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The long strange trip gets longer and stranger
The Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers was expecting its work, opening up to competition the process of assigning domain names, to be a minefield. They weren't expecting, perhaps, the snake-infested swamp or the barbed wire or the snipers or the high invisible planes dropping bombs on them. ICANN accuses the domain naming incumbent, Network Solutions, with fomenting trouble, in the form of an open letter from Ralph Nader  and a Congressional investigation (see below). NSI too has its problems, with an EU antitrust investigation in the works (see below). Amid the acrimony and the duelling press releases, a source of information and open discussion has emerged. David Post, Michael Froomkin, and Dave Farber have established ICANNWatch  to serve as a forum for informed debate about ICANN's role in managing the Domain Name System. Post authored the essay cited in the previous issue of TBTF  calling for a Net-era incarnation of the Federalist Papers. ICANNWatch bids to fill this role.
Here are some of the recent developments in the domain-naming saga that began with the International Ad Hoc Committee nearly three years ago. This resource  includes every story on domain-naming policy that has appeared in TBTF since before the IAHC was formed.
Test phase extended. As the shared registration system test neared its end date last month, only one of the initial five alternate registrars (register.com) had managed to register any domain names for the public. The others, after long wrangling with Network Solutions over terms of the agreement NSI required before it would grant access to its registry, finally were ready to begin as the test ended. The Commerce Department brokered a last-minute deal extending the test by three weeks . So far, so typical of a beta test in this industry. (Note this effect of the test: NSI's whois server no longer contains all of the .com names. GeekTools provides an alternate interface to whois  that works no matter who registered the name. It also works for country-code domains as well as TLDs.)
Stalemate looms. NSI and ICANN have each signed a cooperative agreement with the US government, but not yet with each other . NSI threatens not to recognize ICANN's authority to manage the process of granting domain names, though its obligation to do so appears to be fully spelled out in "Amendment 11"  to the contract with the US government signed by NSI last fall. If NSI does not sign ICANN's accreditation agreement by the time the test phase ends, on 1999-07-16, ICANN may decide  that the company cannot participate further in the granting of domain names. NSI shareholders would not be best pleased.
Congress probes ICANN. On 22 June Rep. Thomas Bliley, the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, issued a blistering attack against ICANN  and opened an investigation into its actions. The crux of his complaint is that ICANN may have exceeded its authority when it decided to fund its operations by assessing a fee of $1 per domain name granted. ICANN says it will cooperate with any investigation, and blames NSI for setting Bliley upon them.
EU probes NSI. The European Union is investigating whether a Network Solutions contract for new registrars violates Continental antitrust laws . NSI might be forgiven for wondering whether CORE whispered in the ear of EU staffers. The Council of Registrars is based Europe ( though in Switzerland, not in an EU country). Besides being one of the five designated testers of open registration, CORE was the end-point of the IAHC process . As such it had gained broad international credibility -- bluntly, Europeans believed that CORE was not totally captive to US interests. In this light ICANN is viewed from Europe with considerably more suspicion.
Moving the root. ICANN is working on a plan to move the A root server -- the base of the domain name system -- from NSI's premises to California . NSI is obliged under its contract to give over responsibility for the A server when so instructed by the Commerce Department.
New accreditations. On 1999-07-07 ICANN blessed 15 new organizations  to act as registrars when the process is opened up beyond the initial testers. In all 57 organizations have received accreditation to date. NSI is not among them.
NSI is cracked. On 2 July crackers redirected traffic intended for Network Solutions to the sites of CORE and ICANN ( requires cookies and free login;  doesn't). Early reports claimed that the unexpected traffic brought down ICANN's servers as well. The FBI was investigating an ISP, SoftAware, that happens to be housed in the same building as ICANN. SoftAware said in a press release  that it is cooperating fully.
ICANN is going broke. Because NSI has not agreed to pay the $1-per-name fee that ICANN's accreditation agreement requires, the nonprofit organization is on the verge of bankruptcy . The president of an ISP trade group said, "To fail because of politics would be one thing, but to fail because of money would be a catastrophe."
Fighting a losing battle to keep Echelon relevant
In its petition for a re-hearing of the Bernstein case , the Justice Department admits, for the first time, that the true goal of US export controls on cryptography is to preserve the country's ability to gather SIGINT. The petition is refreshingly free of the incendiary cant about stopping pedophiles and drug dealers that federal authorities customarily emit as rationale for the ever-more-dubious controls.
Just because they have a policy doesn't mean they respect your privacy
Netcenter becomes the preferred search destination overnight
Google  is currently among the most accurate and useful search engines on the Web. TBTF profiled Google on 1998-05-11  -- the first press coverage for the site in English. (This was before its founders had left Stanford.) Now Google emerges on the Netcenter portal , replacing Excite. The deal makes perfect sense after Google's recent influx of $25M in venture money  from (among others) Kleiner Perkins, a first-round investor in Netscape. The company was also motivated to drop Excite after the latter was purchased by @Home, a rival of Netscape's parent AOL.
Search.netscape.com is now my first stop for any Net search. Netcenter combines Google's highly relevant results with its "open directory" listing, to which thousands of amateur catalogers contribute.
First word on this story came from TBTF Irregular Gary Stock <gstock at ingetech dot com>, whose company  watches the Web with a nanoscope. Gary noticed google.netscape.com in his logs at 2:01 am (EDT -0400) on 1999-06-24.
The free lunch is running out for the early cable adopters
The cable Internet provider is fighting a PR backlash  after news leaked of a planned nationwide bandwidth cap, for upstream data, of 128K. An internal @Home memo  intended for cable system operators was posted to Usenet. It details the company's strategy for handling the anticipated customer firestorm once the policy (which the memo calls the ONadvantage Upstream Enhancement) is announced nationwide.
@Home first instituted such a cap in Fremont, CA, one of the first communities to see widespread adoption of the cable service. The initial high upstream bandwidth (1 Mbit/sec.) and the "always-on" nature of the service tempted an abnormally high proportion of Fremont customers to commit what @Home calls subscriber abuse -- operating Web servers, Shoutcast servers, and FTP warez depots out of their homes. (That's a funny term, "subscriber abuse"; from a subscriber's point of view the label could as easily fit @Home's policy.)
For a clear-headed look at some of the real issues of bandwidth and average subscriber behavior, read Restil's posting in this Slashdot discussion .
The research arm of the cell-phone industry, Wireless Technology Research, was asked to get to the bottom of persistent rumors that cell-phone use may endanger human brains. Their results  suggest a correlation between cell-phone emissions and brain tumors and DNA breakage in rats. While far from conclusive, this research demands in-depth follow-up studies.
Neural confusion engendered by PDAs
A medical specialist says she is seeing an upswing in cases of loss of muscular coordination, apparently caused by use of Palm Pilots and similar handheld devices . (Grafittitis?) Seems the act of writing characters each on top of the last can induce long-term confusion in some susceptible individuals. Such people find it nearly impossible to write on paper, producing instead a baffling doodle.
The "Monitor Company" in Cambridge does exist, but no George Willard works there. The "Johns Hopkins Medical Center" does not exist; the actual institutions are named JH Medical Institution, JH Medical Services Corp., JH Bayview Medical Center, and JH Hospital. No Dr. Katia Miezkowsky is employed in any Johns Hopkins-related medical facility.
Thanks to Bob Treitman (as usual!) for first setting me straight, and to the TBTF Irregulars -- Bill Innanen in particular -- for excellent follow-up research. Here is background on South to the Future from TBTF Irregular (and NTK [34a] perpetrator) Danny O'Brien:
Find little green men in your spare cycles
When last we visited the SETI @ Home project , developing software to harness the spare cycles of myriads of Internet-connected computers to look for a needle of signal in a haystack the size of the galaxy, the Berkeley group expected to offer software in the spring of 1998. More than a year late, SETI @ Home  is offering data-reduction software in the form of screensavers for Windows, Macintosh, and Unix systems. The founders were hoping to convince 150,000 users to dedicate their computers' spare cycles to the analysis of Aricibo radio-telescope data. They were overwhelmed  by more than 500,000 signups in the first weeks. Unfortunately an early victim of this Net flash crowd was the SETI @ Home server that distributes chunks of raw data for processing: for a number of weeks it repeatedly assigned volunteer machines the same two days' worth of Aricibo data. (It's fixed now.) If you have not signed up for SETI @ Home, and if your spare cycles aren't already dedicated to some other good cause such as finding Mersenne primes , I invite you to join  the TBTF Extraterrestrials group set up by TBTF Irregular Chuck Bury. This is how long you can expect your machine to run as it chews over a single "work unit" :
46 hours Pentium / Windows 26 PowerPC / MacOS 21 386 / Linux 14 Pentium / BeOS 7 MIPS / IRIX 6.2
OK, so the 1998 Leonids fizzled. Just wait
Last November's Leonid meteor storm  didn't happen. The Leonids are like that. To paraphrase Fred Whipple on predicting the brightness of comets, "If you must bet, bet on a horse, not on the Leonids!" Three times a century when earth passes near comet Tempel-Tuttle, the source of the Leonids, conditions are ripe for the ordinary November 17th shower to blossom into a full-blown gale. 1998's display featured a larger-than normal proportion of big, spectacular bolides , but the peak rate of meteoroids was around 250/hr.; in 1966 the peak had been 144,000/hr. Scientists are cautiously advancing the possibility that 1999 may be a big Leonid year . Satellite operators will probably, once again, idle down their birds and turn their backs on the constellation Leo.
Two, two, two sites in one
From Internet Alchemy , 1999-06-24
Here is a novel solution to the dilemma of overlapping trademarks
for the same domain name. The Magex site
 contains two
side-by-side frames. On the left, from the UK, is NatWest bank's site for
their new Magex product, a technology for secure digital envelopes.
On the right is the Italian company Magex, which sells production
and planning equipment.
An online auction for domain-name speculators
From Infosift , 1999-06-23
Dotbroker  applies the eBay model to domain name speculation. When I visited there were only a few hundred names for sale, and none of them had seen a bid yet.
A line around the world
From peterme , 1999-06-19
Remember the conceptual art of the 60s and 70s? Let's say the artist wants to connect the world with a phone call. He'll locate people on each continent, station each one near a pair of phone booths, and have each in turn call the next continent's left-hand phone from his/her right-hand phone. When all the calls have been placed, each agent holds a receiver to each ear, and speaks. Voila. Well, visual artist John Maeda  has updated the project for the Net. Using a Java applet, he asks users to help draw a line around the world . You'll find my contribution at line number 4380, 1999-06-25. Dai Nippon Printing sponsors One Line.
From Reuters Oddly Enough 
This page features five or ten strange news items daily. Recent
ones include the story of four drownings in a pond in Disney's
made-up town of Celebration
Stepford-Upon-the-Swamp), and news
of turmoil in the Miss France contest
 as citizens alleging a
rigged contest convince a court to decide who is fairest in all the
land. Thanks to TBTF Irregular Lewis A. Shadoff, PhD
St. Isador, intercede for us in times of packet loss
A group of Spanish Catholics called Observation Service of Internet  (Spanish only) declared on 14 January in Seville that they had located the saint most appropriate to intercede for suffering computer users and weary Web surfers. The group proposes to add computer technicians, computer users, computers, and the Internet to the ambit of St. Isador , officially patron saint of school children and students. Isador was born in Seville in 560. He wrote a dictionary, Etymologies, that the Spanish group compares to a database. "He began a system of thought [that] is very modern, notwithstanding the fact it was discovered in the sixth century. Saint Isador accomplished his work with great coherence: it is complete and its features are complementary in themselves" [sic] . This BBC coverage  quotes a spokesman for the Catholic Media Office thus: "There are patron saints of many things, so why not let the Internet have one? It is a good idea and might be able to help us all when we are about to crash." The Vatican has not commented publicly on the proposal.
Theological conundrum: if the Pope officially adds to the workload of a particular saint, can that saint decline the honor? Serious discussion is invited.
Since TBTF began open publication I've mused on how to produce income from the service without contravening the principles that inform it. Quoting from the FAQ :
The solution: TBTF is and will remain free. And I've set up a TBTF Benefactors program  for those of you who get value from the publication and are in a position to contribute to its upkeep. If you want to become a TBTF Benefactor, please visit this secure Kagi account ; contributions are accepted by credit card in any amount from $5 US. If you have an E-gold  account you can transfer e-metal to account # 105298. (Set up an e-gold account here .) TBTF Benefactors' names are listed on the site , if they so choose.
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 1999-07-16