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TBTF for 1998-06-08: You can see it from there

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Tue, 9 Jun 01:12:14 -0400


Contents


Government abdicates domain naming

Long-awaited domain name white paper ducks the controversial decisions

On Friday 6/5 the US government released its final policy paper on Internet domain naming. Last January its predecessor, the so-called green paper [1], had been prescriptive; the white paper [2] is laissez-faire. As many who commented on the green paper requested, the US government is not only getting out of the business of running the domain-name system, it is declining to decide the main questions as it hands over control to a private-sector organization yet to be formed.

If that's all they were going to do, why did they stall the whole process for a year doing it?

Almost everybody applauded the white paper -- even the people involved in the competing IAHC/POC/CORE process, which now appears dead -- probably because the paper takes no stands at all on the hard issues. Here are the questions on which the government punts:

The process of forming the new corporation has already begun [3]. Drafts of a proposed constitution and suggestions for the board's makeup have been circulating for several months in an effort led by the IANA's Jon Postel.

Whither Network solutions? Whereas the green paper had proposed leaving NSI with the authority to continue running the .com domain, the white paper devolves the issue onto the new corporation. NSI's stock price had been drifting down for six weeks in advance of the white paper's release, losing about 35% of its value to last Thursday [4]. On Friday the stock gained back 20% and rose a further 12% today.

We're in for a further long period of uncertainty before the questions around domain naming settle down.

[1] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/domainname130.htm
[2] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/6_5_98dns.htm
[3] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980605S0013
[4] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22869,00.html?tbtf

______

Sprint blows hot air

When Microsoft does this they call it "vaporware"

"Sprint's ION integrates voice, video, and data over one line," said a manager of technology services. "For small and medium businesses it leverages the playing field, giving them the capability to become a virtual corporation."
Perhaps it's unfair to pick on one snowflake of ignorant usage in a blizzard of flackery, but this example crystallizes Sprint's announcement's innocence of meaningful technical content. Yes, he really said "leverage." When you leverage the playing field, does it tilt?

Sprint plans service rollout for its Integrated On-Demand Network to 36 major U.S. cities this year and 24 more by the end of 1999 [5], [6].

ION's backbone will be the ATM network into which Sprint has so far sunk $2B. That the company expects to spend another $400M on this project over the next few years accounts for the dip in their stock price on announcement day. To reach small businesses outside the charmed center cities, or even -- gasp -- home consumers, Sprint will have to rely on ADSL to the curb. On this front they must anticipate stonewalling by incumbent regional phone companies less than anxious to sell them unconditioned copper. By the time they work out this classic last-mile problem, what will be the price disadvantage of ATM/SONET equipment vs. gigabit ethernet? Ten to one?

Sprint may roll out ION service to big businesses in major cities -- that's no trick even today. But small business and home consumers? My guess is never.

[5] http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0601/02aion.html
[6] http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/12684.html

______

Are we having a monopoly yet?

Gateway, NEC, IBM offer at least a modicum of choice

The Consumer Project on Technology sponsored a little experiment [7] in which a grad student called 12 dealers attempting to buy a single Pentium computer without Windows pre-installed. Score: zero for twelve.

Still, cracks are appearing in the Microsoft monopoly around the antitrust crowbar being wielded by the Justice Department and state attorneys general, as first noted in TBTF for 1998-05-25 [8].

Gateway was the first PC maker to announce [9] that it will sell computers with both Netscape and Internet Explorer preinstalled. Gateway has its own ISP and will customize Microsoft's Internet connection wizard to steer its customers in that direction as they set up online.

NEC is offering Windows 95 without Internet Explorer on the desktop [10]; both IE and Netscape will be available on a separate CD-ROM. The company claims to be making this move in response to demand from their business customers, who would prefer to start with bare silicon.

IBM will supply both Netscape and Microsoft browsers on its Aptiva desktops running Windows 98 [11], and like Gateway will customize the connection wizard to direct users to its own ISP service. Netscape will be the default browser for IBM's Internet service only until September, when the company will switch to IE, apparently because it's bundled with Windows 98 [12].

[7] http://www.essential.org/listproc/info-policy-notes/msg00303.html
[8] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-05-25.html#s02
[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22386,00.html?tbtf
[10] http://www.techserver.com/newsroom/ntn/info/052998/...
[11] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22588,00.html?tbtf
[12] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22840,00.html?tbtf

______

MCI proposes divesting backbone

But critics say "not far enough"

The proposed MCI merger with WorldCom has come under regulatory scrutiny because critics claim that the combined company would control 40% - 60% of Internet traffic. In order to speed the merger MCI has proposed selling its backbone Internet business to Cable & Wireless. The sale is contingent on the completion of WorldCom-MCI. Here is the original press release [13] and here is TechWeb's coverage [14]. Details of what is included in the $625M selling price are complicated (because MCI's Internet business, nay, the Internet itself at this level, is complicated). Here's my reading of what the proposed sale entails.

Vint Cerf and the Internet Architecture group stay with MCI.

The New York Times quotes spokesmen from both GTE and Sprint [15] (registration required) that they do not believe the proposed divestiture goes far enough to relieve concerns over backbone consolidation.

The Justice Department said the government will review the proposed MCI divestiture [16].

The European Union has indicated that the proposed merger will not be approved in Europe unless MCI comes up with another solution for divesting its Internet backbone [17].

[13] http://www.mci.com/news-news/headline-896341261.shtml
[14] http://www.techweb.com/investor/story/INV19980528S0002
[15] http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/f/AP-MCI-Internet-Sale.html
[16] http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/technology/story.html?...
[17] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/TWB19980605S0001

______

Indian atomic energy site cracked

Teenagers protest nuclear tests, destructively

Three teenage crackers, working together virtually from sites around the world, have claimed credit for breaking into and damaging an Indian atomic energy site, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre [18]. The gang claimed to have controlled six of eight computers on the *.barc.ernet.in domain for two days last week. They say they erased all information from two of the machines and captured 5 MB of email conversations and research data. The three said they wanted to register a protest against Indian testing of nuclear weapons, and warned Pakistani authorities to be on their guard. The crackers claimed they obtained root access to the Indian servers (using a recently discovered Sendmail vulnerability) in under 14 minutes. Here's a copy of the prank page [19] the crackers put up. The Indian site [20] at this writing is still presenting its underware to the world.

[18] http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/12717.html
[19] http://www.hektik.com/hacked/milw0rm12.html
[20] http://www.barc.ernet.in/

______

The news from Linux Expo

1500 geeks converge on Duke

The fourth annual Linux Expo transpired at Duke University the week before last [21]. Serious corporate users attended the affair, but its tone tended more towards science fair than corporate conference. Here are a pair of dispatches [22] from the Expo courtesy of David Sklar <sklar at student dot net> -- I've edited them only lightly.

Felix S. Gallo <fsg at ultranet dot com> wrote this account of a paintball match at which was decided the eternal question of which Unix text editor is objectively superior.

vi trounced emacs, 3-1, in a four-game paintball match. Apparently the emacs users were confused by the simple nature of their paintball equipment, or were stricken by carpal tunnel syndrome... Rumors that emacs really lost because their guns took 5 minutes to load, weighed 500 lbs, included an undecipherable and outmoded built-in scripting language, and had 19 different modifier keys next to the trigger, were deemed baseless. Commented one grinning vi user, ":1,$s/emacs/lunchmeat/g, baby!"
Red Hat Software organized and sponsored the conference and, according to Rick Treitman <rick at softpro dot com>, did a top-notch job of keeping all the Linux luminaries accessible. Red Hat released version 5.1 of its Linux package at the show and some open-source old hands grumbled because it was rushed and hadn't benefited from the customary degree of community pre-release scrutiny. Red Hat 5.1 includes, among its international language support, a redneck dialect -- dialog buttons don't say "OK," they say "I reckon so," and so forth. Community review would not have prevented this.

Treitman nutshells the conference as "geeky." He gives two examples of memorable attendees:

[21] http://www.linuxexpo.org/
[22] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/linuxexpo.html

______

Sixth Certicom challenge falls

Getting good at cracking elliptical-curve crypto

On 5/21 Robert Harley <Robert dot Harley at inria dot fr> announced [23] the defeat of the sixth in Certicom's series of crypto challenges. Harley's group has been first to overcome each of the Certicom challenges broken to date. (His note to me began: "'Nother one. Yawn.") This computation required the efforts of 200 Alpha machines, from desktops to servers, over a period of 25 days. As was Certicom's intent in setting these challenges, Harley's cracks are shedding light on computational efficiencies in attacking elliptical-curve problems, and on some areas that designers of EC cryptosystems had best avoid.

[23] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/certicom6.html

______

Sinistrality

The very symbol

For that special time when only the exactly correct graphical symbol will do, visit symbols.com [24], which claims to index

more than 2,500 Western signs, arranged into 54 groups according to their graphic characteristics. In 1,600 articles their histories, uses, and meanings are thoroughly discussed. The signs range from ideograms carved in mammoth teeth by Cro-Magnon men, to hobo signs and subway graffiti.
Its graphical lookup search [25] uses this odd indexing scheme:

(The use of "soft" to mean "curved" may be a British usage; the proprietors of symbols.com are in Sweden.)

Note added 1998-06-11: Simon Whitaker <simon at whitaker dot u-net.com> writes:
Speaking for Britain: Don't blame us guv -- a curve's a curve as far as we're concerned.

This classification scheme puts me in mind of the rules the protagonist lived by in John Barth's early novel The End of the Road [26]. Jake Horner suffered from a rare mental affliction of extreme indecision and was under the care of a quack, who inculcated in him the three rules for deciding anything. Just pick the one that applies for each situation.

[24] http://www.symbols.com/
[25] http://www.symbols.com/graphicsearch.html
[26] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385240899/tbtf/

______

Quick bits

A twisty maze of little items, all different

bul Web's inventor gets a MacArthur

Tim Berners-Lee received one of 29 "genius grants" recently awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [27]. He joins a very select peer group: only six MacArthurs have been awarded to computer scientists. The others are James H. Blinn, John H. Holland, Karl Sims, Richard Stallman, and Stephen Wolfram. Here is the complete list of honorees since 1981 [28]; I've put up the list in the TBTF Resources directory in handy tab-delimited Ascii form [29].

[27] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22643,00.html?tbtf
[28] http://www.macfdn.org/programs/fel/complete-list-6.htm#Part 6
[29] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/macarthurites.txt

bul Occasional

Win Treese has served forth a new number of the Internet Index [30]. If you have not made the acquaintance of this very occasional publication, welcome out from under your rock, and does the light hurt your eyes? The latest Internet Index concludes with this item:

Number of dogs I know with a URL on her name tag: 1
Perhaps by coincidence, the very first number [31], from July 1993, concludes with:
Number of people on the Internet who know you're a dog: 0
The reference is to this celebrated Steiner drawing [32] from the New Yorker earlier that year.

[30] http://www.openmarket.com/intindex/98-05-s.htm
[31] http://www.openmarket.com/intindex/93-12-s.htm
[32] http://ryker.itech.cup.edu/~jsumey/humor/dogs.htm

bul Excel 97's built-in flight simulator

Here's how to reach one of the more elaborate Easter eggs yet discovered in a commercial software package. It's present in Excel 97 as originally shipped with Office 97, but seems to have been removed before R1.

Open a new workbook in Excel 97
Press F5
Type "X97:L97"
Press Enter
Press Tab
Hold down Ctrl and Shift; click the Chart Wizard in the tool bar
Now fly. Steer with the mouse, accelerate and decelerate with the left and right mouse buttons respectively. Look for the monolith with the programming team's credits. You can exit the screen by holding down Ctrl and Shift and pressing Esc.

Thanks to Raven Brewster who had meant to send me this snippet but didn't.

bul Name game

Two of the remaining Big Six accounting firms are merging -- Price Waterhouse, meet Coopers & Lybrand -- to create the world's biggest consultancy. Out of a fair range of choices for naming the new entity, what do you suppose they settled on?

   PwC

I'm not making this up. It's perhaps an improvement over the last time two such big firms merged. From their universe of possible names they picked the ones that guaranteed they would be called Toilet & Douche.

______

Information dirt road

New neighbors

It's getting hard to find an unclaimed meta-name to use in domain name examples. Try using whatever.com -- but of course that's taken. So is yourname.com. And yournamehere.com. Is nothing sacred? Forget it, nothingsacred.com isn't available either. TBTF for 1998-03-09 [33] noted the exhaustion of the space of 2- and 3-character names. Four-character ones are going fast; all the .com names that are actual words were snapped up ages ago, in Net time.

Note added 1998-06-10: Scott Lawrence <lawrence at agranat dot com> wrote to point out the existence of an Internet Draft on the subject of Reserved Top Level DNS Names [33a].
IANA has a set of names reserved for just this purpose. IANA owns example.com, example.org, and example.net; the root DNS servers already contain these. It also proposes reserving the top level domains .example, .invalid, .test, and .localhost.

When I built my site in the far wild frontier of domain namespace, in 1995, there was nary another settler in sight. Face it, the land wasn't worth much back then. But the world encroaches. Look up and the frontier is fenced and scuffles are breaking out over water access and grazing rights.

Neighbors are moving in.

Mutual readers alerted me to a fellow in Connecticut who writes a column called Tales from the Bitstream for a local newspaper. Last December Jeff Schult <jschult at javanet dot com> plunked down good money for the adjoining lot at tftb.com [34], and now he's moved into the mobile home. Howdy, neighbor. Don't suppose you have any Grey Poupon? Didn't think so.

The local realtor delivers circulars, bad color on the cheapest newsprint, featuring grainy photos of adjoining lots for sale:

Available!

tbft.com -- steep 5-acre spread, power line right-of-way

ttbf.com -- go to where the dirt road peters out and turn left

tfbt.com -- sometimes a river runs through it

ttfb.com -- not quite the back of beyond but you can see it from there

[33] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-09.html#s08
[33a] http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-ietf-dnsind-test-tlds-09.txt
[34] http://www.tftb.com/

Notes

bul This issue was delayed as I made so bold as to behave for two weekends in a row like someone who has a life. More such weekends are in prospect; anticipate sporadic TBTF production into August.

bul Now a plug for my second unpaid job. My wife and I run Impatiens Press [35], publisher of fine paperback editions on dead trees. Our third title, Monhegan Memories, went to the printer today. This reminiscence of life on Monhegan Island, Maine, earlier in the century should, if there is justice in the world, take its place on the shelf of classic books about Maine. Visit this page [36] for a look at Monhegan if you are possessed of saintly patience or fat pipes; the link loads 223K.

[35] http://www.impatiens.com/
[36] http://www.mint.net/~aimless/monheg1.htm


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
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