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TBTF for 1998-07-27: Passionate intensity

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Sun, 26 Jul 23:21:52 -0400


CDA-II: the second coming

A revived Communications Decency Act passes the Senate

Last year, four days after the Supreme Court nuked the Communications Decency Act, TBTF for 1997-06-30 [1] carried rumors of the birth of its successor. After 11 months vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, on 23 July the Son of CDA was born [2]. Surprise: it's twins. Both came attached to an appropriations bill for Commerce, State Department, and Justice spending, which passed unanimously on a voice vote with no debate.

Sen. Dan Coats introduced an amendment to ban "commercial distribution on the World Wide Web of material that is harmful to minors." CDA II is substantially the same as its predecessor, with the phrase "harmful to minors" replacing the earlier "indecent." (This took 11 months?)

Sen. John McCain's Internet School Filtering Act would require that any school or library receiving federal funds for Internet access install censorware on its computers. Fortunately, the act explicitly forbids any government agency from any role in selecting what is filtered.

The Mining Company has a good, sarcastic summary of the bills [3] -- thanks to Monty Solomon for the link.

[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-06-30.html#s02
[2] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/news_display/0,1270,1197,00.html
[3] http://civilliberty.miningco.com/library/weekly/mcurrent.htm


Dead in the water

What was Windows NT doing onboard a disabled Navy ship?

Government Computer News reports [4] on accusations by a civilian engineer who works on Navy ships that battle cruisers in the Navy's Smart Ships program have been disabled by malfunctions in their networks of Windows NT computers. The Aegis missile cruiser Yorktown last fall suffered a ship-wide system failure that apparently spread from a divide-by-zero error resulting from incorrect user input. The ship's propulsion systems failed and it couldn't leave the dock at Norfolk, VA; the repair took two days. While the engineer quoted in this original article [4] could be characterized as disgruntled, the substance of the story has since been corroborated by others in the Navy's Smart Ships program

Smart Ships is intended (among other goals) to enable ships to run more efficiently with less manpower. The Navy reduced the Yorktown's crew by 10 percent and saved more than $2.8 million a year from automation. The ship uses dual 200-MHz Pentium Pros from Intergraph Corp. running Windows NT 4.0 over a fiber-optic LAN. NT applications aboard the Yorktown run the ship's control center on the bridge, monitor the engines, and provide damage control and navigation support.

Wired's coverage of this story [5] emphasizes the question of why NT was chosen for such a mission-critical application. This paper [6] by John Kirch compares Unix and NT systems in great depth and concludes:

Why Windows NT Server 4.0 continues to exist in the enterprise would be a topic appropriate for an investigative report in the field of psychology or marketing, not an article on information technology.
Thanks to David Mankins for pointing out this story and to Jon Cox for the Kirch cite.
Note added 1998-07-29: Steve Singleton <singleto at norfolk dot infi dot net> sent this note:
Thanks for the story on the USS Yorktown. Is it a coincidence that Bill Gates nominated the Navy and the ship for a technology innovation award for it's integration of NT in the Smart Ship program? Unfortunately, this is only one problem. The GAOs recent slamming of the Navy for failure to adequately address Y2K problems and problems for the Navy's network-centric "cooperative engagement capability" [6a] does not bode well for our ability to "downsize" crews by technology innovation.

[4] http://www.gcn.com/gcn/1998/July13/cov2.htm
[5] http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/13987.html
[6] http://www.kirch.net/unix-nt.html
[6a] http://www.pilotonline.com/military/ml0708cec.html


TidBITS sues a spammer

First to court under Washington anti-spam law

The venerable online publication is based in Washington and so can take advantage [7] of that state's anti-spam law [8]. TidBITS editor Adam Engst estimates that the publication has received nearly 100 copies of the "Bull's Eye Gold" spam from WorldTouch Network since the anti-spam law went into effect on June 11. Under the law they could ding the company $50,000 worth, which should act as a splendid deterrent. News.com has picked up the story [9].

[7] http://www.tidbits.com/tb-issues/TidBITS-439.html#lnk2
[8] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-30.html#s02
[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,24544,00.html?tbtf


 _   _
[ x x ]
 \   /
 (' ')

Windows users may experience a little turbulence

Back Orifice will open Net-connected machines to a new level of threat

At next week's Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas, the Boston-based hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow plans to release Back Orifice [10], a self-contained, self-installing utility that allows a user to control and monitor Net-attached computers running Windows.

Read "Back Orifice" as "gaping backdoor into the system" and you begin to get the idea.

The programmer who developed Back Orifice, who goes by the moniker Sir Dystic, claims to have written a 120K server that attaches to any executable, starts up with the machine, runs undetectably, and renders the machine remotely manageable by an encrypted command stream. Control is claimed over the file system, registry, process list, password store, and more. BO is said to include a built-in HTTP server so that you can peruse directories and download files using any browser. (Though how you send encrypted commands from Netscape is a question.) The utility also contains a packet sniffer, screen grabber, and keystroke monitor/capture package. You can set which port it listens on, handy for penetrating firewalls.

About the only way you'd know a machine on your network had had a Back Orifice inserted would be to catch some undecipherable traffic going by on an unexpected port.

Clearly such a utility has legitimate uses, but they are not why it will become widely known.

The Cult of the Dead Cow was in the news recently when one of its members interviewed [11] the leader of the Hong Kong Blondes, a Chinese hacking group fighting for human rights. (They're rumored to have disabled a satellite.) Wired picked up the story [12].

Thanks to Tim Byars for the news on Back Orifice.

[10] http://www.cultdeadcow.com/news/back_orifice.txt
[11] http://www.cultdeadcow.com/cDc_files/cDc-0356.html
[12] http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/13693.html


Interplanetary Internet

Global TLDs got nothing on these babies

One of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, said that plans are underway to design an interplanetary Internet [13]. NASA is likely to take Internet equipment on its Mars mission and is considering leaving an interplanetary gateway in orbit when the mission is done. Cerf joked about new solar-level domains such as .earth and .mars, but indicated he wasn't kidding about the coming interplanetarization of the Net. (Let's just agree now to say "I20N.") One of the problems to be solved is the choice of underlying transport. TCP/IP doesn't take kindly to 6-hour roundtrip traffic. Cerf said more announcements will be forthcoming in the week of August 3. Tune in to tbtf.com.earth.solsystem.milkyway.localgroup.greatattractor for breaking news.

Note added 1998-10-15:
Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> sends these links as followup to the announcement of InterPlaNet: from dawn [13a], CMP [13b], and Nando [13c].

[13] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980722S0004
[13a] http://dawn.com/daily/19980815/int12.htm
[13b] http://www.planetit.com/techcenters/docs/Internet_&_Intranet/...
[13c] http://www2.nando.net/newsroom/ntn/info/072898/info22_25236_noframes.html


Microsoft withdraws from Korean word processor deal

Outraged users chip in to keep Microsoft competitor afloat

Microsoft has abandoned its efforts to buy the Korean word processing market (see TBTF for 1998-06-29 [14]) from Hangul & Computer Co. The cash-strapped company was negotiating for a $20M investment from Microsoft, with the software giant insisting that Hangul withdraw its popular word-processing software in favor of Microsoft Word, which has a market share below 10%. Outraged Korean computer users organized what amounted to a country-wide bake sale: some 13,000 users promised to invest up to $7.8M in Hangul. A company spokesman said "Our talks with Microsoft are now over." A Bloomberg News story claims that Korean is the only language in which Microsoft Word competes where it is not the dominant word processor.

[14] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-06-29.html#s08


An aggregator of co-location space

Continuing consolidation in the Net's infrastructure

Switch and Data Facilities [15] has gone into the business of leasing floorspace in the regional Bell companies' switching centers and subletting it in small chunks to ISPs and competitive local-exchange carriers [16]. In this consolidation strategy it is following in the footsteps of Sage [17], which is buying up hosting companies, and RCN [18] which (among many others) is agglomerating ISPs. (RCN just bought another one: JavaNet in western Massachusetts [19].)

[15] http://www.switchfacilities.com/
[16] http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/980716g.html
[17] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-05-25.html#s04
[18] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-02.html#s05
[19] http://www.internetnews.com/Reuters/rcn.html



Seeing and being seen

The Atlantic Monthly [20] has a map by a couple of University of Kentucky geographers who walked three square blocks in midtown Manhattan looking for video cameras. The map [21] shows six dozen cameras that gaze over pretty much the entire urban area surveyed. Is this a bad thing? A couple of years ago I heard David Brin talking on the subject that would become his book The Transparent Society [22], [23]. In person he convincingly, if shrilly, forces listeners to question their assumptions about privacy and surveillance. It all turns on the question of who gets to watch. Brin's closely argued book picks out a path to a future in which our freedoms are enhanced because all public space is under observation by all of us.

Keith Bostic passed on the Atlantic cite -- thanks.

[20] http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jul/count.htm
[21] http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jul/largemap.htm
[22] http://www.wired.com/wired/4.12/transparent/index.html
[23] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=020132802X



The weight of information

In last month's Scientific American the Morrisons did the mother of all BOTECs: a dizzying run through all the work of humankind to arrive at an estimate of its size in bits [24]. The ancient library at Alexandria's 600K scrolls amounted to about 50K books. Today the Library of Congress holds around 20M books, worth 20 terabytes in the currency of information. Add in several petabytes (thousand trillion bytes) of sound recordings. Figure less than 100 terabytes a year for new books and newspapers worldwide. A century's worth of movies add a petabyte to the total and all the snapshots ever taken a further 10 petabytes. The most radiant sources in the information universe are television (100 petabytes a year) and telephony (several thousand petabytes, or exabytes, of audio data annually). Very roughly 100 petabytes of information, mostly TV, is recorded in a form that is (or will be) retrievable.

[24] http://www.sciam.com/1998/0798issue/0798wonders.html


Year 2000 corner

bul Wall Street is Y2K-OK in early readiness test

The Securities Industry Association recently mounted a test [25] involving all the major stock exchanges, 29 brokerage firms, and trading corporations, who executed simulated trades dated from December 29, 1999 through January 3, 2000. Nothing failed. All of the organizations involved had done their own Y2K compliance remediation and testing before the joint test. An even larger-scale test is scheduled for the first quarter of 1999.

[25] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,24586,00.html?tbtf

bul Y2K book reaches best-seller status

The book Time Bomb 2000 [26], cited in TBTF for 1998-05-25 [27], early this month achieved best-seller status -- of a sort. On July 5 the book made the NY Times top-5 list of paperback business publications. This list runs occasionally in the Money and Business section, not weekly in the book review, and isn't what people usually mean when they say "best seller." Still, the publisher was pleased [28].

[26] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=0130952842
[27] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-05-25.html#s08
[28] http://www.year2000.com/releases/NFprenhall_7_16_1998.html


Geek code interpreter

Say it loud: I'm a geek and I'm proud

You've seen them in people's email signatures and on Web pages. Here's the tool that lets you in on the secret: The Geek Code Interpreter [29]. Try this example:

  Version: 3.1
  GCS/E/S d-@ s:- a-- C++$ UL++++(S$)(H$) P+ L++>+++ E+>+++ W++>+++
  N+ o? K++ w- !O !M V PS++(+++) PE++ Y+ PGP>++ !t 5? !X !R tv---
  b+++ DI++ D+ !G e++>++++ h(+) r+%
  ------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------ 
No, this isn't my geek code -- I suppose not having one shows an essential lack of geeknicity -- it belongs to Dan Fain [30]. And here's the gospel, the definition of Geek Code 3.2 by its inventor, Robert A. Hayden [31].

[29] http://www.ebb.org/ungeek/
[30] http://www.gg.caltech.edu/~fain/personal/geek-code.html
[31] http://www.geekcode.com/


bul This week's TBTF title comes from W. B. Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" [32], [33], which gets a nod or two in the leadoff article.

[32] http://heplinux1.uta.edu/~sawyer/wbyeats_second_coming.html
[33] http://www.webgenus.com/voflynn/image6.html

bul There will be no TBTF next week. Beginning August 10 I expect to resume a regular weekly schedule.


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.