge has ruled [7] that Internet service providers can't be sued in civil courts for the editorial content they carry. U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman's ruling was based on wording included in the Communications Decency Act that specifically exempts ISPs from liability for content. The ruling came in the libel suit filed by White House advisor Sidney Blumenthal against the Internet journalist Matt Drudge for a story in his Drudge Report. AOL was named in the suit because it carries that report; but of course Drudge's Web site can be accessed from any ISP. By going after AOL Blumenthal was invoking the Willy Sutton principle [8].

[7] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0%2C25%2C21406%2C00.html?pfv
[8] http://www.kennish.com/secureatm/

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Ganging up on Microsoft, part deux

In a tough week Redmond does OK in court

There hasn't been such a convergence of firepower on Microsoft since late last year [9]. Then, the Jusice Department filed a contempt of court motion when Microsoft reacted to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's antitrust order with a policy of "compliance with a raised middle finger," in the ringing phrase of the SJ Mercury News.

bul Feed. Feed magazine, smarting from the LA Times's scoop on Microsoft's stealth PR campaign [10], claimed it had obtained copies of some of the concocted letters prominent people were supposed to write to their local editors. Read them here [11], but please don't take the parody seriously.

bul Appeal. On 4/21 Microsoft met the DoJ in court before a 3-judge panel [12] and argued its appeal of the December 11 ruling and of Jackson's appointment of a special master in the case. The company had pulled its now predictable last-minute marketplace concession by announcing its firm intention to ship a Windows 98 version without Active Channel Bar [13] (as mentioned aside in TBTF for 1998-03-09 [14]). Observers agreed [15] that the judges handled the DoJ lawyers far more roughly than Microsoft's.

bul Dole. The anti-Microsoft lobby fronted by Bob Dole, mentioned in TBTF for 1997-12-27 [9], has come out shooting. It's called ProComp [16] and in the effort Dole is joined by Robert Bork, one of the men who didn't make it to the Supreme Court bench on Ronald Reagan's watch. Just don't call them Bole and Dork.

Note added 1998-04-27: This issue as published mistakenly claimed that Bork had been rejected for the Supreme Court in the Nixon era. Thanks to Greg Aaron <aaronsf at ix dot netcom dot com> for setting the record straight.

bul Nader. On 4/20 consumer activist Ralph Nader and his colleague Jamie Love took a broad look [17] at Microsoft's business practices and global strategy in the Cato Institute's Policy Forum on Antitrust and Microsoft. They reminded us of the days when competition was hot in the DOS market, when Microsoft was rumored to manipulate features of the OS to the detriment of its competitors:

Microsoft has done this for a long time, going back to the days when programmers coined the phrase, DOS isn't done until Lotus won't run.
bul Bluescreen. Also on 4/20, the demo gods were not smiling on Bill Gates at Comdex as Windows 98 blue-screened while he was demonstrating its ease of use in the keynote address [18]. Hate it when that happens. Here's a QuickTime movie [19] (1.6 MB). I've keyframed it for the bandwidth-challenged [20] (60K).

bul Caldera. An overlooked lawsuit dating from those long-ago days of DOS competition is re-emerging as the one to watch. Caldera, who nowadays sells a commercial Linux product, also owns the rights to DR-DOS. Caldera sued Microsoft over its tactics leading up to the total dominance of DOS and its sublimation into the new operating system, Windows 95. This summary from NC World magazine [21] nicely wraps up the case so far. Thanks to Jimmy Liberato <liberato at cs dot nps dot navy dot mil> for pointing out this lawsuit.

Caldera Inc... has been engaged in a long-running court battle with Microsoft over anti-competitive practices in the DOS market. Caldera was recently allowed by the court to amend its complaint to include the allegedly illegal bundling of DOS with Windows 95 in order to eliminate DOS competition. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications, even into the world of network-centric computing.
[9] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-12-24.html#s01
[10] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-04-13.html#s01
[11] http://www.feedmag.com/html/feedline/98.04higgenbotham/...
[12] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/msftdoj/TWB19980420S0024
[13] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/afternoon/0,1012,1916,00.html
[14] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-09.html#s09
[15] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/daily/0,1237,101980421-microcourt,00.htm
[16] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,21246,00.html?pfv
[17] http://www.essential.org/antitrust/ms/catoapril20.html
[18] http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9804/20/gates.comdex/
[19] http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9804/20/gates.comdex/gates.30.160.mov
[20] http://www.tbtf.com/pics/win98blue.jpg
[21] http://www.ncworldmag.com/ncw-02-1998/ncw-02-caldera.html?caldera

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The smoking gun of "lawful access"

When can government agents dispense with the nicety of a search warrant?

Since the days of the Clipper Chip John Gilmore has been wondering why agents of the US government were always so careful to use the phrase "lawful access" when talking about recovering users' secret keys. Did they mean a warrant issued by a judge? Then why didn't they ever say that? Now Gilmore believes he has found his long-sought loophole in Executive Order 12333 [22], signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. This so-called "keystone document" redefined the US intelligence community. The salient portion for Gilmore's analysis is:
Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791)
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

2.5 Attorney General Approval. The Attorney General hereby is delegated the power to approve the use for intelligence purposes, within the United States or against a United States person abroad, of any technique for which a warrant would be required if undertaken for law enforcement purposes, provided that such techniques shall not be undertaken unless the Attorney General has determined in each case that there is probable cause to believe that the technique is directed against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.
If the Attorney General affirms a belief that you are a foreign agent, then you have no right under the US Constitution to security in your person, house, papers, and effects. This is the law of the land. And remember that the FBI justified its years-long surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr., predating this Executive Order, on the grounds of suspicion that he was acting for a foreign government.

[22] http://www.tscm.com/EO12333.html

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Is Pretty Good good enough?

As PGP has moved from freeware to buttoned-down corporate, some cypherpunks are re-examining its trustworthiness

Phil Zimmermann's freeware program Pretty Good Privacy was the Promethean gift of strong cryptography early in this decade [23]. Its source code was published from the first so that those knowledgeable in such matters could assure themselves that the crypto was strong and the code contained no back doors to compromise security. Someone, not Zimmermann, posted PGP to the Net in 1991. In 1993 the Justice Department commenced an investigation into whether Zimmermann had broken any US laws in this affair -- though no one doubted his claim that he was not the one who posted PGP. After the DoJ dropped its case in 1996 Zimmermann formed PGP, Inc.; the company continued to publish full source code and to distribute a free version of PGP. It was when PGP, Inc. was acquired by McAfee Associates last December [24] that dyed-in-the-wool cypherpunks began questioning whether PGP deserved their continuing trust. When the newly merged company, called Network Associates, acquired Trusted Information Systems in February [25] the doubts multiplied.

Now Tom Paine <pnet at proliberty dot com> has put together an exhaustive analysis and resource list [26] on PGP, Inc. and its roots in Zimmermann's freeware program. It aims to answer the question "Can we trust PGP, Inc.?" -- or at least to provide research sources so that you can answer this question for yourself. Along the way you get a pretty good tutorial in the technology of public-key encryption, why factoring is hard, what key recovery means to personal privacy, background on the Key Recovery Alliance, insight from SEC filings on who controls PGP's new corporate master, etc. The site also addresses matters of more practical import to everyday users, such as: Which version of PGP should you use? What compatibility issues exist with older versions of the software? Why should you use encryption even if it's not perfect? The perspective is that of the hardcore, skeptical cypherpunk and the research is thorough and orderly.

My own view? I still trust PGP and use its commercial version 5.5.1. But I'm watching, following the only piece of advice Ronald Reagan ever uttered with which I unconditionally agree: Trust, but verify.

[23] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-01-14.html
[24] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-12-08.html#s01
[25] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-02-23.html#s01
[26] http://proliberty.com/references/pgp/

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The TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame

Bestowing raspberries on sites that can't be bothered, since 1997

unfriendly

So many exclusionary sites, so little time. Readers have been busily sending in nominations for the Hall of Shame [27] to shine a spotlight of (we hope) unwelcome publicity on the lazy or mean-spirited Web site owners who refuse to welcome all of their visitors equally. New additions are:

[27] http://www.tbtf.com/exclusionary.html

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How to write for an intranet

The Web is not like paper. Explore the ramifications here

Dan Bricklin <danb at trellix dot com> has thought a lot in recent years about authoring for hypertext environments. His company [28] makes tools to ease this very task [29], [30]. Now Bricklin has put up a new site, Good Documents [31], for discussion on how to write business documents for intranets and the Internet. I don't know of another site with such a sharp focus on presenting information written by an individual to convey ideas and knowledge to others, and not on the mechanics, formatting, or tools of Web construction. Do pay a visit, and contribute to the discussion, if you care about writing for this new medium.

[28] http://www.trellix.com/
[29] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-07-21.html#s04
[30] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-23.html#s06
[31] http://www.gooddocuments.com/

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Language is a virus

And I got it bad

When the only tool you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. The whimsical Foundation for the Mis-Application of Computer Languages [32], creation of Alex Hunsley <lard at tardis dot ed dot ac dot uk>, celebrates the use of hammers to pound in earthworms. A perfect example is a Unix text editor implemented by FoMCoL member-in-good-standing Claudio Calvelli <clc at assurdo dot com> [33] using nothing but /bin/sh and /bin/dd [34]. Calvelli has also built a Turing machine from the same unlikely timber [35]. The site for these unnatural acts sports a domain name from the island of Saint Helena: dd.sh.

I picked up the FoMCoL reference from Need to Know [36]. Anyone who followed each link in a single issue of NTK would surely go mad.

In closing, a few examples from my extensive historical collection of email signatures (no .sig? go .fig) clustered around languages and text editors.

The last good thing written in C was Franz Schubert's Ninth Symphony.
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Why do I like Perl? Because "in accordance with Unix tradition Perl gives you enough rope to hang yourself with." Why do I dislike Java? Because "the class ROPE that should contain the method HANG to do the hanging with doesn't exist because there is too much 'security' built into the language."
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Disclaimer -- These opiini^H^H damn! ^H^H ^Q ^[ .... :w :q :wq :wq! ^d ^X ^? exit X Q ^C ^? :quitbye CtrlAltDel ~~q :~q logout save/quit :!QUIT ^[zz ^[ZZZZZZ ^vi man vi ^@ ^L ^[c ^# ^E ^X ^I ^T ? help helpquit ^D ^d !! man help ^C ^c :e! help exit ?Quit ?q CtrlShftDel "Hey, what does Stop L1A d..."
[32] http://www.tardis.ed.ac.uk/~lard/fomcol/
[33] http://www.tdv.com/html/claudio_c.html
[34] http://dd.sh/ex/
[35] http://dd.sh/turing/
[36] http://www.ntk.net/

Notes

W.S.Burroughs bul This week's TBTF title comes from William S. Burroughs [37], who died last August at 83 [38] after a life of prodigal excess. Laurie Anderson took inspiration from Burroughs for the song "Language is a Virus from Outer Space" [39]. When I saw her perform in 1984 she had Burroughs on the stage, narrating "Sharkey's Day" in his inimitable flat midwestern smoker's lash of a voice.

[37] http://www.bigtable.com/primer/
[38] http://www.tcf.ua.edu/wlt4/wsb.htm
[39] http://www.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/SID=667396952/pagename=/...ram


Sources

bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html.


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

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