NRC study calls for long-term research
The 9 October 1998 issue of Science carries news  (subscription required) of a National Research Council study funded by DARPA and the NSA. Its goal was to ascertain how we can increase the degree to which people trust the Internet. After 2 years the researchers have concluded that, with current knowledge, we can't. "We couldn't make [systems] trustworthy even if we wanted to," says the panel's chair, Cornell University computer scientist Fred Schneider. The report urges a long-term program of research -- which it notes is too risky to interest companies and thus must be supported by the federal government. A pre-publication draft of the report Trust in Cyberspace is online at  in the form of 22 MS Word documents. For a quick overview, download the three PowerPoint presentations (just over 100K total). Thanks to Lewis A. Shadoff, PhD for the pointer.
Deja vu all over again
The Child Online Protection Act, dubbed CDA II by its critics, was challenged ,  in court the day after being signed into law by President Clinton. The ACLU, EFF, and EPIC were joined by a dozen commercial and nonprofit organizations including the Internet Content Coalition, OBGYN.Net, Philadelphia Gay News, and Salon Magazine to kick off the court battle. Many of these same groups participated in the challenge to the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which was ultimately quashed by a unanimous Supreme Court. Supporters of CDA II attempted to write the legislation more narrowly in order to pass constitutional muster, and indeed experts agree that this law will be tougher to overturn than the CDA was. Here is a comparison of the provisions of the two statutes . CDA II is scheduled to go into effect on 1 November, but it could be enjoined by the federal court before that date.
Alexa technology, as used by Netscape, opens an alarming privacy hole
Once you click the button for the new What's Related? feature in Netscape Communicator 4.06 (or 4.5 beta), in its default configuration the browser sends the URL of every page you visit thereafter to a site owned by Netscape . Thus Netscape (and anyone packet-sniffing on the path between you and Netscape) acquires a complete list of every web page that interests you. The What's Related? button triggers an additional HTTP session with the host www-rl.netscape.com, which collects an electronic trail of your Web activity as you wend from site to site. To prevent this tracking, you have several options:
Matt Curtin's writeup  provides more detail, and it's chilling.
Trust-busting lessons beyond Rockefeller's Standard Oil
The invaluable David Warsh, a columnist whose usual territory is the currents of thought and turf battles among economists, has a surprise-filled column  in the Boston Globe, a barefoot run through the US government's antitrust actions in this century. It's commonplace now to compare Bill Gates with John D. Rockefeller, but the Standard Oil case is only Warsh's starting point. Did you know that Pierre DuPont owned General Motors and after his death in 1954 his family was forced to divest it? I didn't. If you want the long view of what the government must accomplish in the Microsoft antitrust case, read this column.
Microsoft's Java JIT compiler bungles tail recursion
A programmer from England has discovered a flaw in Microsoft's Java environment running in Internet Explorer under Windows. On 20 October Andrew Kennedy posted a note  to Java programming newsgroups showing that jview, Microsoft's command-line interface to its just-in-time compiler, calculates the factorial of 5 (i.e., 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 x 1) to be 16. Kennedy writes:
Pray the E16N word doesn't catch on
The title of this note is expanded from a barbarism uttered by an Intel representative and reported in The Register :
Airplane-borne HALO Network to provide city-wide WANs
The field of contenders grows ever more crowded in the bid to deliver megabits-per-second bandwidth to homes and businesses. Cable is in the lead  and ADSL is expected to grow quickly now that the local phone companies are, however reluctantly, embracing it , . Recently TBTF has covered satellite constellations  and fixed wireless solutions . Here is a look at another contender bidding to bridge the last mile.
HALO stands for High Altitude, Long Operation aircraft. St. Louis-based Angel Technologies ,  plans by the year 2000 to deploy custom-designed jets over Los Angeles. Each of three planes, flying an 8-hour shift, will scribe a 2.5-mile circle at 60,000 feet -- above air traffic and weather -- supplying multi-megabit bandwidth to a footprint 60 miles across, 24 hours a day. Consumers will be offered 1 to 5 Mbit/sec. service through their ISPs. Businesses can initially sign up for 12.5 Mbit/sec and eventually 155 Mbit/sec. The HALO aircraft, designed by Burt Rutan's company Scaled Composites , began flight testing in August and demonstrated 52 Mbit/ sec. wireless connectivity in September . At 40 KW radiated power in the 28 and 38 GHz bands, and broadcasting from 1/100th the distance of low-earth orbit satellites, HALO greatly simplifies the technical challenges of providing wireless connectivity. Cities can be brought online one by one, unlike LEO solutions whose constellations must be fully built out and deployed before serving their first customer. And the HALO approach makes upgrading equipment and service a no-brainer. For an excellent overview of the company's plans and technology, listen to this RealAudio interview with Angel's CTO Dr. Nicholas Colella . Thanks to John Kristoff for suggesting this topic.
Talk about spooky action at a distance
Doctors in Atlanta have implanted devices in the brains of two paralyzed patients that allow them to control a computer's cursor by thought alone . The patients are quite ill (one of them has since died) and the training they underwent to use the implants was extensive; the range of control they achieved was limited. But the team running the project is enthusiastic about the possibilities for the disabled opened up by this research.
The first time I was aware of work in this direction was in 1970, when a scientist at the then-Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) developed a helmet sensitive to brain waves and trained himself to move a cursor on a computer screen by saying aloud the words up and down. He then went further and refined the feedback such that he didn't need to say the words, but merely to think them. I never saw another word about this research; perhaps it went "deep black." If anyone remembers this work and can supply a citation, please drop me a note.
As the tee shirt has it, 186,000 miles per second isn't just a good idea -- it's the law. The idea behind Star Trek's warp drive (and uncountable other science fiction inventions) is to bend the fabric of space in order to circumvent this hard limit. It's been known since at least 1994 that space can, in theory, be warped to allow superluminal travel in the presence of negative energy -- that is, an object less massive than empty space. Now Ken Olum, a researcher at Tufts University, has proven that superluminal travel requires negative energies . In Olum's calculations objects and signals don't actually travel faster than light. Rather, the curvature of a spacetime near a negative-energy object is such that one can arrive quickly at distant places without violating the speed limit.
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Scientists at Caltech claim to have completed the first successful experiment in quantum teleportation . What they teleported was information. Using quantum entanglement (which means that if you tickle one the other laughs) they transported the characteristics of one beam of light to another across the laboratory. In effect they faxed a light beam. While entangled particles/waves react instantaneously to one another no matter the distance, it has been proven that no information can be carried faster than light by this means. The Caltech researchers in fact used a second, non-entangled beam of light to communicate the information gleaned from the entangled one's collapsed superposition of states.
Entangled quantum states were first postulated in 1935 by Einstein and two colleagues as the EPR Paradox . The implication that the quantum realm features instantaneous non-local causality profoundly disturbed Einstein: he derided it as "spooky action at a distance." AIP Physics News Update  describes three recent experiments that pin down the EPR effect with greatly increased precision. Sorry, Einstein.
We mine the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference for linguistic dross
Faithful correspondent Carol Yutkowitz was last heard from in December 1996  (well OK, maybe she's not all that faithful) when she reported on a virulent outbreak of fasgrolia  at Microsoft's PDC. Here she is again to tell us about the latest phraseological excess perpetrated on hapless developers at that forum.
This year at the conference, the Microsoft speakers all seemed to feel compelled incessantly to use the term "drill down." Inexplicably, this term was used in almost every presentation. It was used both as a verb, as in "we're going to drill down," and as a noun, as in "then we'll get to the drilldown"! Even this month's Microsoft Journal is graced with the banner, "NT 5.0 DrillDown!"
So what is this "drill down?" I searched the conference slides for quotes that might shed some light. And I got answers! Apparently, while it is "difficult to drill down on complex issues" it is not that difficult to "drill down into the Microsoft Repository Architecture." The Visual Studio Analyzer "does not drill down into code," but it does provide "easy drilldown" and can also be used to "ensure correct drilldown." What a relief! I wouldn't want my drill-down to be incorrect. Apparently you can also "drill into" things, as in: the "user clicks on '+' to drill into [a data item]."
And if you don't like drilling down, you can also drill up! The multi-dimensional data access query language (MDX) provides handy keywords so you can DRILLDOWNMEMBER and DRILLUPMEMBER and also TOGGLEDRILLSTATE.
The only explanation I can muster up is that Microsoft is about to acquire the American Dental Association. (Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend Windows NT for fighting tooth decay!)
The term OLAP itself was introduced in Providing OLAP to User Analysts: An IT Mandate written by E.F.Codd Associates; Distributed by Arbor Software. (That is the Codd who created the relational model of databases.) Now that Arbor has merged with Hyperion it seems to have disappeared from its former spot on the Web. OLAP was coined in contrast to OLTP -- OnLine Transaction Processing.
In brief "drill down" means "show more details." Here is an "official" definition from [33a]:
Drilling down or up is a specific analytical technique whereby the user navigates among levels of data ranging from the most summarized (up) to the most detailed (down). The drilling paths may be defined by the hierarchies within dimensions or other relationships that may be dynamic within or between dimensions. For example, when viewing sales data for North America, a drill-down operation in the Region dimension would then display Canada, the eastern United States and the Western United States. A further drill- down on Canada might display Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, etc.
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