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TBTF for 1999-06-14: Manifold

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
mon, 14 Jun 15:44:31 -0400


Contents


Light shining on Echelon

International anger over reports of industrial espionage

Australia: The widely reported Echelon network [1], child of the NSA and the rumored UKUSA agreement, took a step out of the closet when the director of Australia's Defence Signals Directorate openly admitted [2] that his country participates in UKUSA.

US: Members of the House of Representatives demanded that the NSA reveal what guidelines protect citizens' privacy from Echelon; but NSA refused [3] on grounds of attorney-client privilege. To the best of my knowledge this is the first such claim in the 200-year history of Congressional oversight of administrative agencies [4]. Representative Bob Barr introduced an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (H.R. 1555) that requires the director of central intelligence, the director of the NSA, and the attorney general jointly to prepare a report detailing the legal standards used to initiate and gather domestic intelligence. The House approved the amendment on 13 May before sending the bill to the Senate.

Germany: The cabinet released a policy statement [5] encouraging its citizens to use encryption without restriction. Without mentioning Echelon by name, the statement nods in its direction. Here are an English translation [6] and Wired's coverage of the story [7].

Sweden: The Foreign Department is investigating the claims of industrial espionage in the European Parliament's IC2000 report [8]. (The text downloads 332K. Turn off graphics to avoid another 761K; the graphics add little to the report.) This Datateknik story [9] tells the tale (in Swedish).

Note added 1999-06-17: Olle Larsson <larsson at mcs dot anl dot gov> kindly supplied this quick translation, which I have edited lightly.
According to the report Interception Capabilities 2000 (IC2000), US National Security Agency (NSA) has been using signal-snooping technologies to acquire sensitive internal information from European companies (Thompson and Airbus). This information has later been turned over to American companies, causing uneven competition for important contracts.

"We will look closer into this matter. Should it turn that the allegations are true, it would be most severe. Our problem however is to first find out whether the allegations are true or not", says Niklas Johansson of the Swedish Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) have been working for some time already to find out whether Swedish industry is being attacked by foreign industrial espionage. They have not yet reported any claims similiar to those stated in IC2000.

IC2000 was brought to the medias attention a couple of weeks ago, not only in Europe but also in the US. It has caused some major high-level political discussions in Denmark. The report, which can be found in its entirety at [1], describes in detail the signal-snooping, how it works and how it was built up during time. There are now 120 satellites listening in on traffic from the telecommunications networks and Internet: even optical cables that span across the ocean floors are attacked. The report states that individuals can be identified with the help of voice recognition. Thanks to very-large scale data mining, the important pieces of information can be extracted.

Some 30 countries, including Russia and China, are using advanced signal-snooping intelligence, according to the report. It is estimated that about $18-23 billion are spent yearly worldwide. The US-lead Echelon project, a global network with UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the key participants, accounts for most of that cost.

This kind of espionage has been known for a fact for a long time, but what's relativiely new and politically sensitive is that the information is being used for industrial and commercial purposes. IC2000 states several examples:

  • Reports from Australia state that information has been used during coal and steel trade negotiations with Japan
  • The American-based Raytheon Corporation (which among other thing is responsible for maintaining the espionage satellites), got a contract worth 100s of million USD from Brazil, after espionage revealed a competitive offer from a non-US company. (Soon after, the competing company got accused for having tried to bribe ministers of the Brazilian government.)
  • Fax and telephone traffic between Airbus and the Saudi Arabian government and Saudi Arabian airline were tapped, revealing that Airbus had been bribing Saudi Arabian officials. The information was passed on, and the $6 billion-contract eventually went to Boeing and McDonnel Douglas.

IC2000 reports several other cases where the American government has been using information acquired by its security agencies to help US-based companies, ranging from details about the upcoming new Japanese rules for vehicle emissions, to the GATT negotiations.

The basic question whether these controversial allegations are true or not remains. It it also unclear how the European Parliament would handle it, should it turn out to be true. Officials have said that it is still unclear whether the Parliament will even consider processing IC2000 or taking an official position on the level of truth in the report.

Last year, the US signal-snooping caused a major debate during the discussions concerning US-EU collaborations. IC2000 will surely add some fuel to upcoming discussions on this matter.

IC2000 was prepared and authored by the European Parliament's Scientific and Technical Options Assessment program office. It's not yet known whether or not any of the governments within EU have taken an official position on the report.

[1] http://fly.hiwaay.net/~pspoole/echelon.html
[2] http://www.theage.com.au/daily/990523/news/news3.html
[3] http://www.fcw.com/pubs/fcw/1999/0531/web-nsa-6-3-99.html
[4] http://www.worldnetdaily.com/bluesky_exnews/19990604_xex_us_spy_agenc.shtml
[5] http://www.bmwi.de/presse/1999/0602prm1.html
[6] http://jya.com/de-crypto-all.htm
[7] http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/20023.html
[8] http://www.iptvreports.mcmail.com/interception_capabilities_2000.htm
[9] http://www.datateknik.se/arkiv/99-10/frame3.html

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Worm tracks

bul Worm.Explore.Zip worm packs a devastating payload

This one is bad. Discovered last Monday in Israel, Worm.Explore.Zip [10] has spread with Melissa-like speed and infected Motorola, GE, Intel, Microsoft, and other companies, some of whom shut off email service on Thursday. Like Melissa, and like PrettyPark (see below), this worm relies on victims using Windows machines to execute an email attachment. When they do it mails a friendly message to everyone in the victim's in-box and then destroys all files with extensions .h, .c, .cpp, .asm, .doc, .ppt, or .xls on any mounted drive, by setting their file length to zero. You might be able to recover parts of a file using a disk editor but it would be difficult and time-consuming. (The worm can't execute on Macintosh or Unix, but these systems could lose files if mounted in a Windows network.) For the immediate future, don't execute any email attachment you receive named zipped_files.exe; and update your anti-virus profile. Thanks for the heads-up to TBTF Irregular [*] Karl Hakkarainen <kh at ultranet dot com>, who notes of his employer: "We'll be crawling over the rubble of this one for quite a while."

Note added 1999-06-15: Like the ending of Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel, Worm.Explore.Zip has got one more kick left in it. After a quiet weekend virus researchers discovered that the worm has a second method of propogation: it will reinfect any Windows machine connected on the same network, without requiring a human "vector" to execute an email attachment. The NY Times coverage [10a] of this development is charactistically thorough (free registration and cookies required).

[10] http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/worm.explore.zip.html
[10a] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/06/biztech/articles/15comp.html

bul PrettyPark worm/trojan hits Windows users

A new worm program, operating in the mode of Melissa, is spreading fast among Windows users. Here is the best summary [11] I have found. Some reports say home users are particularly hard-hit, because they don't update their virus detectors as reliably as business users do. PrettyPark was first reported late last week in France and spread rapidly over the weekend. When a victim -- recipient of a tainted email message -- executes an attachment named PrettyPark.exe, the worm replicates itself by copying the email message to everyone in the local machine's address book. It then silently checks every 30 minutes to see whether the user is connected to the Net, and if so sends usernames, password files, address lists, and other files to a number of Internet Relay Chat channels. Makers of anti-virus software produced filters for PrettyPark in short order. If you run on Windows 95, 98, or NT, check with your anti-virus vendor. The worm does not affect Macintosh or Unix systems.

[11] http://www.nwi.net/~pchelp/bo/prettypark.htm

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Supreme Court reverses on Zurko patent

Rules that appellate court cannot say the PTO blew it

TBTF for 1998-12-15 [12] outlined the issues in the so-called Zurko patent appeal, which had the potential of opening up the patent process to sturdier outside review. Yesterday the Supreme Court reversed the lower-court ruling [13]. I asked Mary Ellen Zurko, the lead inventor on the patent, to comment on the ruling's implications.

The Federal Circuit Court cannot override a patent office decision if it finds that decision to be "clearly erroneous." It can only do so if it finds the PTO has been arbitrary or capricious, committed an abuse of discretion, or the finding was unsupported by substantial evidence. We lost our Supreme Court case. But, as co-author and defendant Morrie Gasser said, after reading the decision, "It took me a while to figure out that this meant we lost, but for this kind of entertainment I'd file another one any day." The ever vigilant Keith Dawson was the first person to tell us. It's disappointing for us not only because we didn't get a patent for technology we believed to be innovative, but because early rumors back at then-Digital had been that our patent was turned down as a test case for setting back the bar for non-obviousness. In terms of checks and balances, if the PTO is discreet and can make a case for its decision, and if no new facts are found, its decisions stand. This should streamline the process and save tax dollars, and, as they argued, they are the organization in the government best qualified to make their decisions.

There's some difference of opinion in the patent office ranks, though. I met a kind and informative patent examiner while standing in the lawyers-only line with my sister-in- law before the case. We were about the only people around who weren't there for the earlier case, which ended up holding that it is a violation of the 4th amendment for police to bring reporters unnamed in the warrant on a case (I called it the "Cops TV show" case). The examiner said he thought we would and should win, as everyone deserves to get a second hearing. Our lawyer, Ernest Gelhorn, did a brilliant job at the oral arguments. The only question he couldn't answer was when one justice asked why they should care about this case :-). Reading the opinion and dissent, you can see why. It turned on the interpretation of the results of about 89 previous cases, and the intended interaction of two laws. I could sympathize with the difficulty of the latter issue, as unintended interactions are something software engineers have to deal with regularly. If you're ever in Washington, DC, I highly recommend sitting in for a Supreme Court case. Anyone can. They last only 1 hour and, as Gelhorn said, "It's the best theater in town."

[12] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-12-15.html#s04
[13] http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/98-377.ZS.html
space
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A report from ICANN's Berlin meeting

Country-code representatives are only one of the unhappy constituencies

Newly minted TBTF Irregular [*] Ant Brooks <ant at hivemind dot net> travelled to Berlin for the ICANN meeting in late May as the representative for the .za country code, and sent TBTF this report [14]. Brooks asks that we read it as an attempt to express his personal views of the proceedings, and nothing more.

In an unfortunate coincidence of timing, by leaving South Africa for Berlin, Brooks forfeited his right to vote in his country's second free election.

The wake of the Berlin meeting swirls with controversy over the way ICANN is carrying out its mandate [15] (free registration and cookies required). In this critical article [16] David G. Post invokes the shade of US founding father James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. Post says we need to start a community dialogue -- call it the Netalist Papers if you must -- to define the governance we want for cyberspace.

Consumer advocates Ralph Nader and James Love sent an open letter [17] to ICANN chair Esther Dyson asking her to clarify the organization's stance on the issues raised by critics. No reply so far.

Note added 1999-06-17: Dyson has replied [17a] to the Nader/Love letter, and the response is a warhead targeted at Network Solutions. Its tone is so blunt that the techie press, smelling blood in the water, has given it fairly wide coverage. See for example [17b].

[14] http://tbtf.com/resource/brooks-ICANN.html
[15] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/06/biztech/articles/07ican.html
[16] http://www.temple.edu/lawschool/dpost/icann/comment1.html
[17] http://www.cptech.org/ecom/estherjune11.html
[17a] http://www.icann.org/chairman-response.htm
[17b] http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article/0,1087,3_138581,00.html

space ______

Klones

A natural-language front end to a company's internal databases

Meet Andrette [18], knowledge worker for the new century. Andrette is a Klone from Big Science Company. She claims to be able to understand plain-English queries and to present data from back-office servers. So far Big Science doesn't have any customers whose Klone Servers are accessible outside their firewalls, so Andrette is the only one of her kind you can talk to. (This was the first question I asked Andrette, and she gave me a marketing-speak non-answer, although the correct answer is in the company's FAQ [19].) One useful thing Andrette knows how to do is to tell you what movies are playing near you, and even in this simple task the chatterbot became confused because I gave my zip code too early in the process.

It seems to me that these early stumbles are most likely limitations in Andrette's implementation, not in the underlying technology. And after all I have little context for a deep discussion with the Big Science Company. Keep an eye on them -- before long you may be chatting with a Klone in your first contact with your supplier's help desk.

Thanks to TBTF Irregular [*] Glenn Fleishman for the pointer.

[18] http://www.bigscience.com/
[19] http://www.bigscience.com/faq.html#whoUsing

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Jargon Scout

Jargon Scout [20] is an irregular TBTF feature that aims to give you advance warning -- preferably before Wired Magazine picks it up -- of jargon that is just about ready to hatch into the Net's language. Over the last two weeks the world has discovered this modest TBTF resource. Once Yahoo featured it as a Pick of the Week, a score of newspapers, Web logs, and "best of" pages have picked it up.

[20] http://tbtf.com/jargon-scout.html

bul Filler App

The ever-inventive Marcia Blake <blakecomm at earthlink dot net>, a TBTF Irregular [*], passes on a term she used to describe a Net killer-app wannabe to the venture capitalist considering a seed investment:

This is not a Killer App, but a very decent little Filler App of the sort that would probably be acquired a day or so after launch.
bul e2e, offlist

Marcia Blake further proposes that the phrase take it offline, commonly used on listservs and intranets, is patently inaccurate. The intended meaning is to suggest that a topic be discussed outside the community in which the discussion arose; but such removed dialog still takes place online. She puts forward as alternatives take it offlist, or take it e2e (email-to-email). This latter invention, back-formed from the common f2f -- face-to-face -- suggests extensions in different directions for other new media: v2v (voice-to-voice) for a phone exchange, and perhaps c2c for online chat. A reader notes that e2e is used in SDLC testing to mean end-to-end.

bul FBC: fully buzzword compliant

Larry Carl <larrycarl at home dot com> believes that FBC was coined by his partner John Steely at daVinci TWG in Richmond, VA. Steely holds two M.S. degrees and Microsoft certifications as CP / CSD / CSE / CST. Let Carl tell it:

Several years ago we were talking about all the stuff Microsoft was throwing into NT, to over-match OS/2. John said something like, "Yeah, they are trying to make it fully buzzword compliant." To which I replied, "With all those initials after your name you don't have much room to talk." John then said, "So maybe I could just shorten it to FBC!" We have been using it ever since, in and out of our NT-related training courses, seminars, and consulting gigs.
Fully buzzword compliant is in wide use on Usenet. A recent Deja.com search turned up over 200 separate citations (discounting postings by people who have incorporated the phrase into their signatures). But I couldn't find any similar hits for FBC.

___

The Blue Screen of Death evolves

Fun with Microsoft's most recognizable display

This phony press release [21] (no charge for the Portugeuse translation) has been making the rounds. Seems that Microsoft has decided to use the BSOD as a competitive weapon and open it up for customization.

Note added 1999-02-16: Bjvrn Stenberg <bjorn.stenberg at sth dot frontec dot se> writes to note that the phony press release was posted April 12th [21a] on the geek parody site segfault.org.

Major computer resellers such as Compaq, Gateway, and Dell are already lining up for premier placement on the new and improved BSOD. [Microsoft president] Balmer concluded by getting a dig in against the Open Source community. "This just goes to show that Microsoft continues to innovate at a much faster pace than open source. I have yet to see any evidence that Linux even has a BSOD, let alone a customizable one."
If art imitates life, then software imitates parody. Release 6.0 of Red Hat Linux features a BSOD simulator [22], a "boss screen":
bsodsim doesn't stop at just showing a simulated error message. If the boss doesn't walk away, the worker can continue the illusion by hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL, which causes a simulated reboot. After showing the usual boot messages, bsodsim will run a simulated SCANDISK program indefinitely. The boss won't be able to tell the difference.
Finally, here is a utility [23] you can download to make aesthetic adjustments in your very own Blue Screen of Death.
Note added 1999-06-17: Mark Whitaker <mark at bitrot dot net> adds:
Alongside a whole load of indispensable little Windows utilities, System Internals [23a] produce the excellent BSOD screensaver for NT, complete with optional (and very realistic) disk thrashing. It's a favourite in our office -- the sight of half a dozen machines blue-screening away for all they're worth can reduce the unwary to a gibbering wreck. :)

[21] http://www.penguin.cz/~had/bio/microsoft/bsod.php3
[21a] http://segfault.org/story.phtml?mode=2&id=370d421a-05ce09a0
[22] http://i-want-a-website.com/about-linux/may99.shtml#BSOD-Simulator
[23] http://pla-netx.com/linebackn/news/bsodprop.zip
[23a] http://www.sysinternals.com/

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The Skycar

Moller Skycar

Been waiting for this since reading Popular Mechanics in 1953

A California company, Moller International, has been working since 1962 to develop a personal flying machine. Now they are publicizing the Skycar [24], which the company calls a volantor. It's a vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft that like the British Harrier jumpjet uses "nacelles" to contain and direct the force of its rotors. Here's a photo [25] of the 4-passenger M400. You can't buy one today because no government has certified the device as airworthy. In 1991 the US Federal Aviation Administration created a new aircraft category for the Skycar -- the powered-lift vehicle joins the existing categories of fixed-wing and rotary-wing craft. In 1992 Moller received the only generic patent ever issued in the US on an entirely new category of aircraft. (Patents have since been issued worldwide.) Moller estimates that the first production M400s could go on sale at around $1M. The company is counting on mass-market economies of scale to bring the price eventually into the $60K - $80K range.

When TBTF Irregular [*] Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> first forwarded this story I remembered seeing a similar vehicle profiled in the 1970s in the magazine Harpers Weekly -- except the photo I recalled looked more like a personal flying saucer than like the Batmobile. Lo, here is that very photo on the Moller Web site [26].

Paul S. Moller gave this presentation [27] at the World Aviation Congress in 1998 -- it has some technical detail on the design and a quick overview of Moller's development history. A more detailed history is here [28].

[24] http://www.moller.com/skycar/
[25] http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/350000/images/_354367_m400_300.jpg
[26] http://www.skyaid.org/images/Image27.gif
[27] http://www.moller.com/skycar/presentWA/
[28] http://www.moller.com/skycar/marketing/history.html

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Elements 118 and 116 produced at Berkeley

The island of stability is reached at last

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, smashing relativistic krypton into a target of lead, have produced three atoms of the heaviest element seen on the earth to date [29]. "We jumped over a sea of instability onto an island of stability that theories have been predicting since the 1970s," said physicist Victor Ninov, principal author of a paper on the discovery submitted to Physical Review Letters. Stability is a relative thing. In less than a millisecond each atom of element 118 decayed, by emitting an alpha particle, into element 116 -- the only atoms of this element ever seen on earth. Element 116 is also unstable, as are all the elements down to 106. The rapid cascade of six alpha particles was the sign the scientists were looking for to confirm the creation of element 118.

Thanks to TBTF Irregular [*] Chuck Bury for the speedy notification on this discovery.

[29] http://enews.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/elements-116-118.html

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Two ancient floods

bul Pangaean lava

Two hundred million years ago, before North and South America, Africa and Europe headed for the compass points, the land of Pangaea experienced the largest volcanic outpouring in earth's history. Scientists have now put together the puzzle pieces to link the New Jersey Palisades with sites in Brazil, Europe, and Africa [30]. The volcanic event that paved an area the size of present-day Australia in the supercontinent's interior might have played a part in the late Triassic mass extinction(s) [31], which began the ascent of the dinosaurs. (Here's a fine drawing [32] for cyclical extinction theorists.) The Central Atlantic Magmatic Province was later torn asunder by tectonic forces, which carried fragments to places all around the Atlantic rim. Try this simple visualization [33] of the last 180 million years of the breakup of Pangaea; requires Shockwave 7.

[30] http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1999/split/pnu429-1.htm
[31] http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/darwin/exfiles/triassic.htm
[32] http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/darwin/exfiles/images/timeline.jpg
[33] http://www.geog.psu.edu/MacEachren/MacEachrenHTML/drift/drift.html

bul Martian water Mars elevation

The NY Times featured this image [34] above the fold: Mars colorcoded for altitude. (Here's another view [35] with a color key.) Besides highlighting the largest known crater in the solar system -- 1,300 miles wide and 6 miles deep -- the image shows that the planet bulges below its equator: the southern hemisphere of Mars is, on average, three miles higher than the northern. Here's the Times article [36]. For those who can't be bothered with registration and cookies, try the BBC's coverage [37]. The bulge could explain the origin of Mars's ancient floods, evidence of which is etched into the Red Planet's stone.

[34] http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/052899sci-mars-pix.jpg
[35] http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/052899sci-mars-pix.1.html
[36] http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/052899sci-mars-pix.html
[37] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_354000/354266.stm

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New units coming

I'll see your kibi and raise you a mebi

The International Electrotechnical Commission has decided that we have had enough of the confusion caused by the fact that 2 to the 10th power is nearly, but not exactly, equal to 10 to the 3rd. Computer scientists early began using the prefix kilo to mean 1024, and by extension mega, giga, and tera to mean 1024 to the second, third, and fourth powers. The proposed new units are:

Factor Unit Symbol Origin Derivation
210 kibi Ki kilobinary: (210) kilo: (103)
220 mebi Mi megabinary: (210)2 mega: (103)2
230 gibi Gi gigabinary: (210)3 giga: (103)3
240 tebi Ti terabinary: (210)4 tera: (103)4

Here's an IEEE article [38] on the new units and here is the IEC's proposal [39] (PDF format -- see page 4). Next year you may buy a computer with 128 mebs of memory and a 20-gib drive. Thanks to Chris Duncombe Rae <duncombe at sfri dot wcape dot gov dot za> for prodding me on this story.

[38] http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/binary.html
[39] http://www.iec.ch/tclet6.pdf


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Trinkets for topologists

Felix Klein

The finest zero-volume containers money can buy

TBTF Irregular [*] Anton Sherwood <antons at jps dot net> sends word on the latest project of cracker-hunter [40] turned neo-luddite [41] Clifford Stoll. He is manufacturing Klein bottles [42] in glass, "the finest closed, non-orientable, boundary-free manifolds sold anywhere in our three spatial dimensions". See the specs here [43]; they owe something to the laws-of-physics warning labels [44] first published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

The German topologist Klein [45]
Thought the Mobius Loop was divine.
    Said he, "If you glue
    The edges of two

You get a weird bottle like mine."
[40] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=0671726889
[41] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=0385419945
[42] http://www.kleinbottle.com/whats_a_klein_bottle.htm
[43] http://www.kleinbottle.com/specs_for_nice_klein_bottl.htm
[44] http://www.joelorr.com/scientific_truth_in_product_warn.htm
[45] http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Klein.html

Notes

bul [*] The TBTF Irregulars are 74 individuals who send me story ideas, make me think, keep me honest, and keep TBTF ticking over, such as it does. We keep in touch on a private email discussion list, archived on the TBTF site.

bul TBTF's 10,000th email subscriber is Chris Chiappetta <cchiappetta at jenner dot com>. He will, I hope, tell us what his $25 gift certificate from Amazon.com purchases, and perhaps even review it for us here. Chris just got his MBA from George Mason University with a concentration in MIS. Sounds like a winning combination to me. Can any TBTF reader give Chris a lead toward his ideal career path? He's looking for an IT job related to sports (Olympics, track, baseball), law enforcement, politics, the nonprofit sector (e.g. Boy Scouts), or a dynamic telecom or Internet startup. He's flexible on location. Chris currently works as a paralegal in Washington DC, mostly on telecom litigation. If you send him a tip, please drop me a copy.


Sources

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

TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the
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_______________________________________________
Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.

___

Most recently updated 2001-03-09