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No immediate effect on consumer pricing, but long-term impact is uncertain
TBTF touched on the urban legend of the modem tax last year . Last week the FCC ruled in a long-pending case that calls to ISPs are essentially long-distance in nature, but left it up to the states to decide the validity of existing agreements for payments between telephone companies, which were largely negotiated on the opposite assumption. (Regulatory agencies in 24 states have ruled that ISP calls are local; the FCC's ruling overrides these findings.) Here is the FCC press release . News reports differed widely as to what the ruling actually said, let alone what it may eventually mean to charges for Internet usage. News.com headlined their coverage Bells win partial victory in ISP ruling  while the Industry Standard weaseled by with FCC Ruling to Affect ISP Calls . Sure, but how?
The commissioners were at pains to emphasize that the decision will not affect consumers' Internet phone bills. Some observers interpreted the ruling as the beginning of a slippery slope toward per-minute charges for Internet usage in the US. FCC Chairman William Kennard characterized such fears as "scare tactics"; he said the FCC is not regulating the Internet and will not do so as long as he is chairman. I believe he is being disingenuous. It may be true that you will never be charged per-minute rates for calls to your local ISP. But if your ISP ends up paying more to their phone supplier, because the Baby Bells stop paying that supplier, then you will pay your ISP more too. The crucial question for consumers is whether or not a meter is running, not who owns that meter. And a running meter will flat-out stop the Internet's growth in this country.
US spy agency has been reading other nations' cable traffic as if it were the morning paper
Bruce Schneier's CRYPTO-GRAM newsletter , always a compelling read for those interested in the technicalities or politics of cryptography, sends word of one of the great hacks of all time. It seems that over 50 years ago the US National Security Agency, in cooperation with its German counterpart, compromised CryptoAG, a Swiss manufacturer of cipher machines and other cryptographic products. Its customers were governments, embassies, military units, even the Vatican. The security agencies installed "back doors" in CryptoAG products (which reportedly worked by sending secret decoding keys along with each encrypted message) and for at least half a century have been reading the top-secret documents of 120 of the world's governments. Some countries tried to abandon CryptoAG but found their options limited -- the US had sometimes required purchase of particular machines as a condition for favors. Pakistan was allegedly granted American military credits with only one proviso, that it buy its encryption equipment from CryptoAG. The full, fascinating story ran in Covert Action Quarterly .
A new version of this venerable Windows NT trojan horse, and two new ones
TBTF for 1998-09-14  covered NetBus, a remote-control application implanted via a trojan horse program, like the better-known Back Orifice . The security firm ISS has updated their Windows trojan advisory with information about a new release, NetBus Pro 2.0, as well as two other recent trojans, Picture.exe and the Caligula macro virus. I've posted the advisory on the TBTF archive . NB2 communicates between client and server using TCP/IP on port 20034; this port numbers is now configurable. Its communications are now lightly encrypted.
The Web's code base is degrading and the prognosis is not good
Gary Stock <gstock at ingetech dot com> wrote with suggestions for speeding up TBTF's home page, and the ensuing conversation spotlighted a growing problem on the Web. Have you observed that some pages take much longer to render than their size and graphics footprint would suggest? Have you observed this happening more often of late than it did a year ago? You may be observing your browser's reaction to HTML smudging.
Stock's company InGenius Technology runs the Javelink  service, among others, and has occasion to download daily the HTML code for many thousands of Web pages. Stock has noted the tendency of code to degrade as it repeatedly passes through the hands, and the software, of people who do not know HTML. He identifies a couple of the factors at work:
Folks designing brand new pages are less interested in fundamentals such as solid HTML, and more concerned about appearance. For example, some pages might look cool but nest tables so deeply, or leave off so many row and cell closing tags, it's amazing they render at all.
Correctly structured HTML behaves better and renders faster. A browser's HTML parser is a wonder of programming, compensating for poorly structured HTML and, most of the time, managing to render it reasonably well. But it renders clean and unambiguous HTML faster. I followed Stock's advice and cleaned up the HTML code on TBTF's top page. The principal smudge that had crept in was inconsistently quoting the values of tag attributes. After the cleanup my Macintosh-based Navigator 4.04, with clean caches, loaded it on average in 7 sec. vs. the 13 sec. required for the "smudged" version. Try it yourself with these before  and after  versions, and let me know what you see. (If you write please include your OS, browser and version, and connectivity bandwidth.)
The solution to the problem of HTML smudging is not more bandwidth. Did unlimited address space make for better computer programs? Did cheap disk storage solve the problem of bloatware? The solution to HTML smudging is better HTML: that means better code generators, better code checkers, and better coders. What are the chances?
These little gems will open your eyes and change the way you surf
Finding analogies in previous peaks of Schumpeter's waves
Paul Harden <pharden at aoc dot nrao dot edu>, an amateur radio operator, wrote this account  of the ways in which the Titanic's tragedy was compounded by commercial infighting between two rival providers of radio telegraphy services. It is posted on the TBTF archive by permission. The analogy with the recent browser wars is suggestive, and we can only hope that in this instance interoperability standards will win out without the loss of life. Thanks to stig <stig at hackvan dot com> for forwarding this little-known tale.
Oh, you can read about the Schumpeter wave theory here .
Want data on domain-name creation dates? Act quick
TBTF for 1999-02-01  noted that Network Solutions has stopped providing the "date created" field for domain names in whois queries. Recently the E-LEGAL email newsletter from the law firm of Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C. (subscribe here ) carried timely news of a database that NSI seems to have forgotten. Enter at this query screen  and you can still get creation-date information -- for the moment.
A new regular feature brings this industry veteran's outspoken views to TBTF
Glenn Fleishman's name will be familiar to many readers of TBTF. He has contributed ideas and tips to this newsletter over the years, most recently the inventive book-search site isbn.nu , covered in TBTF for 1999-02-01 . You may have seen his writing in TidBITS, Adobe Magazine, or the New York Times.
For some years Glenn has been using the informal self-description "Unsolicited Pundit." He has just started producing columns under this rubric, and TBTF is proud to introduce and to host them. Here is Glenn Fleishman's Unsolicited Pundit #1 , which explores the recent controversy over Amazon's and Yahoo's pay for play policies.
Suggestion goes against the grain of the local nature of Siliconia
A presidential commission recommends doubling federal R&D spending over the next five years  (free registration and cookies required). Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems provided the headline-grabbing sound byte: "What we need to create is a Silicon Continent, not just Silicon Valley." If we do it'll put Siliconia  right out of business.
Meanwhile, on another continent, Simon Whitaker <simon at netcetera dot org> writes that the area around Newport in Gwent, South Wales is being called Cwm Silicon. ("Cwm" is Welsh for "valley," and Whitaker tells us it is pronounced somewhere between coom and come, depending on the speaker's point of origin.) The area has recently seen heavy investment by a Korean firm that has built a large semiconductor plant. Newport is also home to various tech orientated operations such as call centers (in one of which Whitaker's wife works in tech support). The local member of Parliament sports this Siliconium on his Web site .
You've got a friend in www.state.pa.us
Barrie Slaymaker <rbs at telerama dot com> forwards a story about Pennsylvania's new license plates, the first complete reissue since 1976 . The story quotes governor Tom Ridge: "License plates are 72 square-inch billboards advertising our state." That's one way to think about it. Emblazoned across the bottom of the new billboards  is the URL
Scientists slow light to 17 m/sec
On 18 February the New York Times ran the story of "slow light" on its front page  (free registration and cookies required) -- too bad they got so much of the science wrong. Read the summary in the AIP's Physics News Update  for a better idea of what happens when a Bose-Einstein condensate ,  of sodium atoms at 50 nanokelvins is primed with laser light and then zapped crosswise. Lene Vestergaard Hau and her colleagues at Harvard have created an effect they call "electromagnetically induced transparency" -- using the peculiar quantum characteristics of a BEC to allow a beam of light to propagate through the dead-opaque substance at one 20-millionth the speed of light in a vacuum.
More people sent me pointers for this story than for any since the Irish schoolgirl developed a crypto algorithm .
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Commercial use pro- hibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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Most recently updated 1999-07-13